Marietta Mayor-elect Joe Matthews has apparently violated Ohio law by refusing on two occasions to provide The Marietta Times with the names and addresses of approximately 50 people who have applied for six at-will public positions in the mayor's office.
"I'm not in office yet," Matthews said Tuesday. "I haven't interviewed anyone at this time and I'm not going to release that information."
He added concern that some of the applicants could lose their jobs if their current employers discovered they've applied for a position with the city. Applicants for public jobs are routinely listed in The Marietta Times and other newspapers.
"The argument he is making that it might affect (the applicants) in their present jobs shouldn't hold water in terms of disclosure," said Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association and president of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government.
According to the Ohio Attorney General's sunshine manual for local officials:
"There is no public records exception which generally protects resumes and application materials obtained by public offices in the hiring process. The Ohio Supreme Court has found that the public has 'an unquestioned public interest in the qualifications of potential applicants for positions of authority in public employment.'"
Hetzel said by receiving the resumes for public office and not releasing the applicant information Matthews might appear to be attempting to skirt the records law.
"I think it's clear that it's certainly not in the spirit of the public records law for him to be taking these applications at his own residence," Hetzel added.
"We believe people have the right to know and follow the hiring procedures for public offices," he said.
Aside from transparency, officials who do not know or follow Ohio's open records laws can leave government bodies vulnerable to lawsuits.
Although Matthews won't be officially sworn into office until Jan. 1, he's also performing a public function as a "private entity" by having resumes for the at-will positions sent to his home address, according to the Ohio Public Records Act.
On page two of the act, under the heading "Private Entities Can Be 'Public Offices,'" the law reads, "If there is clear and convincing evidence that a private entity is the functional equivalent of a public office, that entity will be subject to the Ohio Public Records Act."
Language in the following section refers to an example of applications or resumes for public positions sent to a private entity being public records.
On Nov. 15 Matthews announced he was advertising for six staff positions he would be appointing this month.
Those jobs, which include safety-service director, assistant safety-service director, development director, development specialist, mayor's secretary and mayor's clerk, are now staffed with employees appointed by current Mayor Michael Mullen.
All six of the staff members currently filling those positions have re-applied, but none had been interviewed nor had they received any response from the mayor-elect as of Tuesday afternoon.
A newly-elected mayor has the right to appoint new staff members who serve at the will of the new administration, according to Marietta Law Director Roland Riggs III.
Riggs said Tuesday he believed the resumes received by Matthews could be subject to the state open records law.