Policies formed in secret approved in quickie votes
Contracts to political insiders kept secret
The OneOhio opioid settlement board held a quick meeting Wednesday afternoon, ratifying decisions made in secret earlier by board committees and private email chains.
The meeting of the 29-member board was scheduled for three hours in Columbus. The meeting wrapped up in 72 minutes. The board approved by voice votes policies that had been worked out in secret meetings that the public isn’t allowed to attend. Documents showing what the secret committees do is also withheld, as is documentation on how OneOhio spends money.
The public meeting held today is part of OneOhio’s commitment to fake transparency, OneOhio holds monthly show meetings in which OneOhio “voluntarily” lets the public witness, Politburo-style, the approval of decisions made in private with public involvement.
OneOhio is responsible for distributing 55% of Ohio’s $1 billion opioid settlement. So far, it has received no settlement money. It is currently operating using $1 million provided by the Ohio Attorney General. In a document provided at the meeting yesterday, OneOhio said it spent $382,000 in 2022.
OneOhio’s secrecy has been used to exclude minorities and people impacted by opioids from having a say in how the opioid settlement will be used.
To force OneOhio to involve the impacted population, Harm Reduction Ohio has sued OneOhio to try to force the opioid settlement board to operate in the open as required by Ohio law and the opioid settlement agreement itself.
Lawsuits Against OneOhio
Harm Reduction Ohio has sued OneOhio for violating Ohio’s open meetings and public records laws. OneOhio says it doesn’t have to comply with state law or the settlement agreement because it intends to become a 501(c)(3) non-profit, called the OneOhio Recovery Foundation. OneOhio says this claim will allow the government officials who run Ohio to operate in secret, as if they’re just private citizens spending a donation from wealthy person. (OneOhio has not yet asked the Internal Revenue Service to give it 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.)
Harm Reduction Ohio’s open meetings lawsuit was heard before Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Mark Serrott in October. A decision is expected soon.
Harm Reduction Ohio’s public records lawsuit was filed directly with the Ohio Supreme Court. Both sides submitted final legal briefs in December. What happens next in that case is up to the Ohio Supreme Court justices.
Listen to what we say, not what the settlement agreement requires
OneOhio claims it can act in secret no matter what the settlement agreement requires.
To give the appearance of transparency. OneOhio settlement board has “voluntarily” allowed the public to silently watch meetings of the state board. The public has never been allowed to address the board.
OneOhio says the public has no right to watch the board conduct business but the board, in an act of kindness, lets the public attend the monthly show meetings as a “voluntary” act of transparency. All OneOhio committee meeting, where decisions are made, remain off limits to the public. The public is not told when they will occur or what will be discussed.
Harm Reduction Ohio’s lawsuit seeks to force OneOhio to follow the Ohio Open Meetings. That would require OneOhio to provide notice to the public of all meetings, allow the public to attend and provide meeting minutes confirmed what happened. The Open Meetings Act does not require that the public be allowed to speak, only that the public be allowed to attend.
The Incredible Whiteness of OneOhio
At the latest OneOhio meeting, every person in the room — all 37 people — were White. It has been that way at every meeting. Black residents account for 14% of Ohio’s population and 20% of opioid overdose deaths, but people of color have been effectively excluded from OneOhio. (See The Incredible Whiteness of Being OneOhio.)
All OneOhio staff members are White. All OneOhio contractors are White. All members of the OneOhio expert panel are White. Twenty-eight of 29 OneOhio board members are White. The board includes no who are Hispanic or Asian members either. The lone Black board member is former Cincinnati Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman, who participated by video.
No snickering: OneOhio’s diversity commitment policy
At Wednesday’s meeting, the OneOhio board approved “OneOhio Recovery Foundation Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy.” No kidding!
The meeting was an irony-free zone!
No board member — not the Democrats or Republicans — noted that the obvious: that the “Foundation Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” was being approved by a board that practices exclusion. Smitherman, the only Black member of the board, speaking by video, congratulated his fellow board members for their hard work on the diversity policy.
And the band played on.
The board passed the two-page diversity policy exactly as it had been worked out in secret with one exception. At the request of Fairfield County Commissioner Jeffrey Fix, language was removed that would have made diversity a goal for the 19 regional OneOhio boards.
