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Disputed Taft memos are released

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COLUMBUS - After a year-long legal battle that included a trip to the Ohio Supreme Court, Gov. Bob Taft finally released hundreds of weekly reports yesterday that he fought to keep private - and the memos showed only how bureaucratic the governor's office can be.

Mr. Taft, facing an open-records lawsuit from state Sen. Marc Dann, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, argued that his weekly reports should be shielded from the public because they fall under his "executive privilege."

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed that the governor deserves a limited privilege, but on Friday ruled that the weekly reports should be made public.

The memos released yesterday, which consisted of communications from the governor's business advisers, contained snippets of information about conferences, meetings, and long-term projects - and a few mentions of Tom Noe in his role as chairman of the Ohio Turnpike Commission.

Noe, who was convicted earlier this year on charges he laundered money into President Bush's re-election campaign, is at the center of a wide-ranging investment scandal at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

The scandal, triggered after Blade reports on two rare-coin funds Noe managed for the bureau, led to Mr. Taft's criminal conviction last summer on misdemeanor ethics charges for failing to report gifts and golf outings he received, including some from Noe.

The memos released yesterday ironically noted the impressive returns on the bureau's $15 billion investment fund, which has become the focus of investigators and a state and federal task force investigating corruption.

A Feb. 6, 2004, memo from Jim Samuel, Mr. Taft's former executive assistant for business and industry, stated that "BWC's investment portfolio outperformed 86 percent of all public funds nationally over the past eight years."

Earlier, a Nov. 7, 2003, memo from Mr. Samuel noted that the bureau's "relatively successful investment returns have put them in the spotlight" in comparison with other state pension funds.

Last year, the bureau fired all of its investment managers amid the scandal, opting for more conservative investments, and Mr. Samuel was demoted for failing to inform the governor about the bureau's $216 million in losses in an offshore hedge-fund investment with MDL Capital Management.

Another memo released yesterday showed that in August, 2002, the bureau found that its claimants had been receiving less than their deserved benefits because of "poor record-keeping."

Mr. Dann, who said he had not completely reviewed the records yesterday, said it was "outrageous" that the governor would claim these records as privileged, especially considering the nature of the documents.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Mr. Dann, adding that he is preparing additional records requests for the governor's office based on the court's ruling.

Mr. Taft's spokesman, Mark Rickel, said yesterday that the purpose of the legal battle was to assure that the governor could have "candid" communication with his staff about things like economic development projects.

The governor last summer initially released some of the same records that he provided yesterday.

"This hasn't been about Bob Taft,"Mr. Rickel said.

"This has been about future governors and the ability to communicate candidly with staff," he explained.

Contact Steve Eder at:

seder@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.

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