Saturday, April 15, 2006

Dennis to STRS Board: What choices will you make now?

From: Dennis Leone
Sent: Saturday, April 15, 2006
Subject: Disgusting

TO ALL: I find it disgusting to read Hazel Sidaway's comments about "doing business" while she was attending a Broadway show (with free tickets for family members to boot). This is same kind of "malcontent" arrogance displayed by Joe Endry before he left the board, and it is exactly the same type of in-your-face snottiness displayed by Jack Chapman and Herb Dyer when they were the "caretakers" of my pension money between 1995 and 2003. I also find it very disturbing to read about the level of involvement of current and former STRS staff members in what truly had become a "culture of entitlement".........using the money of retired teachers.
Then again, there have been those who said that the spending abuses and misconduct were misrepresentations and exaggerations........just like the President of Iran doesn't really believe there was a Holocaust.
To my fellow board members: Do you still want to approve settlement agreements and vendor contracts without having them in hand? Do you still want the executive director to have the ability to pay $300,000 legal bills without the Board first discussing them? Do you still wish to continue paying STRS staff members their 13th check (also called "Annual Service Awards")? Do you still think it is okay to pay employees annually for unused sick leave (which becomes an additional pay check for those who have worked 7 1/2 years and have reached their severance potential maximum)?
Dennis Leone

Dennis to Damon re STRS staff: Who was investigated; who will likely be charged; who participated?

From: Dennis Leone
To: Damon Asbury
Sent: Sunday, April 16, 2006
Subject: STRS Staff Involvement

Damon -- as I mentioned to you in another email, I am disturbed over the comments by STRS staff members during the Sidaway trial and by their apparent level of involvement. For what reasons did staff members Grant and Ehlers want immunity? Why did they say they desired immunity for felonies? Why would such a request be made if there weren't concerns along those lines?
It is clear that the Ethics Commission has interviewed numerous staff members, including Eileen Boles and Steve Mitchell.
I desire to know the job titles and names of staff members who have been investigated by the Ethics Commission, and whom, based on the reasons for the convictions of Dyer and Sidaway, will likely be charged. More specifically, as a board member, I want to know which staff members participated in the activities that were described in the Dyer/Sidaway trials.
I guess I feel it is one thing for a secretary to be ordered to do something by Dyer and Sidaway; it is something else if those things are done by management level employees who should know better. It is my opinion that the Board needs to know what disciplinary action should be considered, given that our new ethics misconduct policy applies to Board members, not staff members. I feel the STRS membership deserves to know what our decision will be regarding internal breaches of ethics, irrespective of whether employees receive immunity in the immediate future.
Regarding immunity decisions: I am reminded of the parent who appealed her high school son's suspension to me a few years ago after the principal smelled alcohol on his breath at a basketball game. The mother took her son to the police station where a breathalyzer test showed very faint traces of alcohol. The fact that the amount of alcohol in the young man's system was negligible -- and far less than what would be needed to cause a police charge -- did NOT mean that the young man was absolved for breaking a disciplinary rule.
Dennis Leone

Comments from some the day after the verdict (Nancy and Dave)

April 16, 2006
I don't think that a national climate of corporate greed, such as Enron, justifies in any way what happened at STRS. If trust cannot be held for those elected or contracted with to protect us, then there will be chaos -- not just greed -- because we could not trust our police or fire officers or anyone,let alone STRS Board or staff.
I agree that all of the known culprits must be charged by the Ohio Ethics Commission and be given punishment (no matter how inconsequential). That is the only way that the foundation of trust from STRS members can be repaired -- we have to know who did not have the courage to fulfill their oaths of fiduciary responsibility or who did not have the courage to fulfill their contracts to STRS with honor!
Nancy (Hamant)
April 15, 2006


I have thought all day about your response to my concerns about the information that came out during Hazel Sidaway's trial.

It is hard to believe that the "culture and climate" that you described took place at STRS by professionals of the educational field (STRS Board Members) and professionals of the financial field (STRS Executive Director, Financial Director and Staff Lawyer). The climate that you described is one that I think might occur at a Junior High School.

What is difficult to believe is that such petty and greedy behavior was exhibited by STRS Board members who were sworn to protect STRS funds and act as fiduciary guardians for all the STRS members assets. In addition, it is unbelievable that an STRS Executive Director and an STRS Chief Fiscal Officer would "cave-in" to such petty and greedy demands when they were responsible for fiduciary guidance to the STRS Board, responsible for the fiduciary safety of the STRS Fund and had contracts to do protect the STRS assets for all STRS members. In my mind, this is not only moral and ethical responsibility but also legal responsibility.

Clearly, the next step in this modern day morality play is in the hands of the Ohio Ethics Commission and David Freel. It is important that anyone who has so abused the STRS system, as the two who have already had charges brought against them and have gone through the court system, must be charged and see their day in court!

What every STRS member needs to do now is to ensure that such a violation of trust never occurs again.

How we do that will take the clear thinking and leadership from each and every teacher in Ohio. We cannot let this ever happen again!

Nancy (Hamant)

April 15, 2006

Nancy, In my short time at STRS, it was evident from conversations I had with many who did not have access to the board members and watched from a distance that the board members themselves pushed for the perks they received.

I believe that in the beginning Mr. Dyer even tried to resist the requests but gave in when more than half of the board wanted these types of perks. Board members would go into the various venues in STRS and ream out the staff if they said things in their reports they did not want to hear. Staff members who resisted the power plays were treated badly and not looked at when higher positions were posted.