The language removed in a voice vote said: “With each seat vacancy, the Board will review the matrix of member diversity and competencies and seek to fill the vacancy, accordingly, ensuring the Board is reflective of all served.”
OneOhio’s 19 regional boards are currently as White, if not more so, then the state board. For the regional boards, having a person of color get one of every 29 board seats would be aspirational.
Impacted population shunned
The OneOhio opioid settlement board also has excluded Ohioans impacted by opioids. Ohio’s opioid settlement is large – $1 billion so far, 55% of which will be spent by OneOhio — because the settlement allocation formula measured how many people died in each state and county when dividing up the national settlement amount.
Yet no board members, no expert panel member, no staff member, not contractor is known to have lost a loved one.
though the large size of Ohio’s $1 billion opioid settlement was based on a formula counting the high number of overdose deaths we’ve suffered. Also, nobody involved in OneOhio has struggled with opioids, at least not within the lat two decade, the period covered by the settlement.
People died for this money — literally, died for this money. The OneOhio opioid settlement is not tax revenue. It is compensation for tens of thousands of deaths in Ohio.
Yet the impacted population has been excluded from OneOhio opioid settlement decisions in favor of township trustees, county commissioners and other connected people.
At an earlier meeting, the impacted population asked to address the board briefly. The board said no. Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, then a board member, said OneOhio board members was too busy to hear from people impacted by opioids.
OneOhio’s exclusion of people who’ve lost loved ones to overdose has been as callous and clueless as it sounds.
OneOhio as Governmental Slush Fund
OneOhio is controlled by government officials, mostly county commissioners and township trustees, who claim they are private citizens spending the government’s opioid settlement dollars. All OneOhio board members, at the state and local level, are government appointees.
The government officials and appointees, claiming to be acting as “private citizens,” say they do not have to tell the public what they’re doing or how money is spent. In addition, board members also claim they are exempt from Ohio ethics law. Really? The issue has not been settled but expect to see elected officials directing opioid settlement funds to family and friends — and claiming it’s all legal because they are mere private citizens spending non-profit money.
In short, OneOhio is a bold effort to convert the deaths of people Harm Reduction Ohio represents into secret half billion dollar slush fund for the politically connected.
Who does OneOhio Serve? A Touch of Luck and BingleConnie Luck
OneOhio is already scratching the back of political insiders with little restraint. The first money the board approved was to pay Republican lobbyist Connie Luck up to $10,000-a-month to do public relations to make the board look good. (See story here.)
How much Luck has actually been paid is, of course, a secret. So is her contract. Harm Reduction Ohio asked for a copy of Luck’s contract based on the Ohio Public Records Act or OneOhio’s “voluntary” transparency policy, which says OneOhio can release only what it considers “reasonable” for the public to know. So far, OneOhio has considered nothing “reasonable” to release. Indeed, OneOhio doesn’t even acknowledge requests for information.
It is a secret society, in the purest sense.
OneOhio also has awarded a no-bid contract to Republican political consultant Kevin Bingle, owner of Right Digital, which provides digital serves to Republican political candidates. Harm Reduction Ohio requested a copy of Bingle’s contract as well as the amount of what he’s been paid. Silence. OneOhio has refused to provide this information or acknowledge the request.
Are there no Black contractors or staff qualified to work for OneOhio? Of course, there are. But handing unannounced no-bid contracts to politically connected (White) insiders is how structural racism works. Who you know matters most of all.
How should OneOhio work? As a meritocracy. Contracts should awarded openly, fairly and competitively with an extra effort to include people who have been shut out because they aren’t part of the small club of politically elite (White) people.
New Hire: Ashtabula County Commissioner
At OneOhio’s December meeting, Ashtabula County Commissioner Kathryn Whittington was hired as interim executive director of the OneOhio foundation. She had been board chair.
Whittington and fellow OneOhio board members secretly worked out hiring Whittington for annualized rate of $78,000 a year for working 30 hours per week. Then, in a session “voluntarily” made open to the public, the board formally approved the deal. Upon being hired, Whittington resigned as unpaid OneOhio board chair and become paid executive director. (See story here.)
