The Open Meetings Acts for dummies at Wright State (and elsewhere)

The new wright state logo not done by YorkBranding or Push Inc showing Wright State leadership under Dr. David Hopkins

If there are two primary jobs of a university board of trustees, it is to hire and evaluate the President of a University and to keep track of the money. It would seem the WSU board of trustees can’t figure out where the money went and who to blame or praise. Maybe it’s because this feckless bunch lead by Doug Fecher of WPCU don’t know what their job is, and no one at the State level seems to care.

When the university went from cash rich to the poor house, no one got blamed. The President didn’t get fired, the numbers guy, Mark M. Polatajko, Ph.D., CPA ended up at Kent State, and the money has never been accounted for.

So, when the board has a committee meeting, ostensibly to review and create the evaluation for the president, in private- they have to do it a certain way.

From a regular meeting, a majority of the board has to make a motion to go into executive session to specifically discuss personnel issues. No exceptions. A subcommittee can only meet in public.

Here’s the law:

(G) Except as provided in divisions (G)(8) and (J) of this section, the members of a public body may hold an executive session only after a majority of a quorum of the public body determines, by a roll call vote, to hold an executive session and only at a regular or special meeting for the sole purpose of the consideration of any of the following matters:

(1) To consider the appointment, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion, or compensation of a public employee or official, or the investigation of charges or complaints against a public employee, official, licensee, or regulated individual, unless the public employee, official, licensee, or regulated individual requests a public hearing. Except as otherwise provided by law, no public body shall hold an executive session for the discipline of an elected official for conduct related to the performance of the elected official’s official duties or for the elected official’s removal from office. If a public body holds an executive session pursuant to division (G)(1) of this section, the motion and vote to hold that executive session shall state which one or more of the approved purposes listed in division (G)(1) of this section are the purposes for which the executive session is to be held, but need not include the name of any person to be considered at the meeting….

(4) Preparing for, conducting, or reviewing negotiations or bargaining sessions with public employees concerning their compensation or other terms and conditions of their employment;

Source: Lawriter – ORC – 121.22 Public meetings – exceptions.

The problem is, if the meeting wasn’t announced, and wasn’t specified to follow one of these two directives- the meeting is illegal.

… a release issued Wednesday from the university stated “Schrader would not accept” either for her work in the past year. Clarifying the issue later, WSU board chairman Doug Fecher, who said he helped write and review the release, said, “There was no vote taken and it wasn’t meant to imply that” the president turned down a bonus offer….

The executive committee of the the WSU board, which included Fecher, former board chairman Michael Bridges, Anuj Goyal and Grace Ramos, met behind closed doors with Schrader on Monday to discuss an evaluation of her first-year performance.

Schrader was not offered a merit raise or bonus because of the university’s financial troubles, Fecher said.

In June 2017, trustees slashed more than $30 million from Wright State’s fiscal year 2018 budget and another $10-million decline in revenue is expected over the coming year. Just last week, the university announced it would begin issuing layoff notices to around 26 employees.

“There was no change in compensation offered and she agreed there should be no (additional) compensation offered,” Fecher said.

Cox Media Group has requested public records about the evaluation and was told by the university there were no written documents from the meeting. Trustee Bruce Langos also said that he was not aware of a formally documented evaluation.

Fecher said the evaluation was more of a conversation. Fecher said he contacted trustees separately before the Monday meeting to get their opinion of Schrader’s performance and ideas for what she could improve upon.

Langos said he was “shocked” when he saw the release sent by the school that stated Schrader did not accept a raise or bonus, because he said it made it sound like the board offered her one.

Although the university may not be in a financial position to offer Schrader a raise, Langos said it’s something the entire board should have discussed and voted on publicly.

“I don’t think any laws were broken but I don’t think the rules or the bylaws (of the board) were followed because the bylaws require that things like this require (a vote). And we didn’t take a vote,” Langos said.

The executive committee cannot take action in executive sessions, meaning any action such as a vote for or against a raise for Schrader would need to be taken in a public session.

The Ohio Open Meetings Act states that members of a public body are required to “discuss and deliberate on official business only in open meetings.” How Wright State’s board handled Schrader’s evaluation falls into a “gray area” of the law, said Dan Tierney, spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

“Our advice is always consult your legal counsel in such a gray area and then decide whether they would be comfortable defending that or not,” Tierney said.

