Ohio’s settlement board ignores judge’s decision that it follow open meetings law
HRO asks for restraining order to block spending
UPDATE: The OneOhio Recovery Foundation board cancelled an Executive Committee meeting it had planned to hold Friday in secret, without the public allowed to attend. The meeting was to start hiring a permanent Executive Director. On Monday. Harm Reduction Ohio asked a court to issue a temporary restraining order to stop OneOhio from holding illegal meetings. The hearing is set for Tuesday in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. (Story below.)
Harm Reduction Ohio asked a judge Monday to issue a restraining order to prevent the OneOhio Recovery Foundation from spending opioid settlement funds until a final decision is made on whether OneOhio violated the Ohio Open Meetings Act.
On March 9, Franklin County Judge Mark Serrott ruled that OneOhio was a public body under the Open Meetings Act and had to follow the law. However, OneOhio has continued to hold board and committee meetings virtually, often entirely in secret, in violation of state law.
On April 12, a hearing was scheduled for July to determine whether a preliminary injunction should be issued.
At OneOhio’s board meeting on that same day, OneOhio revealed that it had received its first round of settlement funds — $58.3 million. The board voted to “allocate” the money in preparation for dispersing funds for grants approved by regional boards.
This prompted Harm Reduction Ohio to ask for a restraining order to prevent OneOhio from dispersing money for grants. Judge Serrott set a hearing on the motion for Tuesday, April 25.
OneOhio will spend 55% of Ohio’s opioid settlement, now worth $1 billion and likely to rise to more than $1.5 billion when other settlements are finalized. OneOhio has operated largely in secret, arguing that it is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and exempt from Ohio’s open meetings and public records laws.
Harm Reduction Ohio challenged this claim, saying OneOhio was a public body for the purposes of open meetings and public record laws. OneOhio asked the judge to dismiss the case on the grounds that it was not covered by the Open Meetings Act.
On March 9, Judge Serrott ruled OneOhio was covered by the Open Meetings Act based on Ohio law and the settlement agree, which states the foundation must follow open meetings and public records laws. The judge wrote: “The argument that the Foundation is a private entity not subject to the public meeting statute ignores the reality of its creation and funding. The private entity argument is an illusion without substance much like the ‘Emperor’s new clothes.’ The argument is disingenuous and defies logic.”
Despite the judge’s decision, OneOhio continued to violate the Open Meetings Act, making only one minor change: posting the time that previously secret meetings would be held but not permitting the public to attend.
The Open Meetings Act requires actions taken in violation of the law be invalidated. In the motion filed Monday. Harm Reduction Ohio asserted that invalidation would be a nearly impossible if OneOhio was allowed to make $50 million in grants. It would be impractical and unfair for grant recipients to have agreements invalidated and be expected to repay money after spending it.
In its motion, Harm Reduction Ohio also asked that OneOhio be forced to stop work on hiring a permanent Executive Director for $200,000 to $300,000. It would be unfair to the newly hired executive to have an employment contract invalidated. Applications for the job closed April 15. OneOhio’s five-member Executive Committee scheduled a meeting to discuss “Personnel Employment” on April 21. The public would not be allowed to attend the meeting.
Harm Reduction Ohio’s request for a restraining order can be read here or below. motion can be read here. Harm Reduction Ohio President Dennis Cauchon provided an affidavit supporting the motion. It can be read here or below.