Thursday, May 22, 2008

Olentangy School Board: Time for an ethics investigation

Thanks to OVN reporter Matt Gerish, the investigative legwork is already done. Simply copy and paste his article in an email to the Ohio Ethics Commission, follow up with a phone call, and the process takes over.

It's time this nonsense stopped.

Please note: This in not the first time that board member McFerson has been linked to questionable activities, but this instance stands out since the smoking gun is printed in the newspaper. The attorney mentioned in the article is Greg Scott from Scott, Scriven, and Wayhoff, the same law firm that provided the bogus "opinion" regarding the district's ability to close schools if the levy had failed.

They're all coming home to roost.

By the way, how are the district's knee-jerk supporters -- OFK, this blog's resident district apologists (Stan, etc.), and the other bobbleheads -- going to explain this one away.

Superintendent candidates named; process in question
Discussions among board members behind closed doors show a desire to hide the candidates and the process from the public.
Published: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 10:36 PM EDT

Five candidates have been selected as finalists in the search for a new Olentangy superintendent -- but questions remain about the process used to find them.

School boards in search of new administrators often turn to outside sources such as the Ohio School Boards Association or regional educational service centers for help.

The Olentangy school board was asked to vote April 8 to approve the Educational Service Center of Franklin County as the search firm to find the district a new superintendent.

During that meeting, board member Jennifer Smith raised concerns that the board violated Ohio's Sunshine Laws by allowing the center to give a presentation to the board behind closed doors about the services it would provide in locating the district's next superintendent.

Ohio's Open Meeting Act and Public Records Act are commonly referred to as the Sunshine Laws.
The statutory laws are based on the idea of openness in government and the right of public access to records, meetings and activities of government.

Public bodies are allowed to meet behind closed doors in what are referred to as executive sessions for only very specific purposes.

Smith suggested the center's presentation didn't qualify.Board President Scott Galloway said later that the district's legal counsel reviewed the issue, but it was unclear whether a violation had occurred.

The school board brought the center back April 11 to give the presentation before the public.

Smith gave the lone dissenting vote to approve a contract with the center for $1,500 plus expenses to find the next superintendent.

Smith said the board had not done its due diligence by considering only the Educational Service Center of Franklin County for the job.

An outline distributed at the closed-door meeting and obtained by the Olentangy Valley News shows that the Educational Service Center of Franklin County was all but approved a month before the board actually voted and that it may have been chosen in hopes of selecting a candidate as quickly as possible while keeping the process out of the public eye.

Board Vice President Dimon McFerson handed out the draft outline to board members regarding the search process during a March 18 executive session.

McFerson and Galloway are acting as the sole board liaisons for the superintendent search firm and were responsible for selecting the five finalists last week.

During the March 18 closed-door meeting, McFerson said the board should consider the Educational Service Center of Franklin County, which employs former Olentangy Superintendent Bill Reimer.

In the outline, McFerson said it wouldn't be necessary to put the process out for bid because the search for a superintendent is "all about who you know and have contact with."

McFerson said Reimer and the Educational Service Center of Franklin County already know the top candidates in the state.

McFerson's suggested process was to have Reimer bring the five best candidates to the board.

"All of these will be working somewhere and will have to be talked into applying. (Reimer) knows a great deal about them because he has probably talked to them in the last few months," McFerson wrote.

"We just might get lucky and find the person we want using this quick process and not have to spend the bigger dollars to do the longer regular process," he wrote. "If we proceed this way and fill the job, there may be some in the superintendent ranks that complain they didn't get a fair shake. So be it."

McFerson and the Educational Service Center of Franklin County both have said the top candidates already have jobs and won't want anyone to know they're interested moving to Olentangy.

In McFerson's outline, he said the right search firm would be able to hide the candidates and the process from the public and the press.

"We want the search firm to keep all paperwork. They can be protected from Freedom of Information Act requests. Our lawyer will explain how this works," McFerson wrote. "We will need to give a few interviews along the way but they will be general in nature. Absolute confidentiality must be maintained throughout the process. If leaks occur, top candidates often remove their names or deny they are interested if cornered."