Source: WSU president not given raise due to budget – Dayton Daily News

Fecher isn’t allowed to have private conversations with three others in private to discuss university business, and he is not allowed to round robin request information. Him contacting other board members to discuss their opinion is a violation of the OMA. Pure and simple.

The proper procedure is to create a subcommittee, that works on the evaluation, a written document, that is then reviewed by the entire board in a properly called executive session, and a final document is released to the personnel file of the President. If an “executive session” discussion is to be held in private with the president, it must be stated what the issue is in advance, from an open session.

Unbelievably, I’m forced to cite the Dayton School Board lawyers site for info on case law of actual evaluations- which may be an interpretation that evaluations may have to be done in public:

The most striking part of the court’s decision, however, is its conclusion that performance evaluations do not fit within this executive session exception.  The court said, “construing the OMA liberally in favor of open meetings and construing the executive-session exceptions narrowly, the trial court correctly found no exception for employee ‘evaluation.’”  The court agreed with this interpretation.  This ruling appears to be based upon the fact that the word “evaluation” is not specifically listed in R.C. § 121.22(G)(1).  The court continued:  In any event, we do not necessarily disagree with the [  ] statement that the OMA permits discussion of an employee’s ‘job performance’ in executive session.  Prior to entering into executive session, however the public bod must specify the context in which ‘job performance’ will be considered by identifying one of the statutory purposes set forth in R.C. 121.22(G).

Notably, the court offered no opinion or explanation on how performance evaluations of administrators and executives by a governing board do not fit within the continued “employment” of employees under Section (G)(1).  Is it their opinion that the “employment” exception to open meetings is only for the initial hiring?  We do not know.  The court offered no explanation on how and when a governing board should discuss routine evaluations of employees (especially direct reports, such as the Executive Director), which often do not relate to a specific “dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion, or compensation” decision.

The court’s ruling may now require governmental entities that conduct routine evaluations of Directors, Superintendents, Treasurers, City Managers, etc. to either find one of these specific pegs of (G)(1) on which to hang personnel evaluations or, otherwise, hold the discussion in public.  Unlike Ms. Maddox, it is likely that most public administrators do not want their performance evaluations to be aired in a public session.[1]  And, the promise of a public discourse on one’s job performance by one’s own employer could make the difficult job of finding qualified people to fill these high-level positions all that more difficult.

Source: Public Records Decision: Consideration of Performance Evaluations | Subashi & Wildermuth

Part of the reason University Presidents are paid the big bucks is that they agree to take public criticism, hold responsibility and lead by example. There is really no legitimate reason to conduct annual reviews in private, or to be embarrassed by the discussion- it’s the future of the university- a public institution.

The Open Meetings Act is the only law I know of that comes with a 250 page public handbook to explain the importance of conducting the public’s business in public.

One of the quotes in the beginning of the handbook should make it pretty clear:

 “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when rulers may be concealed from them… {T}o cover with the veil of secrecy the common routines of business, is an abomination in the eyes of every intelligent man.” Patrick Henry

~see State of Ohio Sunshine Laws Manual

Every elected public official is required in the State of Ohio to take a three hour course in the Open Meetings Act/Sunshine Laws. I’m not sure if University Trustee’s are, but, this latest screw up suggests that they should be.

And, btw, ostensibly the penalty for violating the OMA is removal from office, although it’s never happened in the State of Ohio. Removing this board for a violation of the OMA would be a good start.

As to the whole faux pas of Schrader announcing that she declined a bonus that was never offered, and that Fecher helped write the press release, says there is way more wrong than right at Wright State.

Battle of the bad school boards

The Esrati.com PollWhen I first ran for City Commission, Abner Orick was the director of the Board of Elections. He asked me “why don’t you run for school board first to get your name out?” I didn’t have kids in school, I didn’t understand politics in Dayton yet, and I didn’t realize that school boards are one of the most dysfunctional positions in the state of Ohio. It’s almost written into law to make sure you end up with a keystone kops krew- with no easy, specified way to remove a board, and allowing them to pick their own members when someone leaves. The fiasco with Adil Baguirov’s residency last year proved that there are no checks and balances on even the most basic rule- residency.

The pay is minimal- capped at $5000 a year (the cap had to come because Dayton routinely ran up huge board compensation with their over abundance of meetings).  The actual role of the board is convoluted- they are supposed to set policy and direction for the Superintendent- who is supposed to run the district. Most of the time- it’s the other way around.

