(WKBN) – An Ohio Supreme Court ruling says that the entity that was set up to distribute opioid settlement funds to local and state governments is a “public office,” therefore must disclose those amounts and any other proceedings or actions to the public.

The Court directed the OneOhio Recovery Foundation to provide public records about its meetings and actions.

The case first got started with a public records request from Harm Reduction Ohio, a nonprofit that works to prevent overdose death.

Harm’s president Dennis Cauchon attempted to attend the May 2022 first meeting of the board of directors for OneOhio. He was told that the public was not permitted to attend the meeting.

The next month, Cauchon filed a public records request asking for all documents prepared for the June 23 meeting and prior board meetings, but there was no response from OheOhio to his request.

Harm Reduction then asked the court to force the foundation to provide the records and asked for damages because they were denied in the first place.

The foundation argued that the Supreme Court has ruled the use of public money by private entities does not classify the private organizations as functional equivalents. The settlement funds are for providing substance abuse treatment, education and prevention services, which are performed by private entities, the foundation maintained.

The Court said that while the foundation is not responsible for “providing” treatment, education, or prevention services, but rather disbursing settlement funds to those who do provide services, and the money being distributed is public money and that the government is “extensively” involved in its operation — therefore a public office.

So, the foundation must make its operations public and also pay Harm Reduction’s court costs but doesn’t have to pay damages.

Connie Luck, a spokesperson for One Ohio Recovery Foundation, issued the following statement about the ruling:

The decision doesn’t change things. Consistent with its mission, the Foundation operates in a transparent fashion and will continue to do so.”   

Connie Luck, Principal, ConVista Public Affiars