On May 29, we exposed a significant conflict of interest involving Interim State Superintendent Stan W. Heffner and his involvement with House Bill 153, Ohio’s budget bill. We definitely recommend that you check out the original article if you haven’t already, but here’s the rundown:
Stan W. Heffner used his official position to represent himself as an expert and provided testimony to the Senate Finance Committee regarding House Bill 153 and specifically recommend that the committee adopt a provision that would direct 2.2 million dollars annually to Educational Testing Service (ETS), the company that announced Stan Heffner’s hiring just three weeks earlier. Heffner provided opinions that contradict previously published documents from the Ohio Department of Education and at no point during his testimony did he declare his relationship with ETS nor the financial benefit to ETS as a result of the passage of the legislation.
That article and the subsequent inaction by Mr. Heffner and the State Board of Education was the basis of today’s filing of an Ethics Complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission. The Ohio Ethics Commission requires that the commission and its staff maintain confidentiality to help “protect someone who brings forward factual violations of Ethics Law.” In spite of the Commission’s request that we “maintain this confidentiality to attempt to assure a fair and objective factual review of your concerns,” the story of this complaint needs to be heard. Besides, we DID post this entire story over a month ago, personally emailed it to the State Board of Education and Mr. Heffner, and are well aware that our faithful readers shared the story far and wide, so it’s not much of a secret. So here’s what happened (as told by Greg).
May 29: I posted the story on Plunderbund. (A timeline has to start somewhere.)
June 1: I provided testimony to the Senate Finance Committee regarding the Teacher Testing component at the center of these allegations. Joseph did a write-up and posted a copy of what I submitted to the committee. The testimony focused specifically on the implications of the provision and the misapplication of the legislation as clearly stated by both the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and Educational Testing Service (ETS), Mr. Heffner’s current and future employers.
June 10: It turns out that submitting an allegation of a violation of ethics isn’t something that can be done online, so I called the Ohio Ethics Commission office to request a form. I was transferred to an investigator who listened to the story, then politely reminded me that dates and times of published newspaper stories aren’t always when they occurred, so I shouldn’t give it too much thought. I thanked him, then politely (maybe) informed him that none of the sources I was referencing were secondhand information; all were original sources and all were legitimate. Additionally, I learned that Ohio Ethics Laws are woefully out of date and there are big gaps that allow individuals wide latitude to engage in behavior that we might call sketchy. In the end, we agreed that he would send me the form and we would let the Ethics Commission look into it.
June 15: Received paper form in the mail. Envelope marked CONFIDENTIAL in hot pink with a return address for OHIO ETHICS COMMISSION and addressed to me personally. Among other things, this letter informed me that the six Ethics Commission members (3 R, 3 D) are appointed by the Governor and are subject to Senate confirmation. One of the six seats is currently vacant, though I’m unsure if it’s an R or D.
June 16 – 29: Waited.
June 30: The budget bill, HB 153, was signed into law by Governor John Kasich. The Teacher Testing provision remained largely unchanged and also escaped Kasich’s veto (apparently he ignored my emails, too). Stan Heffner never retracted his endorsement of the provision nor disclosed his personal interest in the legislation.
July 11: I completed the CONFIDENTIAL Ohio Ethics Commission Allegation Form in excruciating detail (with documentation; see below), placed it in a sealed envelope addressed to Special Investigator Craig Morgan, and drove to downtown Columbus to hand-deliver it. Upon entering the building to confidentially deliver my confidential form to the Ohio Ethics Commission office, I had to check in at the front desk to find my destination (large government building, little signage, 8 billion elevators). The woman at security kindly directed me after verifying my driver’s license, logging my visit and destination, and taking my picture to create a visitor ID badge. With my new badge in hand, I walked the five feet to my right to the next guard (involved in the whole conversation) to receive his permission to use the elevator. To pass this checkpoint, I was required to open my sealed confidential envelope with the confidential paperwork in it so that he could verify that I had no prohibited materials. Finally, I was able to use the coolest elevators in the world (you select the floor on the outside, then it sends an elevator to deliver you). The elevators may have been the highlight of this entire process – they were that cool. Of course, I still had to wait until the secretary buzzed me to the double-glass doors before I could deliver the goods, my packet of confidential paperwork in an envelope clearly marked CONFIDENTIAL that had also been clearly ripped open.
After all of that, confidentiality was no longer much of a concern.
That’s where we stand today. We don’t know how long it will take for the Ethics Commission to complete an investigation, it seems they’re getting busier and busier these days. We don’t know if the Ethics Commission will consider Stan Heffner’s actions a violation of any of the following statutes:
Ohio Revised Code: Section 2921.42
(A) No public official shall knowingly do any of the following:
(1) Authorize, or employ the authority or influence of the public official’s office to secure authorization of any public contract in which the public official, a member of the public official’s family, or any of the publicofficial’s business associates has an interest;
(3) During the public official’s term of office or within one year thereafter, occupy any position of profit in the prosecution of a public contract authorized by the public official or by a legislative body, commission, or board of which the public official was a member at the time of authorization, unless the contract was let by competitive bidding to the lowest and best bidder;
(4) Have an interest in the profits or benefits of a public contract entered into by or for the use of the political subdivision or governmental agency or instrumentality with which the public official is connected;
(5) Have an interest in the profits or benefits of a public contract that is not let by competitive bidding if required by law and that involves more than one hundred fifty dollars.
(E) Whoever violates this section is guilty of having an unlawful interest in a public contract. Violation of division (A)(1) or (2) of this section is a felony of the fourth degree. Violation of division (A)(3), (4), or (5)of this section is a misdemeanor of the first degree.
(H) Any public contract in which a public official, a member of the public official’s family, or any of the public official’s business associates has an interest in violation of this section is void and unenforceable.
What we do know is that as a result of Mr. Heffner’s blatant misrepresentation of factual evidence that will result in personal gain, taxpayers will suffer. That’s correct, taxpayers. The final version of this bill does not place the expense of these tests, $2.2 million annually, on the teachers taking them. Instead, the cost of these tests will be paid for by the schools themselves using taxpayer dollars, another unfunded mandate by the legislature, another multi-million dollar payout for someone’s special interest.
In this case, however, it’s not some behind-the-scenes entity, it’s ETS, the soon-to-be employer of Ohio’s interim Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mr. Stan W. Heffner.