Up to the reign of at least five of the board members who took great advantage of their positions, I believe things were done reasonably above board. It was the stock market plunge that opened this can of worms. If it had not happened, the real cause of our hurtful positions as retirees now, this would still be going on in my opinion. We would all be enjoying our retirements and the board would still be enjoying those perks unless ethical and moral individuals were elected to the board.

The board members were not respected or liked by most staffers but they did enjoy the perks they got. Since there is no union, they did not ask for what they got but were given them by an out of control board. Shame on them and on staff members who caved in from the pressure of wanting to please them.

I wonder what the majority of members would want today, an immoral board and all our retirement or the stock market crash and business as usual. What a choice!

Dave [Speas]

Saturday, April 15, 2006

I also believe that the testimony of STRS staff and witnesses clearly indicate that a culture of "entitlement" was running amok at STRS. In my mind, Herb Dyer had to have cultivated that climate at STRS.
Unfortunately, he and all the others who will have ethics charges made regarding their actions are only receiving "slaps on the wrists"-- no real punishment for their lack of fiduciary responsibility to STRS members!

In addition to the comments below, I believe it is important to note that Hazel Sidaway claims that she checked and received approval for her actions from "key" STRS staff, namely Steve Mitchell, Executive Director of Investments, and Cindy Hvisdos (Sp.?), STRS In-house Lawyer.
Which certainly makes one wonder as to the "expertise" of these STRS staff members as well as those STRS members who were begging for immunity for not only misdemeanors but also for felonies! It verifies that STRS staff who were part of the Herb Dyer era are not to be trusted. Until STRS cleans out all of these Herb Dyer employees the system can never be trusted.

Certainly, if I were a newly elected or appointed STRS Board member (those after 2003) I would be very cautious about any advice or recommendation from the Herb Dyer era STRS employees -- it is very evident that they either provided Hazel Sidaway with bad advice or they are not to be trusted.

Nancy Hamant

Generic Drugs: From

Let's hope Snopes has the correct information!
Generic Drugs

Claim: The price of generic drugs can vary widely from one pharmacy to the next.

Status: True.

Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2003]

On Monday night (July 22), Steve Wilson, an investigative reporter for channel 7 News in Detroit, did a story on generic drug price gouging by pharmacies. He found in his investigation, that some of these generic drugs were marked up as much as 3,000% or more. Yes, that's not a typo . . . three thousand percent!

Mr. Wilson did a thorough research, and checked out all the major drugstore chains, discount chains, independent pharmacies, and even checked on some Canadian pharmacies. So often, we blame the drug companies for the high cost of drugs, and usually rightfully so. But in this case, the fault clearly lies with the pharmacies themselves.

For example, if you had to buy a prescription drug, and bought the name brand, you might pay $100 for 100 pills. The pharmacist might tell you that if you get the generic equivalent, they would only cost $80, making you think you are "saving" $20. What the pharmacist is not telling you is that those 100 generic pills may have only cost him $10!

At the end of the report, one of the anchors asked Mr. Wilson whether or not there were any pharmacies that did not adhere to this practice, and he said that Costco consistently charged little over their cost for the generic drugs. They gave the link to Costco, which I will include here, so that you can go and check prices for yourself. Costco Online pharmacy

I went to the Costco site, where you can look up any drug, and get it's online price. It says that the in-store prices are consistent with the online prices. I was appalled. Just to give you one example from my own experience, I had to use the drug, Compazine, which helps prevent nausea in chemo patients. I used the generic equivalent, which cost $54.99 for 60 pills at CVS. I checked the price at Costco, and I could have bought 100 pills for $19.89. For 145 of my pain pills, I paid $72.57. I could have got 150 at Costco for $28.08.

I would like to mention, that although Costco is a "membership" type store, you do NOT have to be a member to buy prescriptions there, as it is a federally regulated substance. You just tell them at the door that you wish to use the pharmacy, and they will let you in.

Origins: As the popularity of this e-mail attests, the fact that one can find a wide disparity in drug prices from one pharmacy to the next was apparently surprising news to many people. And there's probably some truth to the notion that because we tend to view generic drugs as great "money-saving" alternatives to brand drugs, we often don't consider that the mark-up on generics can vary widely from one retailer to the

The basic facts laid out in the message quoted above are true. Steve Wilson, a reporter with WXYZ-TV in Detroit, conducted an investigative study into the cost of generic drugs at various pharmacies and other retail drug outlets and found quite a disparity between the highest and lowest prices charged for certain generic drugs. For example, the Prescription Drug Price Comparison Chart available in conjunction with Wilson's report shows that a one-month supply of Fluoxetine HCL (the generic for Prozac), which wholesales for $1.48, varied in retail price from a high of $92.24 to a low of $9.69 just within the Detroit area.

Comparison shopping applies to generic drugs just as much as it does to food, clothing, DVDs, automobiles, or any other product. Those willing to do some hunting around get the best prices, and many drug comparison sites are available on the web to help consumers compare the costs of various drugs at different retail outlets before submitting their prescriptions (although medical insurance or HMO restrictions may limit which pharmacies a covered patient can use). Price differences between pharmacies can't necessarily be chalked up to nothing more than mere greed, however — some pharmacies offer additional levels of service (such as staying open 24 hours a day) and have to recoup the costs of those additional services by charging higher prices.

Although we can't guarantee that Costco always has the lowest prices on generic drugs, it is generally true that their pharmacy will fill prescriptions for non-members (but be prepared to pay by cash or ATM card rather than check).

