During oral arguments in front of the Ohio Supreme Court last week, lawyers for the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) claimed they couldn’t release the records we requested in 2012 from ODPS Director Tom Charles because terrorists might be able to review the documents and somehow piece together security procedures used to protect Governor Kasich. But a review of investigation records from 2010 shows that then-Inspector General Tom Charles released many documents detailing actual procedures used by troopers protecting Governor Strickland. This, we believe, is even more evidence that Kasich’s ODPS team is refusing to honor our request for purely political reasons.
Our Supreme Court complaint stems from a 2012 record request in which we asked for incident reports related to threats against Governor Kasich after Kasich’s office claimed they couldn’t release his schedules because he was receiving daily threats. We were clear that the date and type of threat were sufficient, and we weren’t looking for details about how the Ohio Highway Patrol (OHP) handled the incident. Then ODPS-Director Tom Charles declined our request outright, claiming all documents related to threats against the governor are “security documents,” and his department had no duty to release them, redact them or even look at them to determine if anything in the documents is actually relevant to the “security documents” law which they cited.
As we understand it, the documents have still not been produced or reviewed, and even the AG’s office attorney defending ODPS has not seen them.
Our attorney, Victoria Ullmann, and the attorney representing ODPS presented oral arguments in the case last Tuesday. The justices asked some good questions, especially Justice Paul Pfeifer, who brought up events that occurred during Governor Strickland’s administration. Pfeifer remembered reading in the papers about a 2010 incident involving the Governor’s Residence and the Ohio Highway Patrol (OHP) and he wondered if the information revealed in those articles would also fall under ODPS’s very broad reading of the security documents exemption.
Pfeifer was specifically referring to an incident involving an inmate who was working at the Governor’s Residence. Prison officials had discovered that the inmate’s wife was planning to throw bags of tobacco over the residence fence so the inmate could sneak it back into the prison. ODPS officials, citing safety concerns for the governor and his family, determined that confronting the wife before the drop was probably a better plan than mounting a full scale covert operation at the governor’s home.
Columbus Dispatch reporter Randy Ludlow requested and received documents related to the incident and operation. No one tried to claim the documents were “security records” even though they were related to security operations occuring at the Governor’s Residence.
Then-Inspector General Tom Charles opened his own investigation into the incident. In his final report, Charles released over 60 pages of emails, memos and other documents related to this and other incidents occurring at the Governor’s Residence. Among the released documents are incident reports, just like those we requested. In addition, Charles includes a long list of “Security and Contraband Incidents” that occurred at the residence, as well as emails outlining specific operational plans and procedures used by the Governor’s protective detail. The emails were titled “CONFIDENTIAL COVERT OPERATION.”
These documents are still available on the inspector general’s website.
Pfeifer’s question gets to the heart of why, most likely, ODPS has not honored our request for public records: politics. When Ted Strickland was governor and Tom Charles was Inspector General, Charles released detailed information about the governor’s security detail and incidents that occurred at the governor’s residence. But as ODPS director under Kasich, Charles suddenly won’t release even unrelated information. Now, without justification, any document related to the governor gets labeled a “security document” and can’t be released.
Just so we are clear here, Plunderbund did not ask for any security procedures or any information at all about how the patrol handled the threats. We simply asked for redacted reports related to incidents that had been closed (i.e. no longer an active threat). And we only asked for high level information about the type of threat and when it occurred. And we were told by Tom Charles’ ODPS that this information could not be released because it could somehow be used to piece together enough information to endanger the governor.
Interestingly, during oral arguments, the attorney for ODPS claimed that having any information about threats made against the governor on the internet would, effectively, allow terrorists to piece together the security procedures used by the Highway Patrol to protect Governor Kasich. “If you give it to Plunderbund, it’s in the public domain,” argued attorney William Cole. “Particularly with a media blog like that, it’s accessible to millions — including the bad guys, including the terrorists.”
And yet, two years earlier, Charles had himself released confidential memos that detailed how the troopers were planning to mount a security operation at the Governor’s Residence. He released the Investigative Services Operational Plan that included the names of the troopers who would be conducting the operation and the time and date of the operation. And he released additional documents detailing how many troopers would be added to the security detail, how those troopers would be conducting the operation, how often troopers would patrol the gates, the routes the troopers planned to take during the patrols and even how many radios they would be using.
In short: Tom Charles actually released details about how the Ohio Highway Patrol protected Governor Strickland as part of his 2010 investigations. But in 2012, when we asked for information about Governor Kasich that was completely unrelated to OHP procedures, Charles denied our request claiming that even recognizing that a threat had occurred would somehow enable terrorists to piece together security procedures. This is pure hypocrisy.
It seems abundantly clear that the Ohio Department of Public Safety, in denying our record request, is trying to protect Governor Kasich from political embarrassment and not from terrorists.
The Kasich Administration is trying to claim that any public record related to the governor can suddenly become a “security record” whenever they wish to avoid releasing it the public. They are claiming they have no duty to redact any of these documents, or even to identify and review the documents to determine if the information in the documents actually matches the definition of a security record in Ohio Revised Code. If the Kasich Administration is allowed to apply this narrow law to any document they choose, there is no end to what they can hide from the public.
We feel confident the justices on the Ohio Supreme Court will continue their long-standing tradition of protecting the right of Ohioans to an open and transparent government.