Harm Reduction Ohio wins public records suit against OneOhio board
Secretive board must now must follow public records and open meeting laws
Harm Reduction Ohio won a second lawsuit today in an effort to break the OneOhio opioid settlement board claim that it can operate secretly.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled today that the OneOhio opioid must comply with Ohio public records law. The decision was unanimous.
Harm Reduction Ohio earlier won a Franklin County court decision that OneOhio must comply with Ohio open meetings law. OneOhio had argued it was a private organization and could keep meet privately and keep records secret.
Harm Reduction Ohio filed a public records lawsuit against OneOhio in August 2022 to force OneOhio to reveal records on spending, hiring, policies and secret meetings.
The Supreme Court ruled in Harm Reduction Ohio’s favor. In a 17-page decision, the court said: Harm Reduction Ohio “demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that it has a clear legal right of access to requested records and that the foundation has clear legal duty to provide access.”
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote the unanimous decision. The court awarded Harm Reduction Ohio court costs but not attorney fees.
The OneOhio opioid settlement is an agreement approved by Gov. Mike DeWine, Attorney General Dave Yost and nearly all counties, townships and municipalities in Ohio. The agreement called for the OneOhio Recovery Foundation to receive 55% of settlement funds. (The state and local governments will receive the rest.)
The lawsuit resolved today involves the 55% share to be spent by the OneOhio foundation. Ohio’s opioid settlement current is about $1 billion to be received over 18 years. When settlements from Purdue Pharma, CVS and others are completed, the OneOhio total will increase to about $1.7 billion, meaning the foundation will control more than $900 million.
Kennedy wrote: “(T)he state and local governments have delegated to the Foundation the task of spending public money. Under this backdrop, the Foundation is the functional equivalent of a public office and subjecting it to the requirements of the Public Records Act is consistent with the act’s policy of governmental openness.”
The Supreme Court decision completes Harm Reduction Ohio’s successful effort to force OneOhio to operate publicly and in compliance with Ohio’s transparency law. OneOhio had adopted bylaws saying it would “voluntarily” release only information it thought the public should know and let the public only into meetings it thought the public should attend. This claim is now invalid. Openness is now controlled by Ohio law, not the opinion of the government officials who run OneOhio.
“The Supreme Court decision is a big victory for people who’ve lost loved ones to overdose,” said Harm Reduction Ohio President Dennis Cauchon. “OneOhio’s effort to prevent the impacted population from seeing how decisions are made and money is spent was a sad mistake — and an illegal one. I hope OneOhio decides to welcome the impacted population into room and decision-making process. We should be treated as friends, not enemies.”
Potential problem: OneOhio says it won’t change
The Columbus Dispatch reports OneOhio’s response to ruling: “The decision doesn’t change things. Consistent with its mission, the Foundation operates in a transparent fashion and will continue to do so,” said its spokeswoman, Connie Luck, in a written statement.
Too funny! Luck’s $10,000-a-month, no-bid PR contract is one of the documents OneOhio has refused to release.
This is an example of how OneOhio thinks it can fool the public with bogus PR claims of transparency…while, in reality, keeping things secret. This shows how OneOhio’s “voluntary” transparency policy means no transparency at all.
Before today, OneOhio kept Connie’s contract secret. As of today, that contract must be released. No change? We report. You be the judge.:)
The Supreme Court’ decision on public records decision and the Franklin County court’ decision on open meetings decision can below:
OneOhio ignored the judge’s decision (above), so the judge issued a temporary restraining order forcing OneOhio to comply with the open meetings law.