Later versions of this message had the following table added to the beginning:

The Cost of Prescription Drugs

Did you ever wonder how much it costs a drug company for the active ingredient in prescription medications? Some people think it must cost a lot, since many drugs sell for more than $2.00 per tablet. We did a search of offshore chemical synthesizers that supply the active ingredients found in drugs approved by the FDA. As we have revealed in past issues of Life Extension, a significant percentage of drugs sold in the United States contain active ingredients made in other countries.

In our independent investigation of how much profit drug companies really make, we obtained the actual price of active ingredients used in some of the most popular drugs sold in America. The chart below speaks for itself.

Brand Name
of Drug
Consumer Price/100 tabsCost of General
Active Ingredients
Percent Markup
Celebrex 100 mg$130.27$0.6021,712%
Claritin 10 mg$215.17$0.7130,306%
Keflex 250 mg$157.39$1.888,372%
Lipitor 20 mg$272.37$5.80 4,696%
Norvasc 10 mg $188.29$0.14134,493%
Paxil 20 mg$220.27 $7.602,898%
Prevacid 30 mg $44.77 $1.01 34,136%
Prilosec 20 mg $360.97$0.52 69,417%
Prozac 20 mg $247.47$0.11224,973%
Tenormin 50 mg $104.47$0.13 80,362%
Vasotec 10 mg$102.37$0.2051,185%
Xanax 1mg $136.79$0.024 569,958%
Zestril 20 mg $89.89 $3.20 2,809%
Zithromax 600mg$1,482.19$18.78 7,892%
Zocor 40mg$350.27$8.634,059%
Zoloft 50mg$206.87$1.7511,821%
This chart has little relevance (other than an inflammatory one), as far more goes into the retail pricing of drugs than the raw cost of their active ingredients. Pharmaceutical companies expend money on the research and development costs of creating the drugs, plus the overhead costs of manufacturing, marketing, and shipping them; as well, pharmacies must sell drugs for more than their wholesale prices in order to cover the overhead costs of store operations (including pharmacists' salaries).
Thanks to John Bos for alerting us to this one. KBB

Duke Snider to Paul Kostyu: Hazel and the Sunshine Law

April 15, 2006
Mr. Kostyu,
It's amazing what some people can do, and regardless how ridiculous it is, they try to justify their actions. "The dog ate my homework."
I noticed in your article about "business" being discussed at certain locations, and I immediately thought of the Sunshine Law. Maybe it doesn't apply to certain organizations or certain people. I remember something being mentioned about a "beach bar bill" at one of the STRS meetings and Sidaway. Of course we retirees are always going to the beach, and having a bar bill, and traveling throughout the U.S. She probably will be slapped on the wrist, but after everything is over, she probably is ahead of the "game," frequent travels, etc., during her tenure as a STRS board member.
Hopefully more individuals will have to give some answers and "wipe away a tear." Maybe they will be thinking about the elderly lady who purchased her special shoes with her thirteenth check. Oh, I mean the thirteenth check she used to receive.
Duke Snider
Retired Educator
Sardinia, Ohio

Beacon-Journal, AP: Hazel Sidaway convicted

Former teachers pension fund member convicted on 2 of 6 counts

Akron Beacon-Journal, April 15, 2006
Associated Press

Columbus, Ohio - A jury convicted a former member of the state teachers' pension board of two misdemeanor ethics violations on Friday but acquitted her on four other counts.

Hazel Sidaway, who represented active teachers on the board from 1986 to 2003, had been accused of accepting free meals, hotel stays and tickets to entertainment events.

Sidaway, 62, was found guilty in Franklin County Municipal Court of conflicts of interest for accepting two tickets to the Broadway show "Hairspray" and four Cleveland Indians tickets.

The theater tickets were from Tacoma, Wash.-based Russell Investment Group while Russell advised the agency on investments, and the baseball tickets from Smith Barney, now a subsidiary of CitiGroup.

The jury acquitted the Canton resident of one conflict charge accusing her of accepting meals at Columbus restaurants and three counts of failing to report the gifts on annual ethics reports from 2001 to 2003. She was not sentenced but likely faces a fine and probation.

Sidaway had testified that she learned long after the events that the consultants had paid for the tickets, and then reported them. She also said she relied on advice from staff at the State Teachers Retirement System on dealing with investment consultants and filling out ethics reports.

Ohio law prohibits public employees from accepting items of value from contractors. Assistant City Prosecutor Lara Baker said gifts could influence board members when they decide which companies to hire.

The former executive director of the system was found guilty Sept. 1 of accepting golf outings and other gifts from Russell. Herb Dyer pleaded no contest to one charge of failing to report gifts to the Ohio Ethics Commission and was fined $1,000.

Dyer was forced to resign in August 2003 after criticism that the retirement fund spent millions of dollars on bonuses, artwork and travel while assets plunged. He also apologized for saying that retirees needed to eat out less if they couldn't afford the fund's higher health insurance costs.

Both cases were referred to prosecutors by the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Canton Repository: SIDAWAY GUILTY

Ex-STRS board member Sidaway guilty
By Paul E. Kostyu
Copley Columbus Bureau Chief
Canton Repository, April 15, 2006
"We'd like to resolve (future) cases expeditiously," said Paul Nick, chief investigator for the Ohio Ethics Commission. "I think they can see what is coming."
COLUMBUS - Hazel Sidaway was found guilty Friday of two counts of violating state ethics laws. The former Canton City Schools teacher faces a $1,000 fine and a 6-month jail term on each count.

Eight jurors took two hours to arrive at their verdict after listening to testimony for three days in Franklin County Municipal Court. They said Sidaway was innocent of four ethics charges.

