More White board members and White staffers added
Racial bias reaches new extreme
The OneOhio opioid settlement board took its commitment to Whiteness to a new level at its monthly meeting Wednesday.
You wouldn’t think OneOhio could get any Whiter than it already is, as documented in the article “The Incredible Whiteness of Being OneOhio.” After all, 28 of 29 board members are White, as are all the attorneys (then three, now five), the support staff, even the IT guy. That’s pretty darn White, and we (naively) thought the OneOhio board, which will oversee $500 million+ of compensation for opioid deaths, would be satisfied with this level of racial inequity.
But we underestimated OneOhio’s commitment to keeping the club as White as possible — or what OneOhio’s policy of doublespeak might call “inclusive.”
Please, for your own safety, put on sunglasses before reading the rest of this story because OneOhio is taking Whiteness right up to #FFFFFF on the hex color scale.
How White is the OneOhio opioid settlement foundation?
OneOhio Photo Album
The OneOhio opioid settlement board held its monthly meeting Wednesday at the County Commissioners Association of Ohio building, near the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. The board approved a secrecy policy that said it could close any meeting it wanted and withhold from the public any information it considered “inappropriate” for the public to know. OneOhio comically called this a “Transparency Policy.” (Read this article to learn how the OneOhio foundation uses Orwellian language– “up is down,” “war is peace” — to try to mislead the public.)
For those who understand color codes, the “transparency policy” would have a hex color code of #000000.
Harm Reduction Ohio has filed two suits to make sure the public can know what the OneOhio board is doing with opioid settlement money. The suits seek to force OneOhio to comply with Ohio open meetings and public records laws, as the opioid settlement agreement says, Ohio law requires and the Ohio governor and Attorney General promised.
But let’s not worry about that today. Let’s focus on OneOhio’s successful efforts to keep it all in the family — the White family.
Racism: By the numbers
Black residents account for 14% of Ohio’s population. Even more important, Black residents account for 20% of opioid overdose deaths so far in 2022. The opioid settlement money — now at $1 billion, with more to come when other settlements are complete — is compensation for opioid overdose deaths. The OneOhio opioid settlement board will oversee 55% of this $1 billion. (State and local governments get the other 45% directly.)
Black overdose deaths rates are 60% higher than those for White Ohioans, so you’d think OneOhio would involve Black Ohioans in decision-making and efforts to reduce overdose death. You would be wrong.
OneOhio’s only Black board member is former Cincinnati vice mayor Chris Smitherman, one of Gov. Mike DeWine’s five appointees. The one Black board member means Black representation equals 3% on the 29-member board. And it’s not just the board that looks like a bar of Ivory soap. All the lawyers, consultants, contractors, bankers, insurance agents, etc. getting paid by OneOhio are White. That equals 0% Black representation among the dozen or so staff and contractors now in the employ of OneOhio.
The lack of diversity — and the lack of recognition that this even matters or is anything more than a PR problem — illustrates what a shipwreck Ohio’s opioid settlement has turned into.
The exclusion of Black Ohioans is the most obvious problem with who is running this defective enterprise. But it’s not the only one. The 29-member board, its staff and consultants lack representation from every significant group that should be at the table. OneOhio has no involvement from:
- family members who lost a loved one to overdose.
- people in recovery (or active use) from opioid use in the last two decades.
- Hispanics or Asians or minorities of any variety.
The OneOhio board and its politically connected contractors are no more qualified to address the opioid epidemic than they are to run the Ohio State football team. They are fighting public access to what they’re doing for a reason.
As an example, the board passed bylaws Wednesday describing the goals of the OneOhio foundation. Reducing overdose death was not a goal. In fact, reducing opioid death during an epidemic of historic proportions has not been mentioned at any of the five board meetings held so far. (To be fair, the bylaws were developed in secret committee meetings that the public couldn’t attend; perhaps a board member happened to mentioned overdose death in these secret sessions.)
Why So White?
But let’s get back to the topic of this article: race.
How did this blatantly discriminatory enterprise happen in 21st Century Ohio?
State and local elected officials were tasked with choosing OneOhio board members. Nearly every board member was chosen in secret. Who got chosen?
