Current city council president and Columbus Mayoral candidate Andrew Ginther has pulled out all the stops as he seeks to deflect from his record of incompetence related to the Columbus City Schools data scrubbing scandal, using a technique that can best be described by what leading propagandists described as “the big lie.”
  In response to other candidates bringing up what they call his record of failure on the school board that they claim led to continuing fraud, Ginther declares he is proud of his service on the school board and for his work chairing the Audit and Accountability Committee. Going further in defense he states that once he became aware of data scrubbing allegations he immediately launched an investigation and kept it going even though the school administration tried to end it, and that the investigation was on-going when he departed the school board for council in 2007.
  In review, each of these statements is so discredited by the facts that they appear to be components of a big lie. The facts show that Ginther did not initiate any investigation, that he directed the Internal Audit staff away from a meaningful investigation, that he helped fire one CCS Internal Auditor (Tina Abdella) as she was set to begin an investigation that would have uncovered the fraud in 2005, and told the incoming auditor (Harold Saunders) to not continue work on that investigation so by the end of Ginther’s tenure in 2007 (if not earlier in 2005 as Saunders claims), any internal investigation was over.


  Quick background for readers who have been living under a rock for the past three years: in 2004, Andrew Ginther was a member of the Columbus City Schools Board of Education, and chair of the school board’s Audit and Accountability Committee. On October 25, 2004, a whistleblower wrote to Ginther (citing Ginther’s capacity as chair of the Audit Committee), saying the district was spending too much attention on financial matters, and was missing a far greater problem related to academic achievement where someone was “cooking the books.”
  Calling it an “act of deception,” the letter writer further talked about whether the district was truly out of “academic emergency” and said that the audit team will find some “regrettable facts when investigating how data is collected, controlled, massaged and then delivered to the Ohio Department of Education.” Finally he implores “Please do whatever you have to do to stop this from continuing and I hope our embarrassment to the state, our students and the community can be forgiven.  Don’t let this accountability issue come up after the levy vote. It’s not fair to the public. Remember STEP UP, MAKE IT HAPPEN.” (All emphases in original letter).
  A second whistleblower emailed Ginther a month later writing “the Board should be aware of a scandal in the way EMIS data is manipulated. Attendance data is ‘cleansed’ in various ways to enhance the performance of the Columbus Public Schools.” This second whistleblower identified himself as a former employee of the school’s data center who could put investigators in touch with his former colleagues, and further wrote “a comparison against the live eSIS file would turn up evidence. Many people in MIS are aware of this unethical and maybe criminal data ‘cleansing’ but are afraid to speak up. The data cleansing process is with the full knowledge and authority of CIP Steve Tankovich…the district is in danger of moving to “emergency’ status when this fraud is uncovered.”
  Ginther emailed back to the second whistleblower, saying “we will be taking a look into this when an accountability audit is performed in the coming months.” And in fact, according to August 25, 2004 meeting minutes from the Audit Committee (which was two months before the first whistleblower correspondence), then-Internal Auditor Tina Abdella indicated she would be starting the planned, 2003 Board-approved attendance accountability audit on December 6, 2004.  

Other documents recently made public by the Ginther campaign at show that the audit date was adjusted and finalized based on Internal Audit staff vacation schedules – not based on Ginther launching any investigation (in fact, Ginther is not even copied on any of the posted CCS emails about the start of the student accountability audit). (In any case, there does not appear to have been any distribution of the whistleblower allegations of wrongdoing to other members of the Audit and Accountability Committee, and those allegations are never specifically outlined in Audit and Accountability Committee documents posted to the Ginther webpage.)
  Just prior to the audit start date, though, Superintendent Gene Harris arranged for the Ohio Department of Education to review the district’s data policies and procedures, which was the course of action recommended by Steve Tankovich as a response to the data scrubbing allegations. The state never looked at the live eSIS file as the whistleblower had indicated evidence of the allegations would be found.
  According to reporting by The Columbus Dispatch, “in January 2005 (just one month after announcing the start of the Student Accountability Audit), Ginther and then Board Chair Stephanie Hightower met with Abdella to tell her that her services would no longer be needed. Abdella was assigned to work at home, and her contract was not renewed in July 2005. The state delivered a glowing review of procedures ….The district’s audit wasn’t completed, Abdella said. Ginther, now president of the Columbus City Council, didn’t return a call left with his spokesman.” (The Columbus Dispatch, District Accused of Axing ’04 Audit, August 3, 2012)

The Mayoral Debate Opens Up the Issue

  Just when you thought Columbus’s data scrubbing scandal was winding down, with more than five dozen CCS administrators and principals under ODE investigation to potentially lose their teaching licenses, two principals losing their jobs, and three administrators including the former Superintendent charged criminally, Ginther’s campaign for Mayor has reopened the data scrubbing issue. Fellow Democratic mayoral candidate Zach Scott has repeatedly questioned Ginther’s capacity to manage on billboards claiming “Ginther Failed, Fraud Prevailed,” while fellow Democratic candidate James Ragland has asked several times for Ginther and Republican Candidate Terry Boyd (who was also on the school board at the time) for a public apology for the data scrubbing mess.
  Boyd sharply rebuked Ragland for bringing his name into that conversation, clarifying that he was not on Ginther’s oversight committee and saying that Ginther, as committee chair, never brought the issue to the full board’s attention. Ginther has not apologized, saying to WOSU, for instance, “I feel very good about what I did as a member of the board of education and chairing, leading the Audit and Accountability Committee.”
  Ginther continues to resist suggestions that he could have done better. By the second candidate debate (hosted by WBNS), Ginther had prepared a website on the issue ( to try to document his claims of good public service, and referred to it several times during the debate, telling viewers to check the facts on his website.
  Unfortunately for Ginther, we did – and the website does nothing to dispel the concerns about Ginther’s involvement in the data scrubbing scandal and in fact, points to what looks like incompetence on Ginther’s part at the time (2004-2007) and apparently misleading statements by Ginther now during the election campaign.

The “Truthiness” of Ginther’s Defense

  Comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term “Truthiness,” which has been defined as “the quality of stating what one wishes or feels to be true instead of what is actually true.” As quoted in an interview with WOSU, Ginther now says, “I think the voters of Columbus know that I took immediate action when we got these allegations...and directed staff to follow up on those allegations. I initiated and oversaw an internal audit investigation until I left the board of education.” Similar thoughts were expressed by Bill Anthony, Chair of the Franklin County Democratic Party in a recent party Facebook posting and mailing to voters, and they have become a staple of Ginther campaign.
  The problem is that the statement is a series of what appear to be lies.
  Far from immediately initiating any investigation as he now claims, as revealed in Ginther’s email to the second whistleblower Ginther simply stated that an accountability audit would be done that would address the issues raised. This audit had been approved in 2003 by the school board – a year prior to the anonymous allegations to Ginther -- based on the CCS Internal  Auditor’s 2002 identification of that issue as being “high risk.” If Ginther had simply let the planned audit go forward, the data scrubbing and other data schemes would have been discovered shortly after the audit was set to begin in December 2004. However, after that audit was announced in an internal memo by then-Internal Auditor Tina Abdella, The Dispatch (in the
First Amendment award-winning series by Bill Bush and Jennifer Smith Richards) reports that Ginther then met with Board Chair Hightower and Internal Auditor Abdella and began the process of removing her from her assignments – telling her to work from home -- and then firing her in July.
  As Ginther relays in his November 2012 Letter to the Editor, he then redirected the Internal Audit staff away from the planned accountability audit, ordering them instead to align with the ODE review of policies that Tankovich had recommended in response to the anonymous allegations. Thus, instead of the audit staff looking at the live eSIS file, which was where the whistleblower said the proof was, Ginther engaged staff in a wild goose chase set up by Tankovich that looked at policies but never looked at data. As if that wasn’t enough, according to the state auditor’s report, when Harold Saunders, the auditor hired to replace Tina Abdella, met with Ginther, he says that Ginther met with him in late 2005 and told him the state investigation determined that the district had “advised him ODE had conducted the review of the attendance data matter and had issued a report finding CCS had acted properly” and his committee removed the accountability audit from Saunder’s Risk Plan. (source; Auditor of the State of Ohio, Columbus City School District, Franklin County Special Audit: July 1, 2010 – June 30, 2011, p. 23). So, after firing the Internal Auditor and misdirecting the Internal Audit staff on a wild goose chase, new Internal Auditor said that Ginther and his committee directed him away from the Board-approved audit of enrollment data. According to the state auditor’s investigation, this was the end of any CCS investigation until current Internal Auditor Carolyn Smith began