All that aside, we have two school district boards and one college board of trustees that can’t seem to do anything right in the Dayton area- so, let’s have a little poll, and decide who should get the crown of incompetence for the first quarter of 2018.

Trotwood Madison Board of Education

Last week, the Trotwood School Board voted 4-1 to fire a teacher, Khalilah Forté, for cause. Forté organized a student college tour, outside of school, with private dollars. This, along with her taking a student into her home, against her principals warning, were the stated reasons. There is more to this story, including that the one school board member who didn’t vote to fire her, Norman J. Scearce III, was the past president of the group that sponsored the tour. All the kids who went on the tour, did so with parental approval. The student in question, had her parents leave the area- and she needed some place to stay until she graduated. 

I remember examples of this happening when I was in HS. In my day, the teacher would be praised for going above and beyond in looking out for the welfare of her students. Her personnel record was spotless in her 3 years at TM.

The district is ranked worst in the state, and just hired a new Superintendent. Students are unhappy with this decision to fire a teacher that went above and beyond for them and are threatening a walkout during testing week.

Dayton Public Schools Board of Education

In just the first quarter of the year, this BOE has redefined FUBAR, starting even before the 4 new members took office, with their an attempt at convening of a school closing task force closed to the public. Already working with an interim superintendent with a whopping total of 1 year experience in the district, they then hired her at a premium amount, for three years, without even opening the position to internal candidates. The bench clearing brawl that broke out at the end of a Thurgood/Dunbar basketball game ended up getting Thurgood tossed out of the tournament and Thurgood being put back in. They decided to waste a ton of money- and piss off the Ohio High School Athletic Association (the sports Mafia of the state) by taking them to court- even though the district was already under sanctions for the Dunbar/Belmont thrown football game attempt the year before. They won the suit, but Dunbar only won one game before getting knocked out. They lost in an appeal on the improper termination notification of former Treasurer Craig Jones. They lost a first round in a Sunshine laws case brought by me, pro se, against them for their task forces private bus tour of buildings to close.

The bus drivers union came to within two days of a strike- pushing some testing back a week. The demoting of the Belmont Principal 6 weeks before the end of the school year did nothing to stop the systemic problems of a school that’s over-enrolled and understaffed. There have been multiple calls for police intervention at the school since the change over to management by committee. The district also subverted  their own purchasing rules by sliding a contract for a PR survey by a Cleveland firm to the Montgomery County Educational Services Center. The district PR machine seems totally broken, with the non-renewal of Dr. Venita Kelly who was hired to manage the PR a year ago, along with a contract to the most expensive bidder on an RFQ last year. When the assignments for principals was made public last week- it came via Esrati.com- with the Superintendent only releasing an email to staff after the changes were public. And lastly, despite enrollment drops being a primary concern, procedures for enrolling students are still a mess- with some parents spending an entire day in the “enrollment center.”

Wright State Board of Trustees

It’s been a while since esrati.com covered much of the ongoing fiasco at my alma mater. Therefore, I’m not limiting the screwups to just the last quarter.

This board is about to put the university into fiscal ruin, and just two weeks ago, declared that $10M needs to be cut in 10 weeks. This didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a long steady progression into the abyss. While Dr. David Hopkins got to retire with a pension and with his dignity and immediately move to South Carolina so that he can’t be hauled back into court to pay for his sins, the board continues to oversee what can only be described as a train wreck.

The malfunctions all began when board members used WSU’s ability to bring over students that amounted to unlimited H1-B visas, so they could have cheap labor for their IT firms. Trustee Nina Joshi president and CEO of UES Inc. resigned after getting her hands caught in the cookie jar. Trustee Michael Bridges of Peerless Technologies managed to vote for WSU to hire his son for a $125K a year IT job, without the job even being posted. Either of these infractions would normally result in prosecution, but both got barely a hand slap. Bridges stayed on the board, his kids job offer revoked. Current board chairman, Douglas Fecher, the CEO of Wright Patt Credit union should have some explaining to do about how WSU bought his former HQ while he sat on the board.