She was convicted of accepting four tickets, valued at $120, to a Cleveland Indians game in July 2001 and two tickets, valued at $550, to the Broadway show Hairspray in May 2003. She took family members to both events.

Sidaway’s attorney, H. Ritchey Hollenbaugh, said an appeal is unlikely. He said Sidaway had no regrets about going to trial. “She never considered a plea because to this day she believes she did nothing wrong.”

Judge Carrie E. Glaeden will sentence Sidaway on May 12.

Hollenbaugh said he will ask for leniency and that the judge “take into consideration other cases, like the governor’s.” Gov. Bob Taft was convicted of four ethics violations last year in a plea deal that netted him a $4,000 fine and court costs, but no jail time.

Hollenbaugh referred to Taft in his closing arguments Friday. “Did (Sidaway) play golf 52 times and not report it?” he said.

This was the second conviction in an ongoing investigation by the ethics commission of the State Teachers Retirement System, where Sidaway was a board member when she broke the law. Former Executive Director Herbert Dyer was convicted on a single ethics charge in a plea deal in September 2005. He was fined $1,000 and court costs and ordered to pay $394 in restitution to the retirement system.

Dennis Leone, the former superintendent and now retirement system board member who initiated questions about how the fund was operating years ago, said he hopes Sidaway is ordered to pay restitution.

“I wish other spending abuses that board members engaged in could be part of this decision,” he said.

Other board members and staff are on the prosecutor’s radar, some of whom went on the New York trip with Sidaway and others who may have violated ethics laws in other ways. Retirement system attorney Bill Neville attended the trial and took notes.

“We’d like to resolve (future) cases expeditiously,” said Paul Nick, chief investigator for the Ohio Ethics Commission. “I think they can see what is coming.”

“I think people will be paying attention,” Hollenbaugh said.

Sidaway cried and her lips quivered as Hollenbaugh made his closing arguments, telling jurors “she is not a criminal.” He said, “This case is an insult to the people who do public service.”

Prosecutor Lara N. Baker said Sidaway and the board were part of a retirement system culture of entitlement. She said the board abandoned its responsibility to retirees and teachers. She said Sidaway took so many trips on the pension fund’s dime that it became a full-time job for her.

Under cross examination by Assistant City Attorney Mickey Prisley, Sidaway said she considered the Broadway show a board meeting because conversations occurred before the show, during intermission and on the walk back to the hotel after the performance.

Prisley was incredulous, asking her repeatedly to justify the expense.

“I’m telling you,” Sidaway said firmly, “we had conversations at appropriate times in the evening.”

The commission initiated an investigation of the retirement system after media reports, including many by Copley Ohio Newspapers, in 2003 and 2004 raised questions about travel, bonuses, artwork and other items.

Reach Copley Columbus Bureau Chief Paul E. Kostyu at (614) 222-8901 or e-mail:

Columbus Dispatch on Hazel Sidaway: Ex-pension official guilty in ethics probe

Woman convicted on 2 counts of conflict of interest, cleared on 4 others
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Kevin Mayhood
Hazel Sidaway said she relied on advice of staff members at the State Teachers Retirement System to report the gifts. .
- A former member of the state teachers’ pension board was found guilty yesterday of two ethics violations and cleared of four others.

Hazel Sidaway, who had been on the board of the State Teachers Retirement System for more than a decade, likely faces a fine and probation. She has no record of ethical or criminal violations.

Sidaway, who lives in Canton, was convicted of two counts of conflict of interest for accepting four Cleveland Indians tickets and two tickets to the Broadway production of Hairspray.

Investment consultants who had contracts with the retirement system provided the tickets.

The jury in Franklin County Municipal Court acquitted her of a charge of conflict of interest for accepting meals at three Columbus restaurants.

She also was acquitted of all three counts of failing to truthfully report the gifts.

The items were given from 2001 to 2003.

During trial, Sidaway, 62, testified that she didn’t realize consultants were the source of the tickets until long after the events, and then she reported them accordingly. She said she relied on the advice of staff members at the retirement system in her dealings with the investment consultants they hired. She said staff members also advised her when she filled out reports listing gifts that she had accepted. Ohio law prohibits public employees from accepting items of value from contractors. Assistant City Prosecutor Lara Baker told the jury that such gifts could potentially influence board members, who decide which firms and consultants to hire.

Friday, April 14, 2006

An excerpt from, 7/8/05: Wonder who will be next?

The Culture of Corruption Runs Deep in Ohio

(July 8, 2005) The culture of corruption runs deep in Ohio. As the Columbus Dispatch reports, the cesspool that is Ohio politics has seeped into every level of government. The list of scandals continues to grow and is worth quoting in full:

• Former State Teachers Retirement System board member Hazel Sidaway, 61, of Canton, was charged last month with seven ethics-law violations accusing her of receiving free meals, gifts, travel and outings from businesses and people doing business with her agency. Dozens of other board and staff members of the State Teachers Retirement System could be charged in coming months on similar allegations, officials said. [Note: One charge against Ms. Sidaway, also a former OEA executive committee member, was dropped during her April 2006 trial in Columbus.]

Hazel Sidaway convicted on two charges of ethics violations

April 14, 2006
A Franklin County Municipal Court jury in Columbus today found former STRS Board and OEA executive committee member Hazel Sidaway guilty of two of six ethics violations she was charged with: accepting tickets to Cleveland Indians baseball games and accepting tickets to the Broadway musical "Hairspray." Sentencing by Judge Carrie Glaeden is scheduled to take place May 12, 2006. Scroll down to see related articles.

