Nelson is longtime DeWine drug policy advisor
HRO claims appointment invalid because of open meetings violations
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine named his former top drug policy advisor, Alisha Nelson, to be executive director of the OneOhio opioid settlement foundation.
The OneOhio Recovery Foundation is a government-controlled non-profit that will spend $1.1 billion in opioid settlement funds through 2039. (State and local governments in Ohio will receive an $900 million separately.)
Nelson is the foundation’s first permanent executive director, replacing Ashtabula County Commissioner Kathleen Whittington, who served as interim executive director through June 30.
Nelson worked for DeWine from August 2015 through January 2022, concluding her service as the governor’s top drug policy advisor and head of the governor’s RecoveryOhio office. Since then, Nelson has been director of behavioral health strategy at Humana, a health insurance company.
“Alisha is a good, caring person who is well qualified for the job,” said Dennis Cauchon, president of Harm Reduction Ohio.
Alisha Nelson background
However, Cauchon said that the OneOhio board nominated Nelson and two other candidates after a selection process that included more than a dozen secret meetings held in violation of the Ohio Open Meetings Act. Under state law, decisions made in violation of the open meetings laws are invalid.
“We believe that Alisha’s selection is invalid because it was the result of unnoticed and illegal meetings. Although Alisha may be a good selection, OneOhio’s practice of blatantly violating open meetings law puts her appointment at risk. It’s sad and not fair to Alisha, but OneOhio thinks it’s a secret society, above the law and free from legal requirements of transparency,” Cauchon said.
The OneOhio executive director position will pay $250,000 to $300,000 per year, according to the foundation.A copy of Nelson’s contract has not yet been made public.
Nelson, 41, has an undergraduate degree from the Ohio State University and a Master of Business Administration from Ohio Dominican University.
OneOhio open meeting violations
The 29-member OneOhio board created a eight-member search committee to select candidates to nominate to the position of executive director. The opioid settlement agreement calls for the foundation board to submit three candidates to the governor, who then chooses one.
The other two finalists were Lynnette Cook, current executive director of ARNOVA, and Lisa Mertz, current President & CEO of Addiction Services Council.
The OneOhio search committee held at least 13 secret meetings over one year to hire the executive director. The meetings including contracting with a executive search consulting firm, drafting job descriptions, interviewing candidates and scoring the candidates. The search committee provided public notice for only one meeting (held September 30, 2022). The public wasn’t allowed to attend any meeting, not even the publicly noticed one, which was held by Zoom..
On August 7, Harm Reduction Ohio filed a motion to hold OneOhio in contempt of court for violating a temporary restraining order that was issued April 25. The restraining order required OneOhio’s board and subcommittees to follow open meetings law. OneOhio’s response to the contempt request is due August 28, so it’s defense is not yet known.
On July 3, Gov. DeWine signed the state budget, which included language inserted by state Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, that exempts OneOhio from open meetings and public records laws. However, OneOhio won’t go dark until the change takers effect October 1, which is 90 days after the governor signed the budget bill. Until then, open meetings and public records laws are supposed to be followed.