Monday, April 14, 2014

Come to Ohio and Cheat

In her story on Kent State University shredding documents to prevent the public from seeing how the Presidential Search Committee selected its new president, Akron Beacon Journal reporter Carol Biliczky may have come up with the ideal way for students to improve their GPA.

Thankfully, Ohio has a fairly strong public records law.   Every public agency must have a records retention schedule that indicates what documents must be kept and for how long.
When it comes to hiring, the law requires transparency in the public sector.   Material received from job applicants, like those applying to be president of a state university, are public records, and hiring an outside firm to do the search doesn't change that.   The Supreme Court of Ohio settled that in Plain Dealer Publishing Co, v. City of Cleveland and ordered the city to release the records on all applicants because the private firm conducting the search "acted for a public purpose."

As the headline of Carol Beliczky's report states:  "Kent State Shredded Documents to Hide Information About Presidential Search."  But for the Kent State Presidential Search Committee that wasn't sufficient.   It decided to write its own contract to specifically ignore Ohio's Public Records Law.   As Carol reports, "...the university signed a contract addendum giving its private search firm, Storbeck Pementel and Associates of Media, Pa, the power to decide what records are released to the public."

Any first-year law student would be able to explain to members of the Presidential Search Committee that laws are passed by the legislature and become law after being signed by the governor or upon the legislature overriding a gubernatorial veto.   Private parties can't simply write a contract to decide to change the law.   Neither the Kent State Presidential Search Committee nor its hired contractor can decide what is a public record.   The law does that. 

But given the Presidential Search Committee's actions, its behavior provides a fabulous template for students so they can all graduate with honors.   Kent State students should just follow the example set by the Presidential Search Committee.  They can ignore whatever is in a course syllabus.   They can just write their own agreement on what is necessary to get an A.   If they want, they could be like athletes at North Carolina and get an A for a class they don't even have to attend.    

A cautionary note here:  if students acted like the Presidential Search Committee, they'd probably get into trouble.

Since it's the law that dictates what public records are and the records retention schedule dictates what records must be kept and for how long, do you think the actions of the Kent State University  Presidential Search Committee may generate an investigation from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation?  Will the State of Ohio simply do nothing about a state agency that has decided a firm in Pennsylvania can determine what records are public in Ohio?

Keep reading the Akron Beacon Journal, the only news organization that is continuing to push on an important story.

The threat to democracy is NOT terrorism.   The threat to democracy is government secrecy at whatever level it exists.


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