Residents should have the opportunity to meet finalists for Hilliard's first city manager Sept. 24, but the identities of those applicants have not been revealed, despite a public-records request by ThisWeek that had not been met as of Sept. 10.

The Ohio Sunshine Laws dictate "a public office's obligation to turn over application materials and resumes extends to records of private search firms the public office used in the hiring process," according to the Ohio Public Records Act, Chapter One: Public Records Defined, Section A(3).

At 1:40 p.m. Sept. 5, a public-records request was sent to David Ball, the city's director of communications, regarding the names and resumes of city-manager applicants being considered and/or contacted by the Novak Consulting Group – the firm contracted by the city of Hilliard to assist with a search for candidates – to attend an announced Sept. 24 public forum featuring city-manager finalists.

ThisWeek requested the records be made available by 2 p.m. Sept. 6 via electronic communication or in person, as described in Section 149.43 of the Ohio Revised Code: "(B)(1) Upon request and subject to division (B)(8) of this section, all public records responsive to the request shall be promptly prepared and made available for inspection to any person at all reasonable times during regular business hours. Subject to division (B)(8) of this section, upon request by any person, a public office or person responsible for public records shall make copies of the requested public record available to the requester at cost and within a reasonable period of time."

ThisWeek's request specified that the city is responsible for obtaining the records from Novak per the Ohio Public Records Act, Chapter One: Public Records Defined, Section A(3).

Ball said only Novak had a list of candidates and referred inquires to Philip Hartmann, an attorney with Frost Brown Todd, the firm that serves as the city's legal counsel.

"We're still waiting on a list of finalists (from Novak)," Hilliard City Council member Andy Teater, chairman of Hilliard's city-manager transition committee, said Sept. 9.

Ball also said the city wanted to announce the candidates the week of Sept. 16.

Email responses from Hartmann said at 10:45 a.m. Sept. 6 that his "office is reviewing and we will provide you a response shortly" and at 9:48 a.m. Sept. 10 "... the law department is reviewing your request by gathering the requested documents from our consultant and whether the city has a legal obligation to disclose. We will respond shortly."

A 1997 ruling by the Supreme Court of Ohio in State ex rel. Gannett Satellite Information Network v. Shirey stated that information concerning the hiring of public officials could not be concealed by hiring a private entity. The case involved the Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey, who had contracted with a firm to find a new safety director.

The ruling said "PDI was hired by the city to screen and evaluate candidates for a public office. If the city had undertaken this task without hiring PDI, the applications would clearly have been subject to the open-record law. We do not believe the open-record law can be circumvented by the delegation of a public duty to a third party, and these documents are not any less a public record simply because they were in the possession of PDI."

The court concluded that "Shirey's attempt to circumvent R.C. 149.43 by contracting with a private company and his refusal to comply with Gannett's requests were unreasonable and unjustifiable. If we were to hold otherwise, governmental entities could conceal information concerning the hiring of important public officials from the public by merely delegating this uniquely public duty to a private entity."

In February, the city hired Frost Brown Todd for a flat fee of $12,500 per month, or $125,000 for the 10-month term of the contract, from March 1 to Dec. 31. The firm replaced the services of former law director Tracy Bradford, who resigned effective Feb. 1.

Novak was hired in March to facilitate a city-manager search on a contract not to exceed $24,500, plus expenses, according to Ball.

Hilliard, through Novak Consulting Group, began accepting applications for the position of city manager May 22.

Anna Subler, communications administrator for Hilliard, said in May that city leaders would begin a review of applications July 8.

Last November, voters approved a city-charter amendment that changed Hilliard's form of government from that of a strong mayor to a city manager, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

In a city-manager form of government, a council-appointed city manager who serves at the pleasure of council but typically under contract oversees the day-to-day administrative functions of the city and the city's department directors.

Council is seeking "a skilled local government professional who is a strong and proactive leader, an excellent communicator and committed to exceptional customer service and sound financial management," according to Ball.

The salary range is $155,000 to $195,000, according to hilliardohio.gov.

The Sept. 24 public forum will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Joint Safety Services Building, 5171 Northwest Parkway, and is part of a multiday interview process, Ball said.

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