Saturday, May 26, 2018
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When secrecy begets secrecy

THE Ohio Supreme Court's order that Gov. Bob Taft turn over weekly reports involving the Bureau of Workers' Compensation is only a small victory for freedom of information in regard to the Coingate scandal. What the court does with the documents will test the future of open government in this state.

Supplying the records to the court, which will review them and then rule on whether they should be made public, is one step in a tortuous process the justices established in an April decision that granted the governor executive privilege to keep internal documents secret.

We opposed that decision, and the review the court is now undertaking illustrates the pitfalls for above-board democracy when secrecy is allowed to beget secrecy in state government.

What we have here is a case in which information that ought to be public under Ohio's open-records law is being subjected to an unnecessary secondary review - in secret - by a state body that is political as well as legal in nature.

State Sen. Marc Dann, of Youngstown, a major figure in revealing the still-unfolding Coingate scandal, wants the reports released on the supposition that they will shed light on what the governor knew about wrongdoing at the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, which has lost millions of dollars in investment irregularities, including Tom Noe's $50 million rare-coin funds.

Mr. Taft wants to keep the reports secret, claiming the ones in question don't have anything to do with workers' compensation, that he already has released all relevant information about the bureau, and, anyway, the governor has the inherent right to confidentiality in communication with his close aides.

Never mind that executive privilege is mentioned neither in the Ohio Constitution nor in the Revised Code. A majority of five elected Republican justices had to borrow the concept from federal law and court decisions in what looked suspiciously like an effort to help protect Mr. Taft, a fellow elected Republican.

Those justices who may complain that their integrity is being impugned by the assertion that their April 13 decision was a political one are welcome to plead that case before the court of public opinion.

Even though the five justices sit on the state's most prestigious legal body, none of them can claim to be a political virgin.

We can only note that the five have received $51,000 in campaign contributions from Mr. Taft, as well as $23,510 from Noe.

Absent more Coingate bombshells, the information Mr. Taft is fighting so hard to keep secret most likely would cause political or personal embarrassment, but that's not a valid argument, constitutional or otherwise, against disclosure.

The public is entitled to know the full story behind how tax dollars and/or workers' compensation contributions have been squandered, and Bob Taft should not be allowed to hide behind some convenient veil of executive privilege.

The court should release the workers' compensation reports and let Ohioans have a look at information that is rightfully theirs to begin with.

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