A couple of months after Dick Ross and staff from Governor Kasich’s office created the Youngstown Cabinet, the Youngstown Takeover Plan took shape. The first appearance of the plan in email was a well-formed “draft” that was sent to Dick Ross from Buddy Harris, ODE Senior Policy Analyst, on the night of February 12. That draft was updated and sent again on the morning of February 13. The emails were not sent to the members of the commission by Ross or Harris, and the document was created at the Ohio Department of Education. The emails and those two drafts are below:
The morning email with “David’s” bullets added. (We are unable to confirm the exact identity of David and have not yet received the emails records from Buddy Harris. Hopefully it will not take nearly five months again to receive those records from ODE.)
Revisions to these drafts then seem to disappear from Dr. Ross’s emails until the end of March when a version that is all but ready for publication shows up at the end of March on an email from Susan Zelman, ODE Executive Director. That email chain once again does not include the Youngstown Cabinet members, but only ODE staff, including Ross, Buddy Harris, Kevin Duff (who, along with Harris, would present the plan to the Cabinet in May for the first time), and Jessica Voltolini, Director, Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs.
What you have here is a basic one-page summary detailing the Youngstown Takeover Plan, most notably the “receivership” process of turning over the school district to a single individual. This plan had yet to be shared with the Youngstown Cabinet and that would not take place for nearly two more months (May 21) despite the fact that the Cabinet met on April 28.
There is significance of the inclusion of Jessica Voltolini on this email at this point as it is her office that would begin working on crafting legislation to match this plan and, as we reported yesterday, Buddy Harris told the cabinet at the May 21 meeting that they needed to act soon (while knowing that ODE had already begun working on the legislation).
At this point, ODE was moving quickly to get the legislation prepared and Ross subsequently shared the nearly-final Youngstown Plan with the Cabinet at the May 21 meeting. From there, legislation was crafted, the cabinet made plans to have a positive PR plan for when push-back occurred, and then ultimately they rubber-stamped Ross’s plan.
How do we know this?
The minutes from a previously-unreleased phone conference that took place on May 29, just one week after the Meeting at the Tressel residence in Youngstown confirm that Ross was working on the legislation and that things were “being looked at favorably”. These minutes also reinforce the fact that the plan is in the hands of the state and that Ross is in charge of this process, not the Youngstown Cabinet (see point #13 bel0w):
This May 29 conference call was a key turning point in the process. Merle Madrid, John Kasich’s Director of Constituent Affairs, had now joined the group for only the second time (attended May 21 meeting) and he spoke often about making sure the group had consistent messaging to their various groups individually (remember that this cabinet is still a secret at this point and would remain so for another month until after the bill passed).
In point #4, Madrid talks about trying to minimize negative feedback, reminds the group later (#9) that framing the message properly is extremely important, and then says that he’ll prepare statements for Humpries and Tressel.
At point #10, there is the acknowledgement that the legislation will be signed and enacted and the group needs to prepare statements for now and then. This statement is fascinating in that the legislation will be introduced as a last-minute and sweeping amendment on June 24 and pushed through that same night, yet the cabinet already knows it’s going to pass. Their scheme is fully formed at this point and their plans are all about controlling the message as they are already anticipating a negative reaction.
Finally, and going back to our dear Superintendent Dr. Ross, who claimed that the Cabinet was in charge of the process and he merely provided assistance. Tom Humphries, the Youngstown business leader who helped Ross and Kasich staff create the cabinet back in September reminds everyone at the end of the call who is in charge with a simple statement:
“…there will be another Cabinet Meeting Conference Call once we get approval from the State to begin talking about the plan.”
Clearly, Ross and John Kasich’s office are running this show. The takeover of the Youngstown City School District was orchestrated at the highest levels of the state government.
In our next article in this ongoing series, we’ll follow the development of the legislation. Seems the cabinet had the inside track while the rest of the public could only react later in stunned disbelief.
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