AP investigative news contest

BellefontaineExaminer logo

In 2014, one of the most significant ongoing stories to affect Logan County revolved around the financial crisis experienced by Tri County Community Action.

This submission for investigative reporting details the trials I encountered attempting to cover this issue as it unfolded.

In late March, sources informed us that the board of directors of the agency had met and abruptly placed the executive director on unpaid administrative leave and ceased operation of the Meals on Wheels service that provided meals to elderly residents. I was able to reach out to the president of the board and develop a story for the daily edition on the same morning we learned of this news. (Tuesday, March 25, 2014 — “Future of Tri County Community Action up in air”; and jump page)

As that week developed, the board and the agency's acting director attempted to shield their actions by claiming Tri County was a private, non-profit organization not subject to public meeting and open record laws. I wrote a column citing attorney general opinions on community action organizations that did cause them to change their stance on the openness of their meetings and records. (Monday, March 31, 2014 — “Secrecy has provided no good results for Tri County”)

I was granted access to board meetings, but lack of staff at the stripped down agency made obtaining public records through that source very difficult. That, in addition to the fact that the reliability of any records obtained through the agency was suspect, I had to locate other sources for documents to learn more about the true nature of the financial crisis. I began contacting the Ohio Development Services Agency and Ohio Department of Transportation for audit reports and a clearer picture started to emerge. (June 13, 2014 — “New audit paints picture of Tri County’s decline”; and jump page).

This information began to indicate there may be a potential case of criminal misconduct on the part of the executive director, yet no one seemed to be conducting an investigation into those matters and the board fell short of asking an outside agency to get involved. Over the course of my own research, I had shared information I gathered with the Logan County Prosecutor and his office launched an investigation that is ongoing today with the assistance of the Ohio Attorney General's Office. He also made federal authorities aware that they should contest a foreclosure case that had been filed locally. It was removed to federal court as a result of the prosecutor’s notification of the Federal Transit Administration. (Nov. 21, 2014 — “Federal government now involved in Tri County issue”; and jump page)

The far-reaching impact of this story also necessitated that I do stories not directly related to the board and its actions. For example, a new agency stepped in to provide Meals on Wheels (July 19, 2014 — “Meals (back) on wheels”; and jump page); the transfer of the local public transit agency to another service provider (May 23, 2014 — “Local transit program running on empty”; and jump page) and the unmet need for feeding disadvantaged children in the summer months. (June 18, 2014 — “Private non-profits fill in gaps in summer youth food programs”; and jump page)

A search of our archives indicates I wrote at least 20 bylined stories in 2014 on the issues surrounding Tri County Community Action. I have included many of the remaining stories below (organized chronologically), which you may view if you so choose.

032614.pdf and jump.pdf
032714.pdf and jump.pdf
032814.pdf and jump.pdf
040314.pdf and jump.pdf
040514.pdf and jump.pdf
040914.pdf and jump.pdf
041814.pdf and jump.pdf
051614.pdf and jump.pdf
052814.pdf and jump.pdf
062014.pdf and jump.pdf
071114.pdf and jump.pdf
071814.pdf and jump.pdf
082214.pdf and jump.pdf
091914.pdf and jump.pdf

The Bellefontaine Examiner - All Rights Reserved