Read the Kent State University journalism faculty letter calling for more transparency in presidential search process


A group of Kent State University journalism faculty are calling for transparency in the search to replace President Beverly Warren, arguing the current process violates the state’s open records law.

A statement Monday, signed by a group of about 14 faculty from Kent State’s school of communication and journalism, asks for the university to release information about the finalists, including relevant documents. When Warren was hired, the university kept the names of the finalists confidential and did not release search documents after she was named president.

Instead, the university had signed a contract which allowed the search firm conducting the process to decide which records were released, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. One member of the search committee told the newspaper that the university shredded his notes.

“Despite spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on the search, the first the university community learned of any candidate for the job was when the Board of Trustees announced President Beverly Warren had been hired,” faculty wrote in the statement. “Through no fault of her own, Warren started as president under a cloud of suspicion because of the secrecy surrounding her hiring.”

Read the full statement here>>

Clerk must produce court record, but faces no fine

From Ohio Court News

The Hamilton County Clerk of Courts must respond to one of three records requests a state prison inmate accused the clerk of failing to provide. However, the inmate is not entitled to financial damages from the office for the lack of response to the request, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval must produce a document from Lionel Harris’ aggravated murder trial that occurred around January 1992 or inform Harris that the document does not exist. Harris maintained that Pureval never responded to his public records request and he was entitled to $1,000 in statutory damages.

The Court clarified that while Ohio’s public records act, R.C. 149.43, provides for damages when a public official does not respond to a records request, court records are governed by the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio, which does not have a financial penalty provision.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine and Mary DeGenaro joined the majority opinion.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell dissented, stating he would affirm the judgment of the First District Court of Appeals, which dismissed the case.

Work of Montgomery County Jail oversight committee shielded from the public

From The Dayton Daily News

The work of a citizen committee created to review operations at the Montgomery County Jail has kept its work shielded from the public since August, cancelling public meetings and meeting privately in smaller groups.

Montgomery County commissioners created the Justice Advisory Committee in 2017 to provide a report including recommendations for improvements to jail operations and facilities. The committee hired CGL Companies of Lexington, Ky., to assess operations at the jail and report back to the group.

The committee hopes to present its final report to county commissioners by the end of the year.

Some of CGL’s findings became public during committee meetings held in July and August at the downtown Dayton Metro Library. In presentations made to the group, the consultants noted inadequate staffing and poor facility design, and said changes were needed in some operational policies, including when and how to use force or put an inmate in a restraint chair.

But the co-chairs of the committee, Rabbi Bernard Barsky and Dr. Gary LeRoy, said they became frustrated by news reports following those meetings, saying the information presented by CGL consultants — while critical of some jail operations and policies — was not a finished study.

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Enquirer editorial: Open government issues surrounding city council texts are not trivial

Editorial from The Cincinnati Enquirer

To the average citizen, all this fuss over a few text messages among the majority of Cincinnati City Council might seem trivial. But it's not. The content of Council members Wendell Young and Tamaya Dennard's disappeared text messages may be innocuous, but to haughtily flout the law sends a signal that council members don't care about voters or open government.

This is one of the reasons we trumpet transparency and opposed Issue 12, which granted council the ability to meet behind closed doors in executive session. Young testified before a grand jury this week about whether he destroyed text messages that a judge ordered turned over as part of a lawsuit alleging the council members illegally held meetings via text.

If true, Young's actions are disturbing and potentially criminal. As a former police officer, Young knows the importance of preserving evidence, so intentionally destroying texts vital to a court case would be unconscionable and would bring into question his fitness to serve. We'll give Dennard the benefit of the doubt about dropping her cell phone in a pool, resulting in her lost texts. Given Mayor John Cranley's mishap with his cell phone and a hot tub earlier this year, perhaps it's time for some rules governing council members' cell phone use near bodies of water.

OCOG joins amicus brief urging release of DEA opiate database

The Ohio Coalition for Open Government has joined an amicus brief alongside the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to a lawsuit filed by HD Media and the Washington Post, which are seeking access to a Drug Enforcement Administration database monitoring opiate pain pills. OCOG joined dozens of media organizations suing for access to the database including Advance Publications, Inc., American Society of News Editors, The Associated Press, Digital First Media, Dow Jones & Company, Gannett, and Politico.

The case is currently pending in federal court in Ohio

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the lawsuit In re Nat'l Prescription Opiate Litigation was brought in response to a case filed by government entities from across the US, who are suing manufacturers, distributors and retailers of prescription opiate drugs. As part of discovery, the district court directed the DEA to produce its Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (“ARCOS”) database, which is a database that monitors the flow of opioids from manufacture to distribution to pharmacies and shows the number of doses distributed in each county by each company on a yearly basis. The defendents filed an objection to the release of the ARCOS database with the district court, which lead the Washington Post and HD Media to file their public records requests and lawsuit.

The Reporters Committee's amicus brief highlights the difference between the standard for protective orders and orders sealing court records; argues that a district court's analysis of "good cause" when entering a protective order must take into account the public interest in disclosure, and that disclosure of the ARCOS data would shed light on this litigation as well as a national health epidemic; argues that the protective order frustrates the public's right of access to the ACROS data under state law, including public records laws; and argues that the district court erred by authorizing the blanket sealing of numerous court records. 

