Gannett News Central Ohio:Lawsuit claims Strickland, Ohio School Facilities Commission engaged in corrupt activity

By LINDA MARTZ • CentralOhio.com • October 15, 2010

MANSFIELD — Six Richland County residents filed a lawsuit through a Columbus-based conservative group Thursday, claiming Gov. Ted Strickland and the Ohio School Facilities Commission engaged in corrupt activity by favoring unions on school construction projects.

Two Richland County school districts are named as defendants.

The lawsuit focuses partly on an April 12 meeting between Ohio School Facilities Commission director Richard C. Murray, Shelby and Madison school superintendents and Mansfield area union officials.

The lawsuit contends Murray, with encouragement by Strickland and his chief of staff, has pressured school districts to use Project Labor Agreements, which require contractors to hire workers from local union halls, or have their non-union employees pay dues to local unions, for the duration of construction projects.

In a prepared statement, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, whose attorneys filed the civil action, stated, “Tax dollars have been wasted and continue to be at risk due to an unlawfully cozy relationship between the Strickland administration and labor unions.”

“It certainly appears as though union influence over the Strickland administration caused the firing of the prior OSFC director, and the hiring of Murray, with either the instructions or the implicit understanding that Murray would run rough-shod over taxpayers and school districts to benefit union allies,” 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson said.

“School districts are making construction decisions within this troublesome framework. This suit aims to clean up the process before additional tax dollars are wasted,” Thompson said.

A governor’s spokeswoman said the lawsuit, timed less than three weeks away from the Nov. 2 election, is politically motivated.

“These accusations are flat-out wrong. This is a really sad political stunt. It’s an embarrassing sign of desperation just weeks before an election,” Amanda Wurst said.

The civil action focuses on Murray, who replaced Michael Shoemaker as executive director of the Ohio School Facilities Commission after Strickland came into office, and is a member of LIUNA Local No. 423.

The lawsuit says at the April 12 meeting, Murray told Madison and Shelby school superintendents that “construction problems” occurred in the absence of PLAs, and that the commission had begun to use them because of this.

It alleges that union officials, including some affiliated with LIUNA, offered school officials their support passing upcoming levies each of the two districts placed on the ballot.