HRO challenges secret meetings
Says opioid board must follow open meetings and public records law
Harm Reduction Ohio, a non-profit organization that represents people harmed by opioids, sued the state’s opioid settlement board today for operating secretly and in violation of Ohio open meetings and public records laws. Both Ohio law and the opioid settlement agreement require that the board follow Ohio’s Open Meetings Act and Public Records Act. (Lawsuits provided below.)
“People who’ve lost loved ones deserve to know how opioid settlement money is handled and to be involved in those decisions,” says Harm Reduction Ohio President Dennis Cauchon. “Sadly, the opioid settlement board has been secretive and hostile to the impacted population. This has to change. Thirty-five thousand Ohioans didn’t die from opioids so elected officials could have a secret slush fund for themselves.”
What politicians say
The OneOhio Recovery Foundation was created by Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost to spend 55% of Ohio’s $1 billion opioid settlement. The OneOhio agreement was ratified by 2,000 local governments. More than $500 million will flow through the OneOhio foundation and its 29-member government-controlled board over 18 years. (The other 45% will go directly to the state and local governments.)
The OneOhio opioid settlement agreement says the foundation “shall” follow open meetings and public records law.
What politicians do
However, the foundation, now claiming it is a non-profit foundation, says it doesn’t have to follow either the opioid settlement agreement or Ohio Sunshine laws. The opioid settlement board says it will “voluntarily” disclose what it thinks the public should know about how it’s handling a half billion dollars.
The foundation has held frequent meetings in violation of the Ohio Open Meetings Act. (The exact number is unknown because the foundation refuses to announce most meetings or let the public attend.) The foundation has held three meetings, two of them partially open to the public, but has refused to let people impacted by opioids (or the public generally) speak.
The foundation also has refused to respond to or even acknowledge records requests (such providing committee meeting agendas and minutes), saying it has total authority to operate in secret, with the board and the future executive director determining what the public may know about the foundation and its spending.
The OneOhio foundation also claims it is exempt from state ethics laws and being audited by the state’s auditor.
A renegade operation
Harm Reduction Ohio says the OneOhio board is a governmental board and is required to follow both the law and the opioid settlement agreement.
Of the 29 members, only four are from the private sector, and one of those is the wife of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman. Even if the foundation is creatively considered a private organization, the OneOhio settlement agreement unambiguously requires that the foundation adhere to open meetings and public records laws anyway. (See language here and below.)
“They should preschedule the indictments,” Cauchon says. “What do you think happens when you give politicians a half billion dollars to spend as they please in secret? It would be funny if 35,000 Ohioans hadn’t died for this money. Instead, it’s a tragedy. The state has turned the opioid settlement from compensation for lives lost into a secret slush fund for politicians.”
Harm Reduction Ohio is represented by veteran media and First Amendment lawyer Jack Greiner of the Graydon law firm in Cincinnati. The public records lawsuit was filed in the Ohio Supreme Court. The open meeting case was filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. Jurisdictions differ because of legal requirements set in open meetings and public records laws. University of Cincinnati law school student Danny O’Connor also helped prepare the case for Harm Reduction Ohio.
Friends of OneOhio
To further support effort by the impacted population to have a say in the operations of the OneOhio Recovery Foundation, Harm Reduction Ohio and others have formed a volunteer advocacy operation called “Friends of OneOhio.”
Read the lawsuits
Decide For Yourself
What the opioid settlement says:
What OneOhio Foundation plans to approve Wednesday:
Harm Reduction Ohio (HRO) is a non-profit that represents individuals and families affected by opioids. HRO is Ohio’s largest provider of naloxone (Narcan), the opioid-overdose-reversing drug. In 2021, HRO distributed 31,500 naloxone kits and reversed several thousand overdoses. HRO President Dennis Cauchon was a national reporter for USA TODAY for 27 years before starting Harm Reduction Ohio in 2017.