War Is Peace.
Freedom Is Slavery.
Secrecy Is Transparency.
The OneOhio opioid settlement board plans to approve a policy Wednesday authorizing it to conduct all business and spending in secrecy.
OneOhio amusingly calls its secrecy policy a “Transparency Policy.” Under this “Transparency Policy,” the OneOhio board and its staff will tell the public only what OneOhio thinks the public should know. The public will have no right to know how opioid settlement money is spent, who receives it, how much was paid, how decisions were made, etc.
Harm Reduction Ohio has filed suit saying that the state’s OneOhio Recovery Foundation, which will oversee $500 million+ in opioid settlement money, must follow Ohio open meetings and public records laws, as required by Ohio law and the plain language of the OneOhio settlement agreement.
You’re no high falutin’ lawyer, but you can probably read. This is what the OneOhio agreement says:
Seems pretty clear, does it not? Ohio’s governor and attorney general signed a settlement agreement that was approved by 2,000 local governments that says: “Meetings shall be open and documents shall be public to the same extent they would be if the Foundation was a public entity.”
Instead, the OneOhio board, made up mostly of (white) local government officials and (white) state legislators, is pissing away opioid settlement dollars in its fight to operate secretly, outside of public scrutiny. This is on top of the board’s first major expenditure: hiring a connected lobbyist for$10,000-a-month to do public relations explaining how wonderful the board is.
We know it’s wonderful because the faux “foundation,” controlled by elected officials, hired a lobbyist to tell you it’s wonderful. What else might the troublesome public want to know!? Like how much the lobbyist is being paid and what the contract says. Harm Reduction Ohio asked for this information in a public records request. The OneOhio foundation didn’t fulfill the request or even acknowledge that it was made. Secrecy has its privileges.
Transparency = Secrecy
Most readers will be familiar with George Orwell’s novel “1984” that introduced the ideas of Big Brother, doublethink and newspeak to our vocabulary. In the book “1984,” the Ministry of Truth made bold pronouncements of “truths” that were the opposite of reality.
The OneOhio Recovery Foundation’s “Secrecy Is Transparency” entry is an early favorite to be a finalist in this year’s Orwellian Language competition, although “Special Military Operation = Not War” is considered the favorite.
Let’s look at the “transparency” language that OneOhio jesters have given us. The policy starts off with the simple artistry of its name: “Transparency Policy.” Then, also artfully, it unleashes a 927-word fog of words. The Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986 is cited, as is any “corresponding section of any future United States Revenue Law.”
The policy salutes the philosophy of transparency and openness in ostentatious fashion. It sets forth many definitions and uses terms that almost, kinda sound like Ohio Sunshine Laws. Almost. Kinda. But not really.
Transparency: “Not appropriate”
Tucked away in the “transparency” policy’s waterfall of platitudes and legalism is an exception that is the only thing that matters: the foundation doesn’t have to provide anything it considers “not appropriate for the general public.” And who makes this determination on what’s appropriate for the public to know and not know?
You are so smart! You are correct. OneOhio itself will retain complete authority on what the public may see and not see. Such efficiency! “Transparency” has never been easier — or phonier.
The general public doesn’t get to determine what is “appropriate” for it to know. The Ohio Open Meetings Act and the Ohio Public Records Act doesn’t determine what is “appropriate” for the public to know. Why it’s the Ministry of Truth itself that will determine what is appropriate for the public to know and, most importantly, not know.
Is OneOhio acting like a secret slush fund and handing out sweet deals to connected people? Gee, I wonder if OneOhio will consider that “appropriate” for the public to know. We have a pretty good guess. OneOhio has already struck a deal to pay a connected lobbyist up to $10,000 a month to do public relations to make OneOhio’s board look grant. Harm Reduction Ohio asked for a copy of the contract and how much the lobbyist has billed the opioid fund.
Has this basic information been provided? No. The request hasn’t even been acknowledged. It must be “inappropriate” for people who’ve lost loved ones to overdose death to have any idea how the OneOhio private club is spending money received because their loved ones died.
In truth, OneOhio is already — from the start — dishing out money in secret contracts to politically connected doing work that has no relationship to reducing overdose death. The lobbyist/PR person is serving the needs of elected officials, not people affected by opioids.