Whittington will continue as a paid Ashtabula County Commissioner. As an elected county commissioner, she was paid $81,157 in 2021, according to her financial disclosure form filed with the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Ashtabula County Commissioner Casey Kozlowski replaced Ashtabula County Commissioner Kathryn Whittington on the OneOhio board at Wednesday’s meeting. The revolving doors keeps revolving, yet the same people keep walking through!
Odd, isn’t it, how all the “private citizens” chosen to be on the OneOhio opioid settlement board happen to be government officials
With such luck as “private citizens” who happen to get selected, they should play the Mega Millions lottery! ($1.35 billion jackpot on Friday, January 13, 2023!)
“Expert” Panel: How stigma works
The OneOhio opioid settlement board quickly ratified another important policy that had been worked out in secret: the application to be a member of OneOhio’s nine-person “Expert Panel.” The Expert Panel will advise the state and regional boards on how to spend settlement money. Three Expert Panel members have already been appointed by the Governor and Attorney General. Six are still to be appointed by the OneOhio board.
You may see the problem: the narrow, insular OneOhio board will now appoint “experts” from the same unrepresentative pool that the board, staff and contractors is drawn from.
The OneOhio application, approved by voice vote with little discussion, continues the insular mindset that is strangling the opioid settlement. The core problem: the application effectively excludes the impacted population from providing advice on wisdom on how to use opioid settlement money.
The first question on the application: “Have you written articles, publications or books in your field? Yes or No. If yes, please list the publications and the year they were published.”
The second question: “Please provide your notable professional speaking engagements with the topics and approximate outreach.”
The third question: “please list your professional organizations and associations.”
The fourth question: “Please list your professional recognition and awards in this field.”
This is how stigma works. People who use drugs and those who love them are considered lab rats to be observed and directed by credentialed experts.
This is false. In truth, people who use/d drugs and those who love them are experts on their own lives. In fact, they are the leading experts.
Whether they have a PhD or a high school degree tells you little about what they’ve learned in life about opioids. People with PhDs and titles and high-paying jobs have a certain kind of expertise that is valuable. But they are often, almost always, shielded for the knowledge that people with lived experience have.
I personally know dozens, hundreds, of people without fancy credentials who are far more knowledgable about how the real world works and what’s really needed than I am or any other “expert” in my socioeconomic demographic Many of the best experts are hair dressers or construction workers, mothers and grandmothers, people in recovery and, yes, people in active use.
Extending the exclusion of the impacted population to the “Expert Panel” is an attempt to close the last open door on the impacted population to have any involvement with deciding how to spend opioid money. If half the board had lived experience, it might be OK to have an expert panel full of people who publish in academic journals. But the OneOhio state and regional boards are narrow, unrepresentative and have little expertise in the everyday world of people harmed by opioids. Even board members who do have direct expertise have only a slice of knowledge — on treatment, for example.
The Expert Panel is the last place for people with lived experience to be heard. The impacted population has already been shut out of decision-making positions. Now the insular decision-makers are using faux neutral paperwork to deny the impacted population to even offer non-binding advice on how to spend settlement dollars.
OneOhio is a cruel lesson in how the elite use paperwork to exclude and control a stigmatized population, to define what’s important and what’s not. If this were an expert panel on molecular biology, limiting the expert panel to credentialed experts might make sense. But this is an Expert Panel on human life, as it’s lived in the real world by a wide array of people.
It is ignorant to consider people whose lives have been shaped by opioids as unqualified to be advisory experts on their own lives
It is offensive and ignorant to exclude people who use/d opioids and those who love them from advising how to spend settlement dollars unless they have a PhD, MD or MPH next to their name.
The Shipwreck of the USS OneOhio
Bad processes create bad results.
Ohio’s opioid settlement structure was a good idea on paper. State and local governments get 45% of the money directly. A 501(c)(3) private foundation was to be created to oversee the remaining 55%. The idea was to have the flexibility and efficiency of a private foundation with the transparency of a government agency.