Paul Kostyu on Sidaway trial: Immunity requests jolt STRS case, prosecutor

Canton Repository
Friday, April 14, 2006
By Paul Kostyu
COLUMBUS - The prosecution’s case against a former Canton City Schools teacher exploded Thursday when two of its witnesses refused to testify without a sweeping promise of immunity from prosecution.

Attorneys for Mary Ellen Grant and Stephen W. Ehlers refused to let their clients testify in the state’s case against Hazel Sidaway of Parkridge Circle NW in Plain Township. They want immunity for any crimes, including felonies, their clients may have committed while employed at the State Teachers Retirement System. Grant, the director of the real-estate section in the investment department, has been with the pension system at least 20 years.

Columbus’ Chief Legal Counsel Lara N. Baker, clearly frustrated and flabbergasted, was willing to grant the two immunity from a possible misdemeanor, but said she didn’t have the authority to waive felonies. That has to come from the county prosecutor. Eileen Boles, executive assistant to the pension board, testified Wednesday and Thursday with a misdemeanor immunity agreement.

Baker said she couldn’t imagine Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien agreeing with a request to waive all crimes, including those that may have been committed years ago.

“(Grant) could have committed murder,” Baker told Municipal Court Judge Carrie E. Glaeden. “I’m not saying she did, but it would apply to any case. I didn’t know anything was out there. I’m at a loss.”

Sidaway has pleaded innocent to six misdemeanor charges of violating state ethics law. One of those violations included a trip to New York City in May 2003 to inspect the pension fund’s real-estate holdings. She is accused of accepting two $250 tickets to a Broadway show and not reporting them on her annual disclosure statement, which is required of all public officials.

Grant and Ehlers went on the same trip. Though they are not required to file ethics forms, both did so voluntarily for 2003 at the urging of the retirement system administration.

Ehlers is a portfolio manager for the eastern region in the investment department. He makes more than $114,000 annually. Grant’s annual salary is more than $160,000.

Both hired attorneys Thursday morning, just hours before they were to take the stand. They had been interviewed by investigators of the Ohio Ethics Commission in August 2005.

Richard Cline, Grant’s attorney, told Glaeden he was unfamiliar with the case and had brief conversations with his client before appearing in court. He said he wasn’t clear what Grant’s risk could be and advised his client to plead the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination should she be forced to testify. Ehlers’ attorney, M. David Burton, advised the same for his client.

“Mr. Cline, you’re not convincing me,” said Glaeden, who sent the jury home early so she could deal with the problem.

During a break in the proceedings, the judge retrieved information from her office about the Fifth Amendment, which she said she would study overnight.

Prosecutors were to meet with Cline and Burton to work out an agreement. Glaeden ordered all of them to be in her courtroom at 8 a.m. today with a solution or she would issue a ruling.

“We hope to work it out,” Baker said later.

H. Ritchey Hollenbaugh, Sidaway’s attorney, silently watched from the defense table as the episode unfolded. He said later he would reserve comment until after the trial, which had been scheduled to end today.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Flashback; July 1, 2005: Inquiry of STRS may go further

Inquiry of STRS may go further
By Paul E. Kostyu, Copley Columbus Bureau chief
Canton Repository, July 1, 2005
COLUMBUS - Hazel Sidaway is not the only State Teachers Retirement System board member who got high-priced show tickets from a company that did business with the board. And she may not be the only one facing charges.

All of that could have become public long ago, one critic said, if Gov. Bob Taft hadn’t derailed a state inspector general’s investigation two years ago.

Sidaway, who retired as a Canton City Schools teacher and STRS board member two years ago, is charged with accepting “thousands of dollars” in meals, drinks, lodging and entertainment from September 1998 to June 2003 from companies that handled the teachers pension fund’s investments. She also is accused of failing to report those gifts, filing false ethics statements and lying about the gifts to investigators.

Sidaway denies she did anything wrong.

She retired from the pension board on June 30, 2003. Had she gotten through Thursday, Sidaway may have avoided criminal charges, because that’s when the two-year statute of limitations would have run out on the seven misdemeanor charges.

Instead, she is due to appear in Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus on Aug. 2 at 9 a.m.

Among the alleged gifts were two tickets worth $550 to a Broadway show, four tickets to a Cleveland Indians game valued at $120, and three meals at high-end Columbus restaurants valued at $240.

Sidaway didn’t see the show alone. Board members who served with Sidaway included Jack H. Chapman of Reynoldsburg, Michael N. Billirakis of Pickerington, Joseph I. Endry of Westerville, Eugene E. Norris of Columbus and Deborah Scott of Cincinnati. All attended “Hairspray” in New York with Sidaway in May 2003.

Sidaway’s tickets, the criminal charges say, came from Frank Russell Investment Group.

The investment group has overseen the pension system’s investments since 1991, according to STRS spokeswoman Laura Ecklar.

It and Smith Barney, which has been a broker for the pension system for more than 20 years, are named in the complaints against Sidaway and could face charges, though a financial settlement is more likely, according to Paul Nick, chief investigating counsel for the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Kim Atwater, a spokesman for Smith Barney, said the company is “cooperating fully with the authorities.” She said it will wait for the investigation to conclude to see “what they’re saying about us and the other firm.”

Frank Russell Investment Group did not return a call for comment.

“We didn’t do anything wrong” with the New York trip, insisted Endry, one of the other board members. “It was perfectly legitimate.”

