27 Investigates: Duck’s departure still a mystery

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – There is still little explanation why the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities board forced former superintendent Larry Duck to resign with a taxpayer funded severance package.

First News has been asking board members why so much tax money was spent on his paid suspension and the negotiated settlement.

But as 27 Investigates Reporter Amanda Smith explains, they have refused to provide records that we believe the public has a right to see under Ohio law.

27 Investigates is pushing for answers in a series of official requests to the MCBDD. The board is keeping the most important parts of Larry Duck’s personnel records secret and refusing to release documents that should be available to the public.

“There is no specific exemption in the law for personnel records,” said Mark Goodman, media law professor. “As a result, records relating to disciplinary matters and the like presumptively are open to the public.”

WKBN’s Feb. 21 letter resulted in MCBDD’s lawyer giving us an incomplete personnel file.

But after going through hundreds of pages, reporter 27 Investigates Amanda Smith found no complaint, no negative review and no allegation of wrongdoing.

The board and its attorney said Duck was suspended because they allege he revealed disclosed confidential information during a meeting. They also said an issue was investigated by the Ohio Ethics Commission.

But the records we were given never mention any of this.

When we requested those missing documents, MCBDD Attorney Chris Sammarone refused, and said “these types of records are not public.”

“The Board of Developmental Disabilities is wrongfully hiding information from the public. WKBN will fight for the everyone’s right to know why the board spent nearly $200,000 to part ways with just one employee,” said WKBN general manager Dave Coy.

WKBN asked our legal counsel to get involved on Feb. 27.

The board brought in a new attorney, Eugene Nevada, who said  the files are “law enforcement investigatory records” because they were sent to the Ethics Commission.

“If an agency is explicitly exempted from the coverage of the law, that doesn’t mean the records created by that agency and held by another government agency are,” Goodman said.

The ethics commission already said it finished investigating and found no wrongdoing. If the board doesn’t release the information, the next step could involve litigation.

WKBN will keep you updated on the process as we keep pushing for answers.

View 27 Investigates’ public records requests (and subsequent denials) here.

If you want to write Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities about this issue, they can be reached at at 4791 Woodridge Drive Austintown, OH 44515.

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