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Published: Friday, 7/15/2005

Secrecy loses again

THE formula for Coca-Cola. The baffling illusions of a skilled magician. Those are trade secrets. Public records are not. It seems so simple.

So we are pleased but hardly surprised by an Ohio Supreme Court decision Wednesday that the Bureau of Workers' Compensation must release all of its records related to transactions from the BWC's $50 million taxpayer-funded rare-coin investment controlled and managed by Tom Noe.

The court's 5-2 decision is gratifying in part because it was rendered with the assistance of five judges temporarily assigned to the court to hear the case.

Five of the court's six Republican members had recused themselves because they had accepted political contributions from Mr. Noe, which left only Justices Paul Pfeifer, the sixth Republican, and Alice Robie Resnick, the court's only Democrat. But three of the newcomers clearly viewed the state's "trade secrets" argument as bogus and joined in the majority decision.

Fair and full disclosure of the BWC's rare-coin transactions means the state will not be able to play games with the market when it sells off its inventory. As we have noted before, there is only one natural market for rare coins. That is the relatively small world of coin collectors, and the state has no business fostering misperceptions about what it holds or how much it paid in some misguided effort to snooker collectors and maximize the sale price.

Justice Pfeifer rightly noted in his concurring opinion that "how much the bureau paid for coins is irrelevant to how much they can be sold for. The market is the market."

However, as encouraged as we are by the court's decision, still unresolved is the refusal by Gov. Bob Taft to release weekly reports submitted to him by the BWC dating back to 1999. He contends that the notion of "executive privilege" entitles him to shield the reports from public view.

Our natural reaction, however, and that of the public, is to wonder what Mr. Taft has to hide relative to what he knew about the rare-coin investment and when he knew it. He says he didn't become aware of the BWC's two rare-coin funds until he read about them in The Blade in April. Do the weekly reports he clutches close to his chest suggest otherwise?

Maybe the governor should be careful what he wishes for. To invoke executive privilege would be to invent a tool for similar abuse by the next governor, and the way things are going, that could certainly be a Democrat.

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