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Public has a right to know everything about 'coingate'

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Terrence Gasper, former chief financial officer of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, has pleaded guilty to state charges that he accepted bribes from rare-coin dealer Tom Noe in return for Noe's receiving investment business.
That alone justifies the public release of every document pertaining to what is being called "coingate," the $50 million coin investment scheme managed by Noe, a Republican bigwig.
But it is the subtext of the Gasper case that makes it even more important for the press and the citizenry to have access to everything related to the scandal. Why? Because Jim Conrad, former administrator/chief financial officer of the BWC, says he had nothing to do with Gasper's hiring.
Conrad, who resigned in the midst of the ongoing investigation into Noe's ties to the administration of Republican Gov. Bob Taft, the BWC and the Ohio and national Republican parties, contends that Gasper was brought on board by the late Paul Mifsud, who served as the chief of staff to former Gov. George V. Voinovich.
Shed some light
Whatever documents exist in the governor's office that would shed light on Mifsud's decision belongs in the public arena. Indeed, the fact that Gasper was kept on as the chief financial officer when Taft succeeded Voinovich prompts this question: Who interceded on his behalf?
The answer isn't clear because the governor has refused to grant access to records pertaining to the state investment scandal. As a result, state Sen. Marc Dann, D-Liberty Township, has filed a lawsuit against Taft for access to those records.
Last month, the Ohio Supreme Court refused to dismiss the suit, and last week the court ordered the governor to hand over a series of contested BWC-related documents for the justices to review and decide whether they should be made public.
Dann, who is running for state attorney general and has taken the lead in the General Assembly in blowing the lid off coingate, has argued that the governor does not have the kind of executive privilege protection the president enjoys. However, in April, the supreme court ruled that Taft had a limited right to keep the public from viewing certain records.
In its review of the documents from the governor's office, the court should ask: Will their release undermine the governance of the state?
Seeing as how that most of the records are weekly reports that Taft aides gave the governor about the workers' comp bureau, the answer is no.
Dann, who is facing Republican Betty Montgomery, a friend of Noe's, in November, isn't on a fishing expedition. He just wants access to information that will shed additional light on the investment scandal.
That's what all Ohioans should want.