Instead of the best of both worlds, we have the worst of both worlds. A government board pretending to be a private foundation and pretending it can act in secrecy, notwithstanding the plain language stating otherwise in the opioid settlement agreement.
The execution of the good-on-paper settlement agreement has been disastrous and, to be blunt, disrespectful to the dead. Government is running OneOhio with all the governmental speed and efficiency you’d expert. The goal is to get the first payment out in the fall of 2023, two years after the opioid settlement was reached. And the only contentious issue the board is dealing with is the political issue of how money and power will be divided between state and local regions.
A moment of silence for the 5,000 Ohioans who died of drug overdoses in 2022 is beyond what the OneOhio board, even though it would be good PR, whether sincere or not.
Nobody involved in OneOhio is evil. Because board members mean well, they believe they are doing well. Because they exclude the impacted population from decision-making or even advisory roles, they live in a bubble in which the fairy tales they themselves and their PR consultant polishes seems like reality. Because it is their reality.
Nearly every OneOhio board member could contribute well to spending opioid settlement money wisely. But, together, as a whole, the board is an insular and unqualified group that, to its own detriment, thinks secrecy will make function better.
Here comes success
The OneOhio board is no more qualified to spend settlement dollars than it is to run the Ohio State football team. The board and the demographic clones being added as staff, contractors and “experts” may think they can run a high-level offense and defense against the opioid problem. The narrow slice of expertise some may have cannot even imagine the complex, ever-changing world that the impacted population lives.
OneOhio’s secrecy strategy is designed to protect power and protect those involved from criticism. In football, incompetence gets revealed on the field. With OneOhio, elected officials hope secrecy and PR spin is enough to claim a win. And, for a government board, that is usually enough. To be perceived as doing a good job is as important — indeed, more important — than actually doing a good job.
Unfortunately, the overdose epidemic is not a game. The score of the bungled OneOhio effort will be measured, in lives lost, children orphaned, etc. The government officials running a faux private foundation want, more than anything to tell themselves and the public they are doing a great job. When there’s a disconnect between what you’re claiming and what you’re doing, secrecy is a smart strategy. I understand why secrecy is so important to the struggling OneOhio effort.
When government does something that works, publicity — not secrecy — is the strategy that gets followed.
The red flag of failure
In a way, without knowing the facts, you already know whether OneOhio is a success or failure. When the public is denied the right to know anything about what’s being done, a warning flag of failure is being raised. When government government tries to involve only like-minded people on a project, a warning flag of failure is being raised. When the first dollars (and tens of thousands thereafter) are spent on PR and marketing rather than the mission of the organization, a red flag of failure is being raised.
The crew on the USS OneOhio shipwreck wants to think an iceberg has not gashed the ship. It wants to sell a story of how totally awesome it is…how diversity and inclusion means excluding minorities…how people with lived experience don’t know nothin’ about that darn opioid problem. The USS OneOhio wants you to believe the Titanic never sank. The ship may just be a little late docking but everything is fine. Listen…the band is playing.
Hiding how money is spent and decisions are made (and who is making them) is crucial to protecting the “totally awesome” story line. The gap between the truth and the “totally awesome” storyline grows bigger every day.
It’s no coincidence that the foundation’s first hire was Republican PR consultant Connie Luck, who’s earning her $10,000-a-month (we think) for spinning positive ghost-written articles for board members. The articles all say the same thing: “We’re awesome!”
Luck even wrote a public relations release celebrating what the OneOhio board today. The official release offers this insightful quote:
“As always, I am impressed by the diligence and commitment of our all-volunteer board to the painstaking work required to establish fundamental policies, procedures and ethical guardrails for the Foundation,” said Board Chair and member-at-large Larry Kidd, a Jackson County entrepreneur who is also a co-founder of the Jackson County Drug Task Force. “Members’ efforts in these formative meetings are setting standards for the Foundation’s long-term success in helping address the terrible toll that drug addiction and abuse are taking on families and communities across Ohio.”
The quote says little about OneOhio has done but much about how OneOhio sees itself and wants the public to see it.
To save time, let me offer an alternative view of OneOhio’s Orwellian report on its own awesomeness: Bullshit.
— Dennis Cauchon, President, Harm Reduction Ohio