Endry, whose term on the board ends Aug. 31, said then-Executive Director Herbert Dyer and Chapman, who was then the board’s chairman, said the tickets for the show were paid for by the pension system, not the investment group.

“STRS was supposed to be billed,” he said.

Endry said he has not been notified about whether he faces charges. He said he had a “casual conversation” with ethics commission investigators months ago.

Nick said “more than a few” other pension board members and staff are being investigated. Charges are expected by mid-July, according to Lara N. Baker, Columbus’ chief prosecutor, though she would not say who may be charged.

While the charges against Sidaway are misdemeanors, Baker said she is reviewing a report from the ethics commission to see if felony charges need to be referred to the Franklin County prosecutor.

Dennis Leone, the former Chillicothe superintendent who first raised questions about STRS spending practices, said he feels vindicated by the charges, which “provide substantiation for what I researched.”

Leone, who joins the pension board on Sept. 1, said he hopes to see restitution, and criticized the time it took for charges to be filed.

“This would have come out years ago,” he said, had Gov. Taft not vetoed efforts by lawmakers to allow Inspector General Thomas Charles to investigate the pension system.

Charles had made preparations to do so, but at the time the governor and his supporters said a Charles-led effort would set a precedent for investigations of the administration in the future.

Should he be charged, Endry said, he hopes the attorney general’s office would represent him because his actions were taken “in the line of duty.”

Ecklar said it is more likely Sidaway and anyone else facing charges will have to hire their own attorneys.

“This is an individual issue,” she said, and does not represent problems “systemic to STRS. There is no favoritism to specific vendors.”

Three members of the pension fund’s board represent State Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman, Auditor Betty D. Montgomery and Attorney General James M. Petro.

Jen Detwiler, spokesperson for Montgomery, said there is no indication that her representative, Mary Beth Foley, will be swept up in the investigation.

“Auditor Montgomery always has insisted that her representative meet the highest level of ethical standards,” she said. “We’re confident she kept within those standards.”

Zelman has scheduled a meeting with her representative, Steven Puckett, according to spokesman J.C. Benton.

Chapman, Billirakis, Norris and Scott could not be reached for comment Thursday. Petro’s office did not return a call for comment.

Dyer lost his job as head of the pension fund after media reports, including many by Copley Ohio Newspapers, raised questions about spending on travel, employee bonuses, artwork and other items. The spending came at a time when the system’s investment portfolio plummeted and health-care costs for members increased.

State Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Jackson Township, was one of the lawmakers who pushed for changes at the pension system to improve accountability. He also advocated that the inspector general be allowed to investigate. He said an audit of the system’s overall management, policies and investments is due in the fall.

“Maybe this took so long because of the exhaustive effort of the ethics commission, and it had a lot to uncover,” he said.

You can reach Copley Columbus Bureau Chief Paul E. Kostyu at (614) 222-8901 or e-mail:

Sidaway trial currently under way

The trial for Hazel Sidaway, former STRS Board member who has been charged with ethics violations while serving on the Board, is currently under way at the Franklin County Municipal Court.
Hazel Sidaway's trial
First day: Tuesday, April 11, 1:30 p.m. (See updated schedule, below)
Franklin County Municipal Court
375 S. High St.
Columbus, OH 43215
13th floor, Rm. 13A, Judge Carrie Glaeden
Map and directions: Franklin County Courthouse
More info on location of courthouse, parking:
Updated Schedule:
Number to call for updated info:
,,,Franklin County Municipal Court: 614-645-8186
Sidaway case number: 2005 CRB 015610

April 11, 1:30: Jury selection process, Room 13A
April 12, 1:30 - 6:30: Opening arguments, some testimony
April 13, 8:30 am - 12:30 pm; 2:00 - 6:00 pm
April 14, 9:00 am - 6:00 pm
Trial expected to go into next week

STRS Board Meeting April 19 - 21: Public Meeting Notice

CORE will meet at 11:45 on Thursday, April 20, on the second floor of STRS, in the Sublett Room. Sen Marc Dann is the scheduled speaker.
From Laura Donaldson, April 12, 2006
April 12, 2006


The State Teachers Retirement Board and Committee meetings currently scheduled at the STRS Ohio offices, 275 East Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215, are as follows:

Wednesday, April 19, 2006
8:30 a.m. Disability Committee and Retirement Board Disability Adjudication Hearings (Executive Session)

Thursday, April 20, 2006
9:00 a.m. Resumption of the Retirement Board Meeting* followed by the
Investment Committee Meeting

Friday, April 21, 2006
8:15 a.m. Audit Committee Meeting (Executive Session)
9:00 a.m. Resumption of the Retirement Board Meeting *
* The Retirement Board is expected to receive reports from the Member Benefits Department (health care) and Investment Department on Thursday. The public participation portion of the Board's agenda is expected to follow the Executive Director's Report (1 p.m.) and a discussion of recent conference travel on Thursday. An Investment Committee meeting is expected Thursday afternoon. An Audit Committee meeting is expected at 8:15 a.m. before the Retirement Board meeting resumes at 9 a.m. on Friday, April 21. On Friday, the Retirement Board will receive reports from the Finance Department, Human Resource Services Department, Information Technology Department and Member Benefits Department (pension benefits) before addressing routine matters.

Paul Kostyu reports on Day Two of Hazel Sidaway trial

STRS 'stars' enjoyed trips to Broadway
By Paul E. Kostyu
Copley Columbus Bureau Chief
Canton Repository, April 13, 2006
COLUMBUS - Idolized as stars at the State Teachers Retirement System, pension board members demanded the best in restaurants and entertainment when they traveled.