To read the brief, click here.

Columnist: Stand up for open government

By Melissa Martin, Gallipolis Daily Tribune

Do you want to be in the know about happenings in your state, county, and city? Do you want to know where and how your taxed dollars are spent? Do you want access to certain public records?

“Citizen access to public records is the law of the land in all U.S. states and territories, and in the District of Columbia,” according to The National Freedom of Information Coalition, a nonpartisan alliance. The National Freedom of Information Coalition protects our right to open government. The mission is to make sure state and local governments and public institutions have laws, policies and procedures to facilitate the public’s access to their records and proceedings.

Open Government in Ohio

Ohio Sunshine Laws ensure all citizens are granted the right to have broad access to government records and meetings. The Open Government Unit educates the public and government about the intricacies of Ohio’s Sunshine Laws. Each year, in partnership with the Ohio Attorney General, the Auditor of State publishes Ohio Sunshine Laws, An Open Government Resource Manual (2018 publication has 256 pages).

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Citizen asks state claims court to get records from Goshen Township

From The Times Reporter

A citizen has complained to the Ohio Court of Claims that Goshen Township Fiscal Officer Amanda Spies has not supplied public records she requested more than four months ago.

“I feel that I have given Fiscal Officer Spies ample time to fulfill my public records request,” Darissa Lute wrote in her complaint. “She has continued to make excuses and drag her feet on my request.

“This was a simple request, which should have been easily fulfilled in a timely manner. We are now (past) 120 days and I still have not received the records that I requested and paid for.”

Lute asked for lists of payments and receipts, budgets, appropriations and monthly reconciliations. She also sought written records of meetings of the three-member board of township trustees, copies of the fiscal officer’s bond, and the hours of accredited training she had taken. The records requested on June 6 are from years 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Lute, fiscal officer for the village of Port Washington, was among the candidates who opposed Spies for the position of Goshen Township fiscal officer in the 2015 election.

Spies contends she has given Lute the records she requested.

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‘Trade secret’ exemption blocks scrutiny of excess profits reaped from public pensions

From The Fremont News Messenger

The Pew Charitable Trusts have come to a conclusion long held by this column: State public pensions are overpaying investment managers for under-performance. Moreover, Pew concludes most of the billions in fees collected by these pension-funded investment managers are not included in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) required of the funds.

It’s not just Ohio. No state met the targeted return on their alternative investment portfolio over a 10-year measurement. With the benefit of an Ohio Public Records Act request for all five state public pension systems, I’ve been able to piece together the contract terms that are standard in these pension system deals, despite record redactions that claim nearly every important detail in the contract as a “trade secret,” exempt from disclosure.

Thankfully, some of the exact contracts provided by Ohio retirement systems, after heavy redaction by their investment partners, were available to me in full detail, as they were produced during discovery in lawsuits over performance by the investment managers.

To illustrate how wonderful it would be to manage a small portion of each Ohio public pension alternative investment portfolio under the contract terms I have read for existing state agreements, assume I am penniless but connected. If my buddy the governor helped each of the Ohio funds see the wisdom in contracting with me to manage $100 million, I would be instantly rich.

To manage an alternative investment fund for Ohio I only need 1 percent of the total equity stake. Since my $500 million fund comprised solely of state pension money will pay me 2 percent a year for at least 10 years, the $10 million a year I will collect for a decade guarantees me $100 million and easily collateralizes a loan for my necessary $5 million.

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Court official finds in favor of The Dispatch over Powell police in Zach Smith records case

From The Dispatch

Powell police will provide The Dispatch with records of 2015 domestic-violence complaints against former Ohio State assistant football coach Zach Smith after a special master for the Ohio Court of Claims found Tuesday that the records were improperly withheld.

Police Chief Gary Vest said the department doesn’t plan to appeal the findings in the 40-page report.

“We’ll follow the advice of the court and start working through the process,” Vest said, adding that he had yet to meet with the city’s legal counsel.

Special master Jeffrey W. Clark found that the police department failed to comply with Ohio public records law in withholding numerous documents, images and audio and video recordings from The Dispatch.

“We’re pleased to see the court rule in favor of openness by upholding the public records laws,” said Dispatch Editor Alan D. Miller. “And we are eager to see Powell officials turn over the records they should have made public months ago.”

Clark agreed with The Dispatch that while the law allows specific information that identifies uncharged suspects to be redacted, entire records cannot be withheld under that exception.

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Judge: More of Cincinnati City Council's secret texts must be released

From The Cincinnati Enquirer

Secret texts between a majority of Cincinnati City Council were released Friday, but a judge Monday said all texts relevant to those conversations – even if they're just between two members – must be released.

It was a bombshell decision that attorneys representing the city fought against, as did a private attorney for Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Never before have such limited conversations among Cincinnati city officials been made public.

"Elected officials, when you get elected to an office, I think some think they work for themselves," said Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman. "They work for the people. Although some (of the texts) might be embarrassing, they should be released."

At that, Ruehlman said the limited text conversations should be given to attorney Brian Shrive, who is suing five members of council on behalf of citizen Mark Miller, alleging the members held public meetings via text.

Those members, P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman, Tamaya Dennard and Wendell Young admitted Friday the group conversations happened and released them to Shrive and the Enquirer. But they did not release any texts between fewer than five members.

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