A request has been made to allow public comment at the start of the OneOhio Recovery Foundation three-hour board meeting Thursday morning.
The OneOhio Recovery Foundation is a government board that controls spending 55% of Ohio’s $1 billion opioid settlement. The board hopes to become a supposed to be a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) private foundation, as required by the opioid settlement. However, the foundation and the OneOhio structure is made up nearly entirely of government officials at the county, regional and state level, making it questionable the board can qualify as a tax-exempt private foundation, as the settlement agreement requires.
The newly established governmental board and its local and regional OneOhio committees have so far operated largely in secrecy, claiming the Ohio’s Open Meetings Act does not apply. (Harm Reduction Ohio and other members of the impacted population are challenging this claim. Read details here, here and here.)
On Tuesday, Harm Reduction Ohio President Dennis Cauchon, Columbus Kappa Foundation Executive Director Nathaniel Jordan II and Dayton area businessman Scott Weidle sent a letter to foundation board chair Kathryn Whittington, an Ashtabula County Commissioner, and foundation attorneys asking that public comment be allowed at the start of its board meeting Thursday morning.
The letter says:
Dear Chair Whittington,
As three stakeholders with deep personal and professional interest in the opioid issue, we request that a period of public comment be allowed at the start of the OneOhio Recovery Foundation Board meeting on June 23, 2022.
We understand that the Ohio Open Meetings Act does not require that the public be allowed to speak at public meetings. However, it is standard practice at most government meetings that a period of time be set aside, usually at the start of a meeting, for members of the public to be heard. We believe a period of public comment would be beneficial to the foundation board and consistent with the goal of transparency shared by all members.
Dennis Cauchon, President, Harm Reduction Ohio
Nathaniel Jordan II, Executive Director, Columbus Kappa Foundation
Scott Weidle, author, Little Lost Boy: A Dose of Reality
The board had not responded to the letter as of 5 p.m. Wednesday. The OneOhio meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. to Noon Thursday, June 23, at the County Commissioners Association of Ohio Office, located ay 209 East State Street in Columbus.
Ohio law on public comment
As stated in the letter, the Ohio Open Meetings Act does not require that boards provide members of the public an opportunity to speak at boarding meetings. However, periods open to public comment are common at meetings across Ohio at the state, regional and local level.
The draft agenda does not reserve a time for the public to be heard during the three hour meeting. The board held its first meeting May 16 and prohibited the public from attending in person. Harm Reduction Ohio has hired an attorney who specializes in open meetings law to secure the right of the public to attend OneOhio foundation board meetings. A foundation lawyer said members of the public would be allowed to attend Thursday’s opioid settlement board meeting but declined to say if the public had a right to attend.
“A board that is going to spend a half billion dollars of government money from the opioid settlement should want to hear from the public, especially from people directly affected by opioid overdoses,” said Harm Reduction Ohio President Dennis Cauchon. “I’m optimistic that the board, which is made up almost entirely of government officials, will want to hear from people involved in preventing overdose death.”
Who made request public be allowed to speak
The authors of the letter are:
Dennis Cauchon, president of Harm Reduction Ohio. He oversees the largest Project DAWN naloxone distribution program in Ohio. (32,500 Narcan kits in 2021, several thousand overdoses reversed.)
Nathaniel Jordan II, executive director of the Columbus Kappa Foundation. He oversees the largest naloxone distribution program focused on preventing overdose deaths among Black Ohioans.
Scott Weidle, a Dayton area business owner who lost a son Daniel to overdose,. He won legislative approval in 2018 for “Daniel’s Law” to improve access to Vivitrol, authored the book Little Boy Lost: A Dose of Reality and created of the https://danielsstory.org/ web site in honor of his son.