Our View: Why are we still waiting?

DKS Editors

Public records are a fabulous, little-known way for the public to know what is actually going on in the world. They serve not just journalists but anyone who wants to walk into any government office and request a record — from budgets to data to phone bills to doodles on a napkin.

If it’s a document that a public government agency creates or maintains in any form, then any member of the public can request to see it.

Simple enough, right? Wrong.

Kent State, with help from a contracted company, has gathered perhaps the most significant and consequential public records in recent years: applications from those who want to be the school’s next president.

Wouldn’t you like to know whom the search committee is considering? We do, which is why we put in a written request with the Office of General Counsel on Oct. 9 to view these records.

But the university, in the four weeks since “full consideration” began for all those applications, has flatly refused to cooperate. Despite initial responses that the school was gathering the records, we learned that the school does not even have them.

Instead, Kent State has been storing them at Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, the private company in Pennsylvania that has assisted the school in finding qualified candidates. Because the school doesn’t physically have any records, the legal counsel argued, it doesn’t have to provide them to the public.

Using privacy to protect candidates of a search is a common practice in executive searches for private corporations or companies. Keeping candidates’ identities secret, proponents say, will allow them to apply without fear of losing their current job.

Therefore, the pool of candidates is stronger in a private search than in a public one.

But those companies are private by definition. They raise all their own money. They meet, operate and make all their decisions behind closed doors. And that’s ok.

A public university is an agency of the government. It takes taxpayer money. It exists to serve students and employ faculty and staff. Every record it creates should be immediately available for any member of the public to view.

While the search firm is private, the record is not. The definition of a record cannot be changed just because it is stored with a private company.

We want to see who has expressed interest in becoming president of our public institution not to ruin their careers or sensationalize their lives. That’s irresponsible journalism.

We want to report the various ideals that the candidates represent and hope that a public debate will inform the committee of the best decision.

These aren’t doodles on a napkin. These applications represent change for years to come.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.