The failure of WSU to execute and bring the Presidential debate to campus should have been an early indication of managerial malfeasance and an organization run amok, however it was just the easy target. Harder is the operation of a bunch of shell companies which have been spending money like they can print it, with no legitimate oversight- since they aren’t quite WSU, or anything else. The Wright State Applied Research Corporation and Double Bowler Enterprises both fall into the netherworld of quasi-governmental slush funds. That a bunch of former politicians, lobbyists and “economic development” types are tied in should set off alarm bells. The hiring of Jim “Lefty” Leftwich, who tried to represent both WSU and the State of Ohio on the same deal was just one indication that no adults are captaining the ship.

Labor relations at the university are at an all time low, with staff being told that it’s up to them to control costs, mostly by not spending money required to actually do their jobs. When the Trustee’s brought in an interim President to do the dirty work of slashing and burning bloat- they chose to not listen to Dr. Curtis McCray- and instead cut Swimming- but boosted athletics budget by a million for basketball. Now, with ten weeks left they are wondering where the money went.

The hiring of the new president drew a limited field thanks to the dire straights of the school. The eventual pick is an introvert, who has yet to figure out that her salary alone is part of the problem. If there is one place where pay for performance is indicated, it’s for “turnaround” leaders- and so far, she’s barely been able to point out where the cuts need to be made. First hint: paying former congressman Steve Austria $150K a year probably doesn’t win you any favors with the state.

Your three choices

We’ll quickly see which organization should win the prize for incompetence in the first quarter with this poll. Feel free to also leave any other pertinent issues that I managed to overlook in this post as comments. This poll is in no means scientific (we’d need to hire a consultant from Cleveland to do one of those…). I just thought it was time for something new.

 

Which Board Should Be Fired First?

Trotwood Madison School Board
Dayton Public Schools Board of Education
Wright State University Board of Trustees

Time to clean house at Wright State

I like Dr. David Hopkins. A lot.
I’ve done work for him- not a lot.

I’m a Wright State graduate. I was active in Student Government. Inter Club Council and Student Affairs when I was a student.

All that being said- in light of the really good journalism at the Dayton Daily news by Josh Sweigart, it’s time to clean house.

The newspaper no longer publishes editorials. There is no editorial bully pulpit that calls people out when things have gone to shit.

At Wright State- they’ve gone to shit.

First indication was when they hired Jim “Lefty” Leftwich on some consulting contract to get business from the state- while he had a contract from the state. Right there, someone should have ended up in prison- but, no, that was the tip of the iceberg.

Then comes the scandal of H1B visas. The school went into bunker mode. People got fired (and had the audacity to sue for “money owed”). Others, demoted. One person- the long time legal counsel, retired with a lump sum payment.

At the same time- they create an off-books corporation “Double Bowler Properties” with a lobbyist/former congressman to “acquire real estate” quietly. There is an interlocking directorship with the Director of the WSU Board of Trustees- who voted on the hiring of his son to do “cyber security” by the university, without a public job posting- a serious conflict of interest and violation of rules.

Then all of a sudden, there is some hoo-hah about the university needing “internet security upgrades” for “The Presidential Debate” and the numbers are in the millions- all for a few hours of a nationally televised show.

Next comes the whole issue of hiring Ron Wine Consulting- and continuing to pay Ron (no one has proved he has any employees and he doesn’t have a website) a million plus in a year when there was no contract in place. Mr. Wine makes suggestions like “you should offer to hold a fundraiser for the (insert politician’s name here)” as part of his counsel, yet claims he’s not a lobbyist. He also thinks he should be paid a commission on contracts he brings in to the school, something that shouldn’t sit well with anyone in charge of a public institution- funded largely by the taxpayers.

I could go on. I could link to article after article. I could sit and wait- and hope that the Ohio attorney general and the FBI and the others do their jobs- and start throwing people in prison, but we all know white collar crime doesn’t land you in prison- only being poor or having drug offenses will do that. These are all wealthy people. They have that magic “Get out of Jail Free” card given to them as a birthright.

Wright State needs new leadership. Yesterday.

This is too much of a distraction. It’s been taking up too much bandwidth. It’s time for a new set of trustees, a new president, and some sort of independent ethics oversight, since the moral compass of what Wright State should and should not be doing with tax dollars seems to have been tossed off campus.

The university is a key part of our community, which has hitched its cart to the stupid strategy of “Meds, Eds and Feds” (none of which pay property taxes). When the wheels come off one of the key parts of the cart, we’re all at risk.

Sorry Dr. Hopkins, too much has gone off the tracks under your watch. You’ve fallen in with the wrong crowd, and lost your credibility. It’s time to step down.