Mostly White county commissioners, trustees and mayors choose themselves. They also choose some friends, colleagues, co-workers and supporters. Most board members don’t have significant personal or professional experience related to opioids, but some do.
What they have in common is race. The people choosing board members are White. When they choose board members, they considered people they knew. Decisions were made in private. The public wasn’t told the opioid settlement board was being formed. The public wasn’t allowed to apply for the positions, as they might for, say, a local planning commission appointment.
In this closed process, every local selection — 19 out of 19 — was White person. Of state appointees, 9 of 10 state were White.
This is how closed societies work. Your chums get in and others don’t. It explains OneOhio’s club-like atmosphere and hostility to outside scrutiny. It’s also how stigma works. The people most interested in what OhioOhio does with its money are people who use/d drugs and those who love them. They have been banned from speaking to the board, which voted to not set aside time for public comment at meetings.
This closed society, convinced of its essential goodness and superiority, believes it can (and should) make its own rules, pick its own members, operate in private and basically do whatever it darn well pleases with the half billion dollars.
More White People
OneOhio just got $1 million to start operations. It is hiring people and bringing on new board members. That, of course, presents an opportunity for more White participation. Admittedly, that might not seem statistically possible. But don’t underestimate OneOhio’s commitment to the cause.
At the meeting yesterday, 41 people were in the room, including board members, contractors, reporters, the governor’s drug policy advisor and Harm Reduction Ohio President Dennis Cauchon, who, as a 65-year-old White guy, easily slips past OneOhio security. Everyone in the room was White. Even the IT guy was White. A perfect score!
Another nine people (board members, the board secretary) participated by video. One of them — Chris Smitherman –was Black. Diversity in action!
Growing the (White) Pie
The key to expanding White participation in OneOhio is to “grow the pie.” You don’t want existing White people to leave the club; instead, the goal is to add new White people. That’s called growing the economy.
The meeting started with the introduction of two new hires and two new board members. Let’s go to the White board and greet them!
Jim Quinn, Chief Financial Officer. Jim retired in July after serving 11 years as the chief financial officer of the Ohio Department of Education. He wasn’t looking for a job, but he got a call from the Robert Half recruiting agency that a good position was available that might interest him. He talked to OneOhio Chairperson Kathryn Whittington, an Ashtabula County Commissioner, and Vice Chair Larry Kidd, a business person, and sure enough he was hired — without even applying!
Jules Coleman, board secretary/administrative assistant. The new staffer previously worked for the Columbus Realtors association and its Political Action Committee.
Both Jules and Jim will serve for the moment as contract employees while the new foundation gets club finances going. The Attorney General just sent OneOhio $1 million that the state received from an opioid settlement with the McKinsey consulting firm.
Jules and Jim seem qualified for their jobs. The question is: Are connected White people the only qualified people in Ohio?
Now let’s welcome two new board members:
Cuyahoga County Judge David Matia. David is a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge. He replaces Armond Budish, the Cuyahoga County Executive and Ohio Speaker of the House. Budish stepped aside after Harm Reduction Ohio reported that he had never actually been appointed to the board. Budish was serving as a board member because…well, that’s how private clubs work. Matia, who runs a drug court in Cuyahoga County and is a member of the governor’s RecoveryOhio drug policy board, was appointed, for real. David represents Region 3, which is Cuyahoga County, which has the greatest share of Black residents of any Ohio county.
Ohio Bankers League Senior Vice President Evan Kleymeyer. Evan is senior vice president of government and external relations for the Ohio Bankers League. The banking industry lobbyist was appointed by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (who is White). Legislative leaders of both parties make appointments to the board.
More Whites? Bank on it
Evan’s appointment is interesting because Harm Reduction Ohio has often said that if a $1 billion settlement had been reached for Ohio’s banking industry, bankers would be welcomed, not excluded, in saying how money is spent. Now, it turns out, the bankers even get represented on the opioid settlement board. People who’ve loved lot ones to overdose or who’ve suffered from opioid addiction don’t get a say in opioid settlement spending…but Ohio bankers do!
Is Ohio government great or what!
