CORRIDOR CHRONICLE OPINION
Ojeda hiding press release?
Regular readers know that an effort has been made by this newspaper to acquire a copy of an alleged “press release” issued by Seventh District Senator Richard Ojeda responding to earlier comments appearing herein.
Despite the fact that Ojeda has spent several years nurturing the impression that he believes in total government transparency, he is now nit-picking the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to avoid public exposure.
A request was made by this newspaper, under FOIA, for a copy of the “press release” that at least one of Ojeda’s social media “friends” posted online. Despite the fact that the Senator apparently labeled the press release as a response to us, he did not provide a copy of the release to either the editor or the newspaper. To date, he remains adamant in refusing to do so.
Ojeda and his “friends” use language of the FOIA to avoid exposure. The Senator suggested, in a terse email to the editor, that the FOIA should properly be directed to the Senate Clerk. Some of his “friends” have insisted that Ojeda is a “private citizen” and, as such, is not subject to FOIA. Such a position is hypocritical at best and unlawful at worst.
The Senator’s determination not to respond to our legitimate inquiries are all the more ironic given that he has made a career of filing FOIAs himself. As such, without benefit of a law degree that we are aware of, he has determined that the language of the law exempts him from public disclosure.
The subject “press release” purported lists him as “State Senator Richard Ojeda.” He used his home address and telephone number in an apparent attempt to avoid public disclosure laws. Since the “press release” is not a document produced by the entire State Senate, but by Ojeda only, what would the Senate Clerk know about it?
That is exactly what Ojeda, in his effort to hide from the press and public, had in mind to begin with. He decided to issue a non-responsive “response” to this newspaper, use his Facebook friends to distribute it and then hide from public accountability if asked about it. If we asked to see the press release, he intended to hide behind his bogus claim that FOIAs only apply to pubic bodies and not to him as an elected, “private citizen.”
While running on a campaign of openness and transparency, we must admit we have seldom seen a public official go to such means to avoid public scrutiny. Ojeda connived and planned his “press release” for the purpose stated: “respond” to the newspaper without any level of accountability. Come to think of it, is that not what the Senator has accused others of over the years.
We have also asked about Ojeda’s mental and physical capacities after he suffered what his wife said was a stroke right before the May 2016 primary election. The Senator, who demands full accountability from others, wouldn’t touch that question with a ten-foot pole. Nobody here is attempting to be mean-spirited in asking the question, which we think is relevant and proper. Constituents have a right to know if their State Senator’s capacity to reason was affected by a stroke. They can inquire if he has problems making his way to the capitol because of the stroke he suffered. As we pointed out in our FOIA to him, medical records are often confidential. We understand that. But there has been no report to the public relevant to his condition since his wife informed the press he had suffered a stroke. What are voters to think? Again, Senator, what are you hiding from public view?
Keep this in mind: nobody, as far as we know, asked Ojeda’s wife to disclose that he had a stroke. She voluntarily provided the information after he was allegedly attacked at a public picnic. So, she tells the world about it but he now refuses to disclose the resulting condition? Odd, at best. It’s a case where we hope for the best but are concerned about the worst possibility.
We are further confused by the alleged “attack,” the picnic location and where, exactly, ANYONE reported the expenditures for the day. We have reviewed various candidate and committee finance reports and see no sign that the food, etc. served that day is listed as an expense. Again, who paid for this picnic you attended, Senator? Why were you there anyway? What were your plans when you arrived?
Richard Ojeda claims to have served his country valiantly in the military. If so, and we have no reason to dispute his recollection in this regard, we respect his service. None of that service, however, made Richard Ojeda, “private citizen” the right to supremacy. In a very short period of time, he has assumed the crown as king and believes he is above reproach. We do not agree. Even if Ojeda’s “public body” versus “private citizen” argument was valid, why is he so afraid of this humble, little newspaper that he would do ANYTHING to avoid public disclosure? As we have asked him, why is it even necessary for anyone to FOIA the “press release”? Why not just provide to any who ask and move on?
If Ojeda is attempting to make a point here, we think it is coming through loud and clear. He believes he is above public scrutiny and transparency applies to other public officials but not to him. We will await a verdict by Seventh District constituents as to whether that is correct or not.