Itineraries were planned well in advance and altered to suit board members’ tastes. “Fancy restaurants that were exotic and unique,” including one owned by actor Robert DeNiro, were researched. Jazz and blues clubs, and who was playing when board members were in town, were checked out.

“It was very odd to me,” said Laura White, a former temporary retirement system employee who helped research and plan board travel.

White was the prosecution’s first witness Wednesday in the long-delayed trial of Hazel Sidaway of 2915 Parkridge Cir. NW in Plain Township. In July 2005, Sidaway pleaded innocent to seven charges of accepting and not disclosing gifts, a violation of state ethics laws, during a three-year span during her 17-year tenure on the board. On Tuesday, prosecutors dropped one charge “for strategic reasons” prior to selection of eight jurors, including one who contributes to the teachers’ pension system.

Chief Prosecutor Lara N. Baker painted a picture of Sidaway as responsible and diligent, but “wanting more,” which is why she took gifts and didn’t report them.

Baker has scheduled calling 12 witnesses during the trial, which is expected to end on Friday. Defense attorney H. Ritchey Hollenbaugh of Columbus said he will call two, including Sidaway.

White worked for Eileen Boles, executive assistant to the retirement board. Facing ethics charges herself, Boles agreed to testify at Sidaway’s trial in exchange for immunity.

Hollenbaugh said after Wednesday’s session that Boles “didn’t do anything that she needed immunity for.” He also said there were no surprises from the first day. Baker would not comment.

With her attorney in the courtroom, Boles took the stand and at times looked confused and bored. She said she was nervous. Boles said she accompanied the board and other staff on a real-estate inspection trip to New York City in May 2003.

One of the charges against Sidaway says she and her husband accepted and did not report tickets, each worth $250, to see the Broadway show “Hairspray.” The tickets were paid by Frank Russell Investment Group, which has overseen the pension system’s investments since 1991. Sidaway is also accused of accepting and not disclosing tickets to a Cleveland Indians game in 2001 and expensive meals at high-end restaurants in Columbus.

The Sidaway case is expected to have an impact on how prosecutors proceed in the coming months against other former and current retirement system staff and board members who received the same or similar gifts. The Ohio Ethics Commission initiated an investigation of the retirement system after media reports, including many by Copley Ohio Newspapers, in 2003 and 2004 raised questions about travel, bonuses, artwork and other items.

Herb Dyer, executive director of the retirement system at the time Sidaway is said to have accepted gifts, reached a plea deal and was found guilty of a single ethics violation in September 2005. Hollenbaugh was also his attorney.

Ryan Holderman: No union should be allowed to restrict their members access to information about their retirement system

From Ryan Holderman, April 8, 2006
Subject: It's hard to lose control!
I find the following point made by OEA President Gary Allen in his memorandum of March 17, 2006 very interesting. It offers insight into the mindset of the OEA leadership:

"As the exclusive representative for our members, OEA has the right to communicate with our members about union matters and issues, including endorsed candidates. Outside entities do not enjoy the same right to access to our members."
STRS is a totally independent agency. It is not a division of the union nor is OEA the "exclusive" representative for STRS matters. Membership in a union is not a prerequisite to being a beneficiary of STRS. There are many STRS constituents who've never belonged to a union.
OEA has, for too many years, treated STRS as though it was a branch of the union. The majority bloc OEA once held on the STRS Board is, as a result of SB 133, a thing of the past. STRS is free of the heavy-handed grasp of OEA. The diverse composition of the reformed STRS Board has brought it broader representation, greater expertise, and input that represents a wide variety of points of view.
OEA may "communicate with our members about union matters and issues, including endorsed candidates" but they do not have the right to shanghai the STRS election and censor the campaign information that Ohio teachers need to make an informed decision before they vote. No union should be allowed to restrict their members access to information about their retirement system.
Anyone running for STRS Board office has the right to communicate with any STRS constituent about their candidacy.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ralph Lloyd: A warning on the TEL/TABOR Amendment, coming up for vote in November

The TEL (Tax and Expenditure Limitation) Amendment will be on the ballot in November 2006.
What this amendment states is that each year the increase in State and local funding is limited to 3.5% annually or by a formula that totals the rate of population growth plus the annual percentage increase of the CPI (Consumer price index.
At the end of each year half of all unspent money will be distributed to Ohio Income taxpayers, additional moneys may be distributed under certain circumstances. Each year approval by the legislature, the Governor and a majority of all eligible voters is required to approve any spending in excess of the limit. An eligible voter is defined as a registered voter, not just who voted in the last election.
This amendment also applies to spending by local governments using the same formula.
Colorado passed a TEL or TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) and the impact on Colorado Schools, Colleges, Local Governments and other State services was so severe that voters in November of 2005 SUSPENDED THE AMENDMENT FOR FIVE YEARS.
Ralph L Lloyd

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Shirlee Zerkel to Mark Meuser: Experience in Bath school district

From: Shirlee Zerkel
To: Mark Meuser
Sent: Sunday, April 09, 2006
Subject: Bath LSD

