September 21, 2014

Elyria
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Rep. Matt Lundy, Gov. Kasich at odds over info release

When does the public’s right to know become a public nuisance?

That’s what Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is being asked to decide by state Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria.

Lundy on Thursday requested a legal opinion from DeWine on whether Gov. John Kasich should provide emails and other documents related to how Kasich formulated his education budget. Lundy made the Freedom of Information request in March, and Kasich denied it as “overly broad,” citing a 2008 Ohio Supreme Court ruling in Glasgow v. Jones denying a Freedom of Information request made to the state.

Lundy said Kasich’s denial is an excuse to keep the information secret and Kasich is purposefully misinterpreting the ruling.

Lundy said it’s part of a pattern of secrecy by Kasich that began when he tried to be inaugurated in private, refused to provide resumes of administration nominees and initially denied the release of three emails between Kasich and Ohio State University President Gordon Gee.

“It’s important to get clarification and to get clarification as quickly as possible so that this is not an abusive pattern by the administration or by others in local government,” Lundy said. “He wants government to operate in the dark. The public wants government to be transparent.”

Lundy’s request, which Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols called, “king of the dopiest requests we’ve ever gotten,” is voluminous.

Besides the emails, the request includes: one spreadsheet breaking down how budget cuts will affect each school district, estimated costs of possible lawsuits over the potential firings of older teachers, projected losses for future charter and voucher payments under new rules as well as lists of charter schools in academic emergency or that have closed, and a bibliography of research indicating how proposed reforms will improve student achievement.

Nichols said rather than request public records, Lundy is asking the Kasich administration to create public records, which the administration is not required to do under FOI laws.

Nichols called the FOI request “ankle biting stuff” and Lundy’s request of DeWine “flawed and absurd.” Dewine and Eve Mueller, a DeWine spokeswoman, couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday night.

Nichols said Lundy is asking the administration to do work for him. Nichols said the Legislative Services Commission is charged with gathering information for the administration and lawmakers.

“He’s a former investigative journalist. He should know that,” Nichols said. “If he wants information, he can go to the legislative services commission or the library.”

But the commission or the library wouldn’t have the emails Lundy seeks. Lundy requested all emails and correspondence between Kasich and education adviser Robert Sommers.

Lundy also sought any correspondence or materials related to education policy from Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing group founded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing group whose agenda includes derailing the Obama administration’s health care law at the state level.

FOI expert Tim Smith, a Kent State journalism professor and attorney, said Lundy is entitled to the emails, which courts have consistently ruled are public when they involve conversations about public matters between public officials.

Smith said Kasich was wrong to cite the Glasgow case, which involved thousands of emails and text messages between state representatives Shannon Jones and Josh Mandel over a period of years. Smith said it is unlikely that Kasich and Sommers have corresponded that much since Kasich’s inauguration in January.

Smith said Kasich was also required to provide an explanation for the denial, and “overly broad” is not in the legal statutes.

“It’s an inappropriate use of the term and an inappropriate use of the court case, but not surprising given the Kasich attitude toward public records,” said Smith, the former managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal. “Mr. Transparency is anything but.”

Lundy and Smith said they worry that with Kasich pushing for prison privatization and leasing of the Ohio Turnpike, public information controlled by private entities or about those private entities will become inaccessible.

“You eliminate public scrutiny,” Smith said.

However, Nichols said privatization will not compromise the public’s right to know.

“The administration will default on the side of transparency,” he said.

Read the request:

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Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.