It is entirely appropriate to observe that this is exactly why public records laws exist, to prevent this wasteful insider-ism. The public has a right to know that money is being diverted from addressing the opioid problem and spent on polishing the images of government officials.
Transparency: Voluntary or mandatory?
As if this fake transparency isn’t enough, the OneOhio foundation board plans to approve bylaws on Wednesday that would further block the public from having access to public records and meetings that OneOhio wants to keep secret.
The proposed bylaws, known as the foundation’s “Code of Regulations,” contains many Orwellian sentences promising “transparency.” Like this one:
On a voluntary basis in order to ensure transparency as a means to facilitate increased engagement to help achieve the Foundation’s Charitable Purposes and mission, the Foundation shall make reasonable arrangements to make the meetings of the Board accessible to the general public, other than the meetings, or portions thereof, in which the Board was in executive session or if the Board otherwise determines, in good faith, that certain materials are sensitive, confidential, or privileged material that is not appropriate for the general public.
At 84 words, this sentence contains enough doublespeak to feed the mouths of many $10,000-a-month PR people or $250-an-hour lawyers. To help these Transparency Truthers, Harm Reduction Ohio hereby donates three periods — . . . — to the OneOhio transparency team for use anywhere in this sentence. Even placing these periods randomly — say after words19, 48 and 67 or words 22, 44 and 66– would improve clarity and writing quality.
This sentence repeats the same all-purpose nonsensical claim that, in the name of transparency, OneOhio can keep secret anything “not appropriate for the general public.” But OneOhio doesn’t stop there. The Orwellian pulchritude of this sentence resides in the world “voluntary.” Such a cheerful and upbeat world. Harm Reduction Ohio depends on 300 volunteer lay distributors of naloxone to distribute 30,000+ naloxone kits every year and reverse 3,000+ overdoses.
We love volunteers!
What is OneOhio volunteering to do? Oh my. The bylaws says the OneOhio Board of Directors will meet in public on a “voluntary basis” (except, of course, when not appropriate for the public to see).
This isn’t how transparency works. Voluntary transparency is no transparency.
OneOhio Shush Fund: Top Secret
The OneOhio board of directors is required — no choice; no if, ands or buts — to meet in public. The public has a right to know what OneOhio is doing with a half billion in opioid settlement money. This isn’t a privilege that OneOhio grants to the riff-raff public when it deems appropriate. Ohio citizens have a right to know what OneOhio does. This right is codified in Ohio law and in the plain language of the opioid settlement agreement.
To repeat, the OneOhio agreement says: “Meetings shall be open and documents shall be public to the same extent they would be if the Foundation was a public entity.”
OneOhio is trying to drown these 23 words under hundreds upon hundreds of words of doublespeak. Harm Reduction Ohio should be spending its meager resources preventing people from dying; instead, we’re spending money to force the opioid settlement board to treat survivors with respect, to involve us in spending opioid compensation, to follow the law and at a minimum disclose how this money is being spent.
Ever wonder why people don’t trust government more? This is why.
The governor and attorney general made a promise in writing — and then just cavalierly ignored it. Another day in Ohio politics. The political elite — both Republicans and Democrats on the board — think they have a secret slush fund. Pissing away settlement dollars to make a legal defense of a specious claim is government at its most cynical. This is how stigma works. Do you think if Ohio received a $1 billion settlement because our banks had been defrauded that bankers and the public would be excluded from involvement in spending decisions and denied access to knowing how the settlement is spent?
The ugly undercurrent of this secrecy claim is that the OneOhio board thinks people who use drugs and those who love them are lesser beings — people who may have died for this money but are unworthy of knowing how it is spent, much less being involved in decision-making.
What OneOhio’s transparency policy should say
A real transparency policy needs just 10 words: “OneOhio shall follow Ohio public records and open meetings laws.”
Because OneOhio thinks long sentences add insights, we offer this 30-word version: “To ensure transparency, the OneOhio Recovery Foundation shall follow the Ohio Open Meetings Act and the Ohio Public Records Act, as required by law and the OneOhio Memorandum of Understanding.”