Close-kept superintendent search earns dubious recognition for Olentangy school board
* An Ohio journalism society has given its Brick Wall Award to the Olentangy school board.
By MATT GERISH
Published: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 5:07 PM EDT
The search for Olentangy's newest superintendent ended last year, but the process used to find him is still receiving attention.
The Central Ohio Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has selected the Olentangy school board as the recipient of its 2009 Brick Wall Award.
Since 2001, the society has presented the award to the individual or organization that, according to chapter members, did the most to block journalist and resident access to public records and proceedings or otherwise violated the spirit of the First Amendment during the past year, according to the Central Ohio SPJ.
"The Central Ohio SPJ board chose the Olentangy (board) for this dubious distinction after the board's deliberate efforts in 2008 to keep the details of its superintendent search from the public," wrote Central Ohio SPJ Vice President Kevin Kemper in a April 27 letter to board President Julie Wagner Feasel.
Kemper cited questionable closed-door meetings with the Educational Service Center of Franklin County search firm and a memo distributed to board members from then-Vice President Dimon McFerson, which stated, "We want the search firm to keep all the paperwork. They can be protected from Freedom of Information Act requests. Our lawyer will explain how this works."
During the board's second search attempt, McFerson was approved as a one-man search "committee" in hopes of skirting legal requirements of the Open Records Act and Open Meetings Act, Kemper wrote.
"It was also a move that allowed the board to follow the letter, but certainly not the spirit, of Ohio's Sunshine Laws," he wrote.
Kemper invited Wagner Feasel or a district representative to receive the award during the SPJ Founders Day banquet, held Thursday, May 7.
"In previous years, winners such as the Ohio Historical Society and the village of New Rome have attended and accepted the award in person to begin a dialogue on the issues leading up to this award," Kemper wrote.
No representatives of the district were in attendance at the banquet.
McFerson and Wagner Feasel both said they did not plan to comment on the award.
"I am not at all surprised that the Olentangy BOE received an award for impeding access to public records and public meetings," said board member Jennifer Smith. "This board has no regard for transparency. Worse, they are counter-transparent, continually violating the public's right to an open school board."
Smith said as recently as last month that the other four members of the school board violated the Open Meetings Act by discussing board business outside of a public meeting.
"I, personally, have incurred $2,000 in legal expense to obtain public records from the district," Smith said. "This fall, two school board seats are up for election, and I am hopeful that the residents of our community will be responsive."
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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Julie and Teri, Pick up your award. You earned it.
McFerson missed the banquet too. And he never misses an awards ceremony. Come on you selfless public servants, don't be shy, you all earned it -- time and time again.