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Court keeps superintendent search documents secret

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Court keeps superintendent search documents secret

  • Cincinnati newspaper cannot see search records that were returned to candidates.

May 14, 2003 — Materials related to the hiring of a superintendent for the Cincinnati Public School District will remain closed, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled May 7. The Cincinnati Enquirer sued the city’s Board of Education for access to applications and resumes submitted to the board by three finalists for the position, but were later returned to the candidates by the board’s consultants which were hired to carry out the recruitment.

The court held that under the Ohio Public Records Act, only materials that were “kept” by the Board of Education or the consultants it hired to find a new superintendent were subject to release. Because the documents were returned to the candidates after their interviews, the materials were not considered to be kept by the school or its consultants. The board did hand over the application materials of the new superintendent and one candidate which it had in its possession. The newspaper wanted the materials of the other three finalists.

The court ruled that neither the board nor its consultant “kept the materials submitted during the interview of those three finalists,” nor were they required to do so by law.

The newspaper was denied access to the records Feb. 12 by a federal court in Cincinatti, which held that the newspaper did not demonstrate “a historical basis for access of resumes returned to candidates or for forcing a school board to create records.”

In an editorial Sunday, The Enquirer criticized the ruling and the board’s decision to keep the hiring process secret: “Top-level public jobs are just that, ‘public.’ How is the public to know that the search process is fair and thorough if it is not permitted to know who the candidates are?”

The editorial warned that the decision sets a dangerous precedent: “Other public bodies and consulting firms are sure to duplicate it. This thwarts the obvious intent of the Public Records Act, which is to ensure that the public has a clear view of what its elected officials are doing.”

The newspaper also called for the General Assembly to fix the problem legislatively.

(The Cincinnati Inquirer v. Cincinnati Board of Education; Media counsel: John Charles Greiner, Graydon Head & Ritchey, Cincinnati) GS

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© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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