As questions surrounding the appropriate use of non-disclosure agreements arise for government employees, Ohio too has seen the use of these unique secrecy contracts by the now-defunct, taxpayer-funded online charter school ECOT, which spent over half-a-million dollars to buy former employees’ silence against making statements that would be critical of the school or it’s for-profit management companies.
The contracts also prevent former ECOT employees from bringing legal action against the online charter or its founder, Bill Lager.
State Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) said the ECOT hush money, and reports that it attempted to silence a former employee-turned-whistleblower with a similar contract and cash pay-out, pushed her to draft legislation to ban the practice in Ohio.
“Ohioans shouldn’t be footing the bill for hush money designed to buy someone’s silence, dilute accountability, and keep potentially questionable conduct a secret,” said Boggs. “When it comes to how our taxes are being used, it’s simply a bad investment to pay for a practice that replaces transparency with secrecy.”
Under the bill, entities funded with public money in Ohio would be prohibited from using taxpayer dollars to buy a person’s silence when the intent is to conceal damaging information from the public or to silence whistle blowers, potentially covering up corruption.
“I can think of no greater waste than an organization spending a half-million dollars of state taxpayer money to silence its employees and prevent potentially wrongful conduct from coming to light,” Boggs added, “We can never allow this happen again.”
Though non-disclosure agreements aren’t supposed to prevent reports of criminal behavior, Boggs says illegal wrongdoing can sometimes be difficult to spot for an employee who is focused on doing their job. The Columbus lawmaker is hopeful a ban on these questionable secrecy agreements allows for a more open and honest discussion about what employees experienced, which could potentially lead law enforcement officials to bring charges based on their assessment of employee reports.
The bill will be given a number and assigned to a House committee for further consideration in the near future.