Evan and David may be fine members of the board if the rest of the board was properly qualified. In fact, both new members represent what’s wrong with the board as a whole. You’ve got well-meaning people with patches of knowledge, but, overall, this board lacks diversity in expertise, understanding and culture. As a group, it’s poorly equipped to intelligently spend $500+ million on opioids. Even people who may have specialized knowledge about one aspect — Judge Matia may know about drug courts, for example — lack expertise in other areas, and the board as a whole lacks breadth, depth, diversity and real-world experience.
This is why the Ohio State football team has athletes of different sizes, skills, speeds, specialities. A team made up entirely of five-star quarterbacks wouldn’t win any games. The lack of Black Ohioans illustrates unacceptable racial bias — and much more. It reveals a board ill-equipped to do the job its been assigned.
A culture problem
The board has too many elected officials and not enough people who’ve been impacted by opioids and overdose death. The board, as a whole, lacks knowledge, experience and passion to make wise decisions.
Even if Judge Matia is the most qualified elected official in Ohio, the narrowness of the board of directors — in personal experience, professional accomplishment, intellectual knowledge and cultural variety — make the group as a whole unfit to spend a fortune to reduce opioids problems and overdose death.
The OneOhio board, as a whole, lack the variety of talent and skill to accomplish its task. Meaning to do well is not the same as doing well. The low quality of this board, as a whole, will cost Ohioans their lives. They will cost the lives of people that Harm Reduction Ohio represents, the people we know and love.
The fact that OneOhio is addicted to appointing White people to every job reveals more than a total lack of racial sensitivity or understanding how racism works. OneOhio is as pure an example of structural and de facto racism as you’ll ever see. The board has many liberals and Democrats on it, yet not one has spoken publicly to say the board needs to better represent the impacted population, minorities and the Ohioans it is supposed to serve.
This is the political class taking care of itself. A political class that is smug about its own importance and dismissive of others who are better qualified, such as mothers who’ve lost children to overdose death and the thousands of diverse people working full time in Ohio to limit overdose death.
Instead, you have a politically connected, similarly situated White people who can’t easily engage Black people or the impacted population — even if they wanted to — because they’re imprisoned by a belief that their narrow, sealed Walden world is the reality of opioids in Ohio.
The OneOhio board suffers from the kind of addictive behavior that gets people who use drugs stigmatized and imprisoned. The OneOhio board earnestly claims it wants to be inclusive, kinda sorta…but it can’t, even in a token way. As members of a political class, its members are addicted to power and control and behaviors that have served them well in life. They lie to themselves, claiming a large all White group is inclusive and capable of fully understanding how to stop Black Ohioans from dying from a crack-fentanyl overdose. They tell themselves they have only an image problem and, if they hired a $10,000-a-month lobbyist/PR person, their problem will go away — at least for awhile. And the dealer of slogans is happy to sell them the nonsense to make them feel better.
Failure as an “image problem”
In an early article, Harm Reduction Ohio described the launch of OneOhio as a shipwreck. With each meeting and decision, OneOhio proves the shipwreck analogy true, even an understatement.
OneOhio would be a Fawlty Towers-style comedy if the lives of so many people didn’t depend on opioid settlement money being spent wisely. Instead, we’re in Act 1 of a tragedy. The ending hasn’t been written. Harm Reduction Ohio and others are trying to change the story. A diverse, competent board should be the easy part. Without competent boards at the state and regional level, we have no ability to accomplish the hard things.
A private club made up of a bunch of aging White government officials preening about saving-the-day is funny to watch. Think of the Ministry of Silly Walks. At its next meeting, the OneOhio board will proudly approve an inclusivity policy. I know! I am not kidding, The policy is being written by the all-White lawyers, to be sent to the all-White executive committee of the board, to be approved by the almost all-White (28-of-29 — nobody’s perfect) OneOhio board. All this is being done with zero irony…which is what makes the OneOhio board so darn funny. It’s farce at the highest level.
Only when you step outside the County Commissions Association of Ohio boardroom and onto the streets of Columbus do you realize it’s not a joke. Only when you sit down to write this article and you get an email from another heartbroken mother who wants to know if Harm Reduction Ohio can give her Narcan to give to her son’s friends. (Yes.) It’s only then that reality jars you back into the real world of opioid death. It’s only then that you realize that OneOhio is not a fuckin’ joke; it’s a tragedy.
By Dennis Cauchon, President, Harm Reduction Ohio