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E-mail at issue in strike

November 17, 2001

That ball went out of bounds Nov. 9, when the last meeting with a federal mediator was held, and no one has bothered to bring it back into play.

Instead, both sides are shouting at each other from the bench - a strategy that serves only to delay the game and the final whistle.

Meanwhile, 92 OAPSE members are sidelined, just weeks before Christmas; an outside security company is being paid to protect school property, videotape picket-line activity and work as aides and custodians; students can't buy a hot lunch, because there's no one to cook it; and parents have to figure out how to get their children to and from school, because there is no one to drive the buses.

The district's non-teaching staff went on strike Nov. 5, claiming the district is demanding unreasonable and "sweeping" contract concessions.

Superintendent Kevin Turner said that is "balderdash."

This past week, the focus shifted from center court when an Oct. 28 e-mail from Turner surfaced in a union news release from Eck. In the e-mail, Turner sought advice concerning the looming strike from seven other Ashtabula County school district superintendents.

Turner spoke with the e-mail recipients, who assured him they did not give the e-mail to anyone else.

"They told me the e-mail didn't come from any of them, and I take their word for that," Turner said.

He then vowed to find out who pilfered the private communiquй, and press criminal charges.

"There are people who have the expertise to see if anyone hacked into my (e-mail) account; from where, and where they were sent," Turner said. "If it's not illegal, it is certainly unethical."

Eck declined to reveal who provided him with the e-mail, but insisted it is a public document.

He also said no one from Jefferson Schools had anything to do with the acquisition of the e-mail.

"It came to me out of one of the recipients' offices," he said Friday. "Not from one of the recipients. From one of their offices. It is a public record. Had we known it was there, they would have been obligated to give it to us."

But is the e-mail a "public document," subject to the state's Public Records Act?

That question still is up in the air.

Ohio Attorney General Betty D. Montgomery's office identifies a public record as:

"A record held by a public office that is stored on a fixed medium, created, received or sent under the jurisdiction of a public office, and that documents what the office does."

Frank Deaner, director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said a case could be made that the e-mail is a public document, but because the Ohio Revised Code does not yet reflect the changing face of communication, questions on the subject are taken on a case-by-case basis.

Deaner also cautioned that the more significant question may involve the method of gaining the information.

Chris Slagle of the Ohio Attorney General's Office agreed.

"Law doesn't make law. Facts make law," Slagle said. "Does the unauthorized removal of a piece of paper constitute a theft? I don't know. There are two issues here: Is it a public record and, how was it obtained?"

On Thursday, Eck faxed the news media a copy of the contract between Huffmaster Crisis Response, LLC, of Troy, Mich., in suburban Detroit, and the school district.

Eck said early indications are that the district is paying Huffmaster more per day than it pays the entire 92-member OAPSE work force.

"We're crunching the numbers," Eck said.

Turner said he didn't know how much the security personnel and replacement workers provided by Huffmaster are costing the district yet, because he has not received a billing statement.

The strike is a likely subject for the regular school board meeting, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the high school.

Diana Lewis Copyright © The News-Herald 2001


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