Discussion regarding the search for a new superintendent continued April 1, when the Educational Service Center of Franklin County met with the board for a presentation in a closed session.

On April 8, McFerson defended the board's actions after Smith suggested it broke the law.

"I'd just like to publicly state that in my view there was no violation whatsoever of the Sunshine Laws. We talked in a global sense about the process we would put in place for the hiring of the superintendent. It's a most elaborate, delicate issue," McFerson said. "I did not violate any Sunshine Laws, nor do I believe any of my colleagues violated Sunshine Laws."

Smith later said that if the board were talking only in a "global sense," then it wouldn't warrant talking behind closed doors.

On Friday, May 16, the district announced five candidates had been selected for interviews with the board. All five candidates come from Ohio. They are:

*Valerie Browning, superintendent of Greenview Local Schools in Jamestown;
*Davis Estrop, superintendent of Lakewood City Schools;
*Todd Hoadley, superintendent of Olmsted Falls City Schools in Olmsted Falls;
* Scot Preble, superintendent of Granville Exempted Village Schools; and
* John Richard, superintendent of Perry Schools in Massillon.

The five candidates were chosen by Galloway and McFerson after they spent May 15 looking through all the applications.

The board will begin interviews of the candidates Thursday, May 22 and hopes to have a new superintendent hired by mid-June.


Anonymous said...

To whomever files this with the Ohio Ethics Commission:

Please add tampering with audio / failure to fully disclose meeting minutes to the list.


Anonymous said...

I think the board did a good job on this. Anyone who has ever done a high level recruitment knows that what McFerson said is absolutely true. Also, anyone involved with executive recruiters knows they got a great deal on the services. Most agencies charge 20% of the base pay.

Anonymous said...

I was at that meeting on April 8th. The paper did not even mention the rude and disgusting way that the Board members treated Jennifer Smith. But then it was the same as all of the other meetings, so I guess the press would not have noticed.Hey Ralph, thanks for the mention of the "tampered tape". I wonder if Ms. Smith will get her unrevised copy now.
Sick of this Crap

Paul said...


While there may be some basis for claiming that the Olentangy School Board committed ethics violations, if it is Sunshine Law violations which are the concern, the law specifies that the only course of action is a lawsuit requesting an injunction to order the public body to cease its violations (Yellow Book, pp 31-33).

I listened to the beginning of the minutes of the Board's April 8 meeting, and found myself cheering for Ms. Smith when she said she would like to read the employment contracts before casting her vote in approval.

She was answered with an explanation that the standing rules and policies of the Board allowed for votes on compensation to be taken in advance of the preparation of the contracts provided certain information was disclosed in advance (name, salary, term of contract). The superintendent went on to say that he had sought the advice of counsel, and had been told that it would be inadvisable to change their practices as request by Ms. Smith without going through the process of changing the policies first.

As someone who ran (unsuccessfully) for the our school board (Hilliard) with the expectation of changing the established modus operandi of our Board, this is discouraging. I had no idea that such rules and policies exist, and that they could be used so effectively to stiffle the efforts of someone intent on being a reformer.

In the case of our school board, a majority of the seat will be up for grabs at the next election. It sounds like we need to get a slate of reformers together and take all three seats if we want to see real change.


Jim Fedako said...


Thanks for the sunshine info. The keey is that the violator(s) can be removed from office. Hmmm.

Of course, this is not simply a mistake and correction. The memo from McFerson shows a concerted effort to violate (avoid) sunshine laws. This is the tip of the iceberg.

Regarding the attorney's opinion on standing rules and procedures ... more bunk from the very same law firm. Don't believe it.

Opinions are written to support the position of the person or entity that pays the bill.

Opinions are not worth the paper (or electrons) they are written on.

Mainly, opinions exist to reduce the likelihood that someone will raise a lawsuit. They do not protect the district, board, etc.