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Something Tells Me It’s All Happening at the Zoo… Private Institutions and Public Funding

by | Mar 21, 2023 | Media Law, Public Records

When you mix private institutions and public funding, the question often arises: At what point does a private company become subject to public records law?

We’ve asked this question before. Now we see another example playing out in Ohio.

A construction company filed a public records lawsuit against the Columbus Zoo. The two entities recently settled the dispute out of court.

The construction company had requested records after its no-bid contract with the zoo came under investigation. 

Investigators seemed to be insinuating that the leader of the construction company had bribed the former zoo CEO to win the job. So the construction company commenced its own search for transparency.

They requested board meeting minutes, among other documents. The zoo denied the request.

The construction company sued, arguing that the zoo could be considered a public entity under public records law, because:

  • $20 million in public tax dollars form part of the zoo budget
  • Zoo employees are part of a state retirement program
  • Government appointees sit on the zoo board
  • The Columbus Zoo resides on city-owned property

Some transparency advocates were disappointed by the settlement that didn’t provide clarity from the court on where taxpayer-supported nonprofit organizations fall in the public records sphere.

I represent news media, bloggers, publishers, and citizens interested in government access, and others who operate under the First Amendment—public records; public meetings; newsgathering; avoiding defamation lawsuits; suing Anti-SLAPP violators. My job is to help you get the records and access you need, help you get the story, help you get the story without getting arrested, help get the story published without defaming anyone, and then defend the story after publication. 

If you need help with any of these areas and don’t have an attorney already, contact me: [email protected]. This post is not intended to be legal advice and does not form the basis of a lawyer-client relationship.


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