Mr. Meuser, My name is Shirlee Zerkel who tried to pass out election information on behalf of CORE. I live in Bath District, taught there many years ago and my children graduated from Bath. I would like to share the story of what happened to me on Thursday.
I had secured permission from the school administration, went directly to the office, picked up my visitor pass and told them exactly what I was planning to do. I only talked to people who appeared willing to listen. I went to the lady teachers' lounge where about 7 teachers were eating the last lunch mod of the day.
I smiled and was ready to introduce myself when Sue Iden, an OEA building rep, held out her hand as I reached to put some flyers on the table, so I handed her one of my flyers. She handed it back and then told me that I could not pass out such information in the building and that they were OEA. I said that I also was an OEA life member and wanted the teachers to be informed about all of the candidates. She told me that I was not allowed to pass out any information and referred me to a memo on the bulletin board from Gary Allen. I tried to read the bulletin, but she continued to tell me that I was in the wrong and she continued in the same point of view as I left the room.
I have now secured a copy of the memo she was referring to. The following comment on Mr. Allen's memo may have been what she was referring to: "As the exclusive representative for our members, OEA has the right to communicate with our members about union matters and issues, including endorsed candidates. Outside entities do not enjoy the same right to access to our members."
I also believe that OEA in that school is the exclusive representative in union matters and issues, but I do not agree that it is when it comes to elections. Every teacher should have the right to complete information about the candidates.
I agree that this statement of Mr. Allen's was not a definite directive, but it does indicate that in an OEA school district OEA has exclusive rights and other entities do not. That statement also implies that only the OEA in such districts has the right to communicate with teachers about elections. That also is vague. What elections? STRS, state, federal or all elections?
Also looking at your email, I would like to say that in Feb. when we were trying to get petitions signed, a CORE friend of mine was in Bath Middle school and was treated exactly the same way by the local OEA President, Mike Jordan, when she had the permission of the administrators. for what she was doing.
I thank you for listening to my experience and for being so willing to answer Molly's email concerning this incident.
Thank you for addressing our concerns,
Shirlee Zerkel

John Curry to Dennis Reardon and Gary Allen: Shirlee's experience at Bath High School

Mr. Reardon and Mr. Allen,

Distribution of STRS Board election campaign literature in a public school building is a legal right and should not be violated. According to Shirlee's letter below, her right to do distribute campaign literature was violated today.
John Curry


From Shirlee Zerkel, April 6, 2006
Subject: Experience at Bath High School

I live in Bath Township School District near Lima. I decided to go to the high school and campaign for Hall and Fredrick. I had taken petitions there as well-no problem in Feb. but this time was different.

I called the principal's office and was given permission to come. My first hour was fine. Some very interested. I tried to catch teachers over their lunch mods. I passed out flyers and also took in Leone's STRS Update. I then went to the women's lounge where about 8 teachers eat the last mod. I was told that I could not pass out literature because of a directive by OEA and she pointed to a message on the bulletin board from Gary Allen to President's of Locals.

She continues to tell me that I can not be in the building passing out literature for any other candidates but OEA ones. Only OEA views are allowed as we are an OEA school. I told her that I was an OEA member and an independent thinker. I also stated that members of STRS, active or retired, are entitled to hear about all candidates and issues not just what OEA wants them to hear. This is the same school system that Liz Ebbing had problems with in their middle school in Feb.

The message from Mr. Allen did state that we were to be allowed to pass literature out in the schools and it told the teachers to vote for OEA approved candidates.

I certainly am glad that we don't meet that treatment in every school. Boy, I thought this was America and free speech was allowed. But free speech is not allowed in an OEA stronghold. How like sheep some teachers are!


Tom Curtis: Questions for an 'informed' (?) Board member who has NEVER READ Dennis Leone's reports

"Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."
~ Edmund Burke
April 8, 2006
Hello Conni Ramser,
Today I received my ballot for the STRS election. I read each candidate's statements. I find grave differences in what you state and the actions you have taken while on the Board for the past 2 years. You state,
"As a Board member, I see my role as one who needs to be informed and objective."
"I have the interest and energy to study the issues and make the types of decisions that need to be made in order to protect the future of STRS for current and future retirees." and
"Additionally, I need to be mindful of the issues that brought the Board under intense scrutiny and work to keep those issues from arising again."
Is this the same Conni Ramser that in January 2006, stated in an email to a retiree that she has not and does not see the need to read Dr. Leone's 2 reports of 2003?
First, how can you say you are informed and objective, when you have failed to read the 2 documents from an outside source (Dr. Leone) that brought the gross misspending of the past board, under the scrutiny you speak of? How will continuing to ignore Dr. Leone's 2 reports protect the future of the STRS for current and future retirees? How can you be mindful of the issues that brought the board under intense scrutiny and work to keep those issues from arising again, when you do not even know what they are? As Vice-Chair of the Board you have made little to no effort in bringing those issues into discussion with the board? How can you not want to address these issues as your membership continually asks you to do?
Your statements above are not consistent with your actions. Nor is telling me those things happened in the past and in your eyes are old news. There are many spending issues in Dr. Leone's reports that are still relevant and long overdue in being addressed. As a current board member and Vice-Chair, I wonder why you are so adamant about not reading Dr. Leone's 2 reports and discussing such with the membership and the Board?
During the Board retreat on February 2nd, 2006, I supplied you with copies of Dr. Leone's 2 reports to the STRS board in 2003. I asked you to read both of the papers and sit down with me and discuss what has and has not been dealt with yet. I have written you with this same request. You have failed to respond to both my verbal and written request. Your inaction concerning this matter does not support your statements above. I assure you and all other board members, ignoring these issues will not permit them to simply go away. The STRS membership desires Board members who will eliminate spending abuses and will stand together and be accountable for reducing such.
Since you have been unwilling to be held to this measure to date, then your statements above are simply nice things to say, not ones you truly can show accountability in solving.
Tom Curtis
CORE Advisory Committee Member
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
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