Thursday, March 05, 2009

CPS School Board: Not At The Head Of The Class

Dumb, dumb, dumb. That's the only way to describe the continued failure of the Cincinnati school board to respect the spirit, intent, and (frankly) the text of the Public Records Act. As we noted last month, CPS hatched a scheme to shield the names of applicants for the vacant superintendent position from public scrutiny: the board rented a post office box for the reception of applications, and won't open them until March 16, at which time it will attempt to hire someone as quickly as possible.

CPS has held its ground. And so has the Enquirer, which today filed a lawsuit in the Hamilton County Court of Appeals to force the board to release the applications in response to Public Records Act requests.

I recognize that there is at least one good reason to permit applicants' names to be immune from public disclosure: good candidates might be discouraged from applying given that there's a guarantee that their present employers will learn they're seeking work elsewhere. But the only way to fix that is for the General Assembly to change the statute.

Besides being fairly illegal, the board's decision is also bad practice. Trying to compress the consideration of applications for its top job into as little time as possible leaves them with a wide margin for error. Moving into a time period in which (a) money will be tight and (b) the state's educational system may undergo fundamental changes, the board needs a strong, competent leader. But its process is making it less likely that one will be hired.

The Enquirer is represented by Jack Greiner, a partner at Graydon Head & Ritchey. It looks like Mr. Greiner has been practicing for about 25 years. My guess is that he bills at a rate of $350 or $400 per hour (perhaps more). Assuming I'm correct and the Enquirer wins its suit, CPS will be on the hook for his fees (the Public Records Act contains a "fee-shifting" provision, permitting a successful litigant to collect attorney's fees and costs).

HamCo GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou says his party will field "qualified" candidates in the next school board race. Given the current board's short-sightedness on this rather easy issue, I'll be leaning heavily towards casting my ballot for some "R's" in those races.

Finally, for those of you who were wondering why the lawsuit was filed in the appeals court, rather than in the Common Pleas court (our trial level courts): it's because of the nature of the suit. The Enquirer is seeking a writ of mandamus--essentially, an order compelling a government official to obey the law. Ohio law says that such suits, unlike ordinary suits for damages, may originate in any court--the applicable Common Pleas Court, a Court of Appeals, or even the Ohio Supreme Court.

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