Ohio government corruption
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Columbus, OH A bill that is sure to generate some controversy in the FOIA community, JobsOhio or House Bill 1, Ohio 2011 is before committee in the House of Representatives. Governor John Kasich proposed the legislation earlier this month as an initiative to bring Jobs to Ohio. JobsOhio would be created as a private agency exempted for the most part from public records and open meetings laws. More information about Ohio's laws on private agencies receiving public funding can be found at our Private Agencies, Public Dollars page. Governor Kasich believes that working outside the public framework is necessary for economic development to happen.
Columbus, OH Further developments on the privatization of the Department of Development in Ohio. House Democrats led by Representative Matt Lundy have drafted a new piece of legislation that amends the Ohio Open Records Law and Ohio Open Meetings Law to include JobsOhio by making the meetings and records of any "governing board of a corporation" that enters into a public-private partnership subject to open meetings and records requirements. A "public-private partnership" is defined as a contractual relationship between a state agency and a corporation with the intent of the corporation exercising some or all of the agencies powers, functions or duties. Both chambers of the Ohio legislature are Republican majority, so without support from across the isle this bill is not likely to pass.
All candidates for elective office at all levels of government throughout the state will be receiving a Pledge for Transparency and Accountability in Government. It asks the candidate to acknowledge the importance of the following:
- internet availability
- the legal basis of transparency in state and federal constitutions
- the use of practical, current technologies such as searchable databases
Buckeye Institute President David Hansen explained the project, "Ohio State's hiring of outgoing Democrat State Rep. Joyce Beatty to a loosely defined post reportedly earning $320,000 a year piqued our interest. We discovered this type of salary, while on the extreme high end in academia, is commonplace at Ohio State."
Transparency center director Mike Maurer added, "Ohio State pays 154 employees at least $250,000 a year, with university president E. Gordon Gee topping the list at $775,000 a year. Our goal is to increase taxpayer awareness of public expenditures, including salaries. Taxpayers want a complete picture of government funding and expenditures. The Buckeye Institute will collect and provide it online in an easily accessible format."
"Nobody's stopping anybody from having access to public records," Columbiana County Clerk of Courts Anthony Dattilio said. "They just won't have access to personal information or personal identifiers in that record."
Clerks offices in Ohio will remove personal identifying information from requested documents before handing them over to members of the public, including attorneys and abstractors.
The policies are under the Ohio Supreme Court Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio and take effect July 1. They would strike information such as social security numbers, except for the last four digits, financial account numbers, such as debit card and credit card numbers or banking information, employer and employee identification numbers and a juvenile's name in an abuse, neglect or dependency case, except for the child's initials or a generic abbreviation. However, names and dates of birth will remain public record.
A person cannot walk into a clerk of courts office to request to see a file and have it handed over to them for their perusal anymore. The information that these new policies forbid will have to be stricken from the records before they can see it.
Cleveland, OH A controversial news story out of Ohio that we have been following for a number of months with interest. An ongoing records request between The Ohio News Organization, which is a collaboration of eight major daily news papers in Ohio has made a records request of the five state run pension programs for records to assist in an ongoing investigation into "double-dipping" and to provide insight to the public as legislation altering the pension programs is drafted. All five state sponsored pension plans have denied access to their records based on exemptions that will be explained later; this records denial has come to the attention of members of the House of Representatives and has brought with it concern as the legislature drafts solutions to help the pension plans out of their current financial woes.
The indictment revolves heavily around Michael Fox's alleged involvement with a close friend and the owner of NORMAP Telecommunications, Robert Schuler. As county commissioner, Fox is said to have used his political influence in order to secure a contract for NORMAP Telecommunications that was worth $1.8 million dollars.  The contract was for installing fiber optics across Butler County. After the contract was secured for NORMAP, the company was bought by Schuler. As owner of NORMAP, Schuler is alleged to have transferred $360,000 to Fox in 2002 in order to help him pay off his death. Schuler is also said to have transferred $100,000 to a consulting company that was owned by Fox. 
Hamilton County commissioners gave themselves first access on buying Reds Opening Day tickets, at face value, to the county-owned suite at Great American Ball Park. Sometimes the commissioners paid for the tickets with campaign funds and used them to reward campaign volunteers.
Many more county employees have free use of the luxury suites to entertain business leaders at the baseball games, to reward foster parents and to provide incentives to recycle. The suites are a perk from the lease agreements agreed upon by the Reds and the Bengals, which also include free food.
In 2008, county taxpayers paid for more than $20,000 worth of concessions for guests in the suites, such as Montgomery Inn barbeque, Donato's Pizza and Graeter's ice cream.
According to the Ohio Ethics Commission, whose job it is to police the state's conflict-of-interest laws, free tickets to sporting events could, in some cases, "affect the objectivity and independence of judgment" of public officials in dealing with the teams.
County commissioners in charge of the suites say they're just trying to make use of the county-owned facilities: the two stadiums that were built using money from a voter-approved, half-cent sales tax from 1996.
"They're very common. I've seen them in just about every stadium built in the last 10 years, or 15 years," said Paul Anderson, associate director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University and an expert in stadium financing. "Typically those are used for charity, or when the city is trying to sell itself. It's not supposed to be for the personal use of county board members."
The tickets weren't intended to be free, as the lease requires the county to pay for all tickets. However, there is no record of the county paying for any tickets, according to the county auditor's office.
The Reds' agreement says that the stadium "provide a private suite for Hamilton County's private use."
Cleveland, OH Brain Bardwell was ordered by an Ohio court on Monday to pay $1,050 to Cuyahoga County to cover the cost of the attorney who prosecuted his open records request lawsuit. Bardwell, who runs a non profit group called Citizens for Sunshine, made an open records request for documents relating to a potential medical mart, to be constructed in Cuyahoga County.
Issue 6 aims to remedy the problem of cronyism in the Cuyahoga County Comissioner's office. One of the current County Commissioners, Jimmy Dimora, has been investigated by the FBI for possibly helping individuals obtain county positions in exchange for campaign donations or kickbacks. Issue 6, supporters say, would counter such an abuse of power by requiring the county executive to be overseen by an eleven-member council. The county executive would need the council's approval before he or she could make any hiring decisions..
In Sandusky County, Ohio Common Pleas Court on September 15, 2009, Timothy Wilhelm, 43, pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and theft. He is required to pay restitution to replace stolen student medications and is ordered to stay 500 feet from the school, Stamm Elementary.
“It was my impression Wilhelm wanted to get this done,” Assistant Sandusky County Prosecutor Beth Tischler said. “(He seemed) remorseful, he seemed to have accepted what he did.”
Tischler said the prosecution will not recommend a sentence.
The Harmony Community Charter School near Cincinnati recent was audited by the state who found the school owes the state $2.6 million.
State Auditor Mary Taylor said that the school has also failed to supply the necessary documents proving it met state curriculum requirements and that teachers were properly licensed.
Other misspending by the audit exposed that Harmony Director Deland McCullough spent $6,551 in state money to renovate the deck on his personal residence.
In January, state attorney general's office filed a lawsuit seeking to shut down the school, citing academic failure, financial mismanagement and ethical lapses.
Ohio's Health Board extended the contract for indicted Health Commissioner Rob Morehouse until October 21st of 2008. Morehouse is being indicted for allegedly using his position as an employee of the county health district to steal cash and/or merchandise through the purchase of personal items with the district credit card. He was also accused of receiving duplicate reimbursements for gasoline through the credit card and mileage reimbursement.
Public records requested by the Columbus Dispatch showed that information on Wurtzelbacher's drivers license or SUV was pulled from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles three times shortly after the final presidential debate on October 15. The accounts accessing his information were assigned to the office of Ohio's Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency, and the Toledo Police Department.
It could not be immediately determined who checked the records or why, but direct access to driver's license and vehicle registration information is limited to legitimate law enforcement and government business.
Dann resigned as attorney general last May following a sex scandal in his office. It began when Dann's friend/roommate/general services director Anthony Gutierrez sexually harassed two office employees.
Following the fallout from the scandal, the Inspector General and other agencies began investigations into other alleged abuses that occurred in the office.
The Columbus Partnership, is a consortium of influential executives in Columbus, Ohio. The business group, has called on Superintendent Gene Harris to detail how she would cut costs and sustain the levy's life if the ballot measure passes.
The school board finalized the ballot request for an operating levy and bond issue to build schools, buy buses and lengthen the school day for Columbus City Schools. The tax issues would cost an average $275 more a year for a $100,000 home.
The Columbus Partnership has issued a set of question to the Superintendent who has yet to respond. "We want to work with the public schools, but at the same time, we want to see accountability," said Bob Milbourne, president of the Columbus Partnership.
Wyandot County prosecutors are charging Gilliland on 34 counts for allegedly tampering with her children's grades, all third-degree felonies, as her indictment categorized.
The indictment shows the alleged incidents occurred on or about March 26, 2008, June 2, 2008, June 3, 2008, Oct. 28, 2008, Nov. 10, 2008, and Feb. 13, 2009, the Advertiser-Tribune reported.
"The Ohio Supreme Court has shoved the state farther down that slippery slope of keeping secrets from the public.
The court ruled unanimously last week that a report from a public agency investigating corruption allegations against that agency's boss is not a public record. It stressed that the documents used to compile the report are public records, but decided that the report itself is protected by attorney-client privilege."
"Gov. Ted Strickland largely followed public records law in responding to a Republican lawmaker's request for internal documents, but must continue reviewing additional records for possible release, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.
The court, in an unanimous opinion, said that Strickland responded to Rep. Seth Morgan's request for e-mails and other documents related to the governor's school-funding plan in a reasonable fashion. Strickland, a Democrat, erred by not acknowledging receipt of Morgan's initial request March 12 and providing a timeline for their release, the court said."
The court acknowledged that the records and documents used to complete the final report are public but said the final product could be viewed as protected by attorney-client privilege, striking a blow against Ohio's open records codes."
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