Ohio House Rep. Murray Seeks Investigation of Redistricting Process

Go Hoyas – he did so much better than me in undergrad ConLaw anyway; just received in the inbox. The one thing I keep noticing is how little knowledge of or respect for transparency and openness seems to be reflected in what the public records seem to show. How to protect what people didn’t want other people to know seems to have been the overriding interest in the process. Read Aaron Marshall’s piece from today’s front page above the fold Plain Dealer story for background.

State Representative
Dennis Murray

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: DECEMBER 13, 2011
Contact: Sarah Bender, House Democratic Communications (614) 466-9036

Rep. Murray Request Joint Investigation into Waste, Abuse and Fraud
Calls for Investigation into Secretive Map Drawing Processes

COLUMBUS – State Representative and Ranking Member of the Judiciary and Ethics Committee Dennis Murray (D-Sandusky) sent a letter to Inspector General Randall Meyer and Legislative Inspector General Tony Bledsoe requesting a joint investigation into potential waste, abuse, fraud, and violations of state sunshine and public records laws. This comes after the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting released a transparency report yesterday highlighting some of the misconduct in the redistricting and re-apportionment processes.

“The information in yesterday’s report revealed is absolutely appalling.  I ask for a joint investigation today because I fear we are just beginning to lift the veil of secrecy that surrounds the congressional redistricting and re-apportionment processes,” Rep. Murray said.  “My Democratic colleagues and I are deeply troubled at the wasteful spending of Ohioan’s tax dollars, and the violation of Ohio’s sunshine and public records laws.”

A copy of the letter can be seen below.
December 13, 2011

Randall J. Meyer
Inspector General
30 East Broad Street, Suite 2940
Columbus, Ohio 43215-3414

Tony Bledsoe
Legislative Inspector General
50 West Broad Street, Suite 1308
Columbus, Ohio 43215

Dear Inspectors General:

I write regarding recently publicized reports and documents that reveal detailed and troubling actions by public officials, actions that bring to question the fairness, openness, and legitimacy of the state legislative reapportionment and congressional redistricting processes.  The Ohio Redistricting Transparency Report (“the Report”) released this week by the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting examines a series of payments, contracts, and behavior by elected legislative and executive officials and their staff throughout these processes.  I request that the Ohio Inspector General and the Legislative Inspector General conduct a joint investigation of the waste, abuse, and fraud brought to light by the Report.

The Report describes secret meetings and procedures, exorbitant payments, and potential quid pro quo dealings, each raising ethical and legal concerns.  It is clear that key players from the Ohio Apportionment Board, which the Governor chairs, and the General Assembly committees and subcommittees on redistricting worked together in a process funded by taxpayer dollars but lacking appropriate input from and concerns for those same taxpayers.

Waste

The Report details expensive arrangements for the services of the two Secretaries of the Apportionment Board, a position described in Ohio law as uncompensated.  Heather Mann and Ray DiRossi were both previously employed by the Ohio House and Ohio Senate, respectively, as legislative staffers.  Immediately before the reapportionment and congressional redistricting process, one staffer resigned her position with the General Assembly, formed a new company, and contracted for $105,000 for three months of consulting services.  Now that staffer has regained her state employment.  These steps appear designed to subvert the criminal prohibition on public employees benefitting from state contracts and keep actions secret.  $210,000 paid to two staffers for 3 months of work, and the unusual resignation and immediate rehiring of one of those staffers invites investigation into the real nature of what was being purchased and the circumstances of these contracts.

These lucrative contracts further indicate that Mr. DiRossi and Ms. Mann, through their respective companies, would stand to receive additional payments of $30,000 each if litigation were to arise over  these maps.  The extraordinary compensation for politically motivated consulting services by former legislative staffers – one obviously just on “loan” — raises ethical and legal questions that invite further investigation.

In addition, according to the Report, the Republican members of the task force on redistricting and reapportionment rented a downtown hotel room for three months for approximately $9,600.  With hundreds of state offices and meeting rooms within 100 yards of the hotel room used, I respectfully submit that an explanation is required for this apparent misuse of public funds and an investigation is warranted.

Abuse

Sunshine laws, transparency rules, and public records laws operate to protect the faith of the public and bring legitimacy and accountability to the actions of government.  Openness in the process with respect to something as important as the value of one’s vote is essential. Instead of making key decisions in public meetings, the key players on the Apportionment Board and the General Assembly committees appear to have gone out of their way to cloak their process in secrecy.

The Report and its appendices detail a process of private and secret meetings between public officials and former and current public employees.  The new congressional and state maps were hidden from the public and only unveiled days or sometimes minutes before being approved by the Apportionment Board or legislative body.  Not only were the meetings and the drawing of the maps kept secret, the identities of the individuals that received access, provided input, and wielded incredible decision-making authority were also kept hidden from the public.

Particularly disturbing are e-mails discussed in the Report from congressional political personnel directing the state contractors to change specific Congressional lines to include a single corporate headquarters in a specific district.  Direct reference was made in the communications to the Corporation’s political contributions.  The Corporation involved, Timken Manufacturing, has made additional political contributions to Congressional war chests that could benefit the very Congressmen directing changes to the Congressional map.  This appearance of quid pro quo is ethically and legally questionable and begs the question of whether other, similar deals were struck that remain hidden from public view.

The Report documents a literal “bunker” mentality, with meetings held in a private hotel room (called the “Bunker”) instead of public office space to hide who was meeting, when they were meeting, and about what topics they were meeting.  Extensive claims of attorney-client privilege without any indication of which records are being withheld or the production of a privilege log and unclear responses to public records requests suggest possible abuse of the standards of transparency that the law demands.  A full investigation would shed light on what actually happened and the extent of the abuse alleged and displayed in the Report.

Fraud

The Report makes clear that the public meetings and the lip service paid to “openness” were simply not-so-veiled attempts to defraud the public.  The Ohio Apportionment Board, the House State Government and Elections Subcommittee on Redistricting, and the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting each held public meetings throughout the year.  However, inquiries by the public and minority party committee members as to the contents, status and process of drawing legislative boundaries were ignored.  These meetings appear to have been held only to appease the demand for public input, and the Report details a lack of meaningful information exchanged in these public meetings.

To find out more about the alleged waste, abuse and fraud throughout the state legislative and congressional redistricting processes, I request a detailed investigation into these and other tangential instances of possibly unethical and illegal conduct.

Sincerely,

Representative Dennis E. Murray

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