Should we have published the candidates’ list for county economic development director? Some community leaders don’t think so.
Our reporting on elected officials recruiting for the job underscores the classic struggle between the public’s right to know versus government secrecy. While we won’t win any popularity contents, we are your watchdog.
On June 2, staff writer Dustin Ensinger reported that six people had applied for the position, and we named the applicants. Frankly, county officials weren’t cooperative with our request for this public information, and begrudgingly met it only after days and days of keeping us waiting.
Our readers have demonstrated interest in who has applied for this county job that is so important that county commissioners spent $24,500 of your tax dollars to hire a search firm to find suitable candidates. We have no argument with that expense because the person hired for the position will lead the county’s future economic development efforts and hopefully will be bringing solid industrial and retail positions to Delaware County. The investment hopefully will pay off.
We also believe readers are interested in the search because of the controversy and political intrigue surrounding the county’s last economic development director, Gus Comstock, who was unceremoniously fired last September. The post has been vacant since then, so it’s important that commissioners get it filled soon. Comstock has since moved to a similar position in Marion and will try to lure potential opportunities there.
We also think readers probably found it interesting that only six people applied for what should be a plum job in economic development circles, and that one applicant was an in-house candidate who already works for the county. Considering how long the job has been open — and it was no secret the county would be replacing Comstock — we were surprised that the number of applicants was so low. I bet you were, too.
However, critics of our reporting have suggested that we are somehow sabotaging the search process by publishing the names of applicants. Good candidates won’t apply for the job if they know their names are going to be published in the local newspaper, they say.
First, county government is in the public sector — meaning, of course, that it’s paid for by you, the taxpayers, and thus is subject to Ohio’s public records laws. Nearly every piece of correspondence sent or received by public-sector employees and elected officials — including the resumes of job applicants — is considered a matter of public record and is subject to public scrutiny.
It’s well-established in Ohio that resumes for public-sector jobs are public records and that they must be made available to the public, if requested, even if they are in the possession of a third-party search firm. So there’s no argument that The Gazette — in its role as a community watchdog — and you, as a taxpayer, have every right to see the resumes of applicants so important to the future economic growth in our region.
Secondly, anyone who has worked in the public sector — in taxpayer-funded positions — for any length of time should be aware that their personnel files are public records and that if they seek work in another county, city or school district, their resumes and applications are also public records, subject to the public’s scrutiny.
Third, we didn’t report the list of names until after May 29, the date that the county’s website identified for the “first review of candidates.” So we couldn’t have scared off applicants with a story that wasn’t published until after May 29.
So the bigger question seems to be: Just because The Gazette can inspect the resumes and compile a list of applicants, should we report it? Are we undermining the process and scaring off good candidates?
Honestly, we hope that Delaware County lands the best and most effective economic development director that commissioners can find. A more prosperous county is good for all of us. This newspaper is a business, too, so a thriving county business environment benefits us, and hopefully will benefit you, too.
But we’re always going to come down on the side of open and transparent government — because you have a right to know how and on whom your tax dollars are being spent. That’s a responsibility we don’t take lightly. A responsibility you have come to expect from us.
Comstock was making nearly $95,000 a year when he was fired. The annual pay range for the position was $72,000 to $94,000, county officials said late last year, with Commissioner Ken O’Brien saying it may not be high enough.
If some public officials are uncomfortable with the public looking over their shoulders during a process like this, they need to understand that their taxpayer-funded positions mean that transparency is necessary to ensure trust and confidence in our elected officials. When you work for taxpayers, you’re doing the public’s business and should have no expectation of confidentiality, except for those sensitive situations allowed under law. This isn’t one of those.
In the same spirit of good reporting and open government, we also named applicants for the Olentangy schools superintendent’s job and the Sunbury village administrator job recently. As I write, this, we’re looking into how many people have applied for the Liberty Township administrator’s job, too. You have a right to know, and we want to be the news organization that provides you that information. In one of those instances, we were lauded by an elected official for the reporting.
What do you think about this question? Let us know how you feel.