All Portsmouth native Adam White did last year was change the entire face of transparency in government on all levels in the state of Ohio. White’s attorney, Phil Harmon explained that White was a member of the five-person Olentangy School Board when he conducted his own investigation into financial irregularities. As a result of his investigation, one of the athletic directors had to resign and reimburse the district for some money he had reportedly taken and another had to reimburse the district for some money he had reportedly taken.
Harmon said White’s investigation led to his being ostracized by the other four members of the board and that the four decided to conduct business through emails and while some lower courts ruled emails were off limits, the Supreme Court disagreed and ruled in White’s favor.
On Wednesday, White will be given the Champion of Open Government Award by the Ohio Newspaper Association at their annual meeting at Polaris in Columbus. The award is to the citizen in Ohio who has done the most for open government.
“I am extremely proud right now and feeling good about what I’ve done,” White told the Daily Times. “I’m honored to receive this award.”
What White went through was being an outcast and at one point his father, retired Portsmouth physician, Dr. George White, had to hire a bodyguard because he was concerned for his safety.
“You would not believe all he went through that was published in their anti-Adam White, calling him crazy and all this stuff in the local newspapers, boards of education, the teachers union,” Dr. George White said. “He withstood it and just went forward and never wavered.”
Does an award like this bring closure and vindication for what you went through?
“Absolutely,” White said. “To have the media, the Ohio Newspaper Association, recognize me for completing this mission, is a tremendous validation of the things I’ve been doing here.”
Harmon is the man who argued White’s case before the Ohio Supreme Court.
“At the same meeting, they’re going to be giving two different awards to State Treasurer Josh Mandel and former State Senate president Keith Faber for their work in open government,” Harmon said. “Josh Mandel did the open Ohio checkbook and Senator Faber did the Open Records Law which allows citizens to access public records through the filing fee through an agency other than the Ohio Supreme Court. What’s so impressive to me is that even though those were major-league accomplishments, Adam’s accomplishment was deemed even more so by the Ohio Newspaper Association. The decision in his case affects all levels of government and the Sunshine Law has been dramatically increased by Adams case and Adam’s commitment to the case.”
What message do you want to send to people who are in similar situations such as those serving on boards, or those who have to deal with boards and government bodies who want to do things behind closed doors?
“Just to quote Dave Yost, the State Auditor, the day my case was decided in my favor. He put out a statement on the state website saying – ‘The courts decision is a warning to any politician who tries to conduct the people’s business in the darkness, there shall be light.’”
White said the ruling sends a message to those government bodies wanting to operate away from the public eye.
“All public boards in the state of Ohio, state, local, county, are all no on high alert about deliberating behind closed doors, no matter what method they’re using,” White said. “Technology, email, face-to-face, I think it was a real win for the state of Ohio and open government and politicians who are involved in the state or their county.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.