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Mockingbird Publishing to sue the Village of Yellow Springs for withholding public records

Gerry Bello

7 weeks ago the staff of the Mockingbird began a series of public records requests. There are over 5 outstanding requests right now. We have been met with denials, lies and obfuscation on all of our requests. The law on the matter reads “reasonable amount of time” and in my life I have never seen so much gas lighting, obfuscation and denial. The typical time is ten days.

Only three other times have I actually been lied to: Once each by the SFPD, LAPD and FBI. All were in response to records requests for police reports of actual deaths of people that were connected to the intelligence community. One was a suspiciously dead award winning journalist, another a world famous hacker. The two police departments gave me false incident report numbers. The FBI, who hate being outdone, hid whole field offices. The Village Government of Yellow Springs has outdone the notoriously corrupt LAPD and FBI with their current tactics.

The workload and emotional toll on myself and on our two Miami Valley reporters is pretty big. One of them, Minerva Barker, will be publishing a personal account of her attempts to get access to records and the responses by Sgt. Knapp, Judy Kintner, Patti Bates and Village Solicitor Chris Conard. Her words are her words but since I was CC'd on every communication, I have my own words for what has happened so far. One of the words I can use with justification is abuse.

This past Thursday, May 24th, after weeks of games, the Village was given a deadline of this Tuesday at close of business for two of those record requests. They withheld 70 pages on one and denied the other. Tomorrow morning I will file a lawsuit on those two issues in the Court of Claims here in Columbus. This is a 30 day long process that involves multiple mediation sessions, a special master and then actual court. There is a flow chart.

This case is not a slam dunk in that there will not be instant gratification like the last time I was forced to bring Yellow Springs to court to get the village to obey state law. That was over in one day despite the village hiring a retired judge to defend it's indefensible position. This is a slow, expensive process that takes place not in Xenia but in Columbus. The Village is going to spend quite a bit of tax money in an attempt to conceal it's actions from the public even though the public owns the records of it's actions.

This is going to cost money on my side as well. As Publisher, I have to take responsibility and defend basic press freedoms on behalf of my own work, that of the two people working for me in the Miami Valley and the public at large. Considering the budget this company runs on, that means potentially skipping meals to sue.

Those few records that have been released appear to show criminal activity on the part of Village employees. We knew we would find criminal activity, but in this case we found criminal activity we had no idea was happening. The records we were actually looking for have not yet been turned over. We requested a certain date ranges so that the Village would not know what to conceal or destroy. These records will result in stories that will be filed within the week.

We are aware of the hunt that is happening now inside the John Bryant center for village employees who Patti Bates refers to as “snitches” and “leaks.”  People who work for the government and expose the government's wrongdoing are not "snitches", the word is whistleblower, as used in the the naming of the Ohio WhistleBlower Protection Act. We are prepared to defend these targeted employees regardless if they were our sources or not. It is this backdrop of actual threats and actual intimidation that we are seeking records and these threats are part of the normal functioning of Village government.

Tomorrow's lawsuit is one of up to six we have cause to file. Hopefully it will be the only one and hopefully it be over quickly, with the Village simply obeying the law rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars attempting to hide what it is doing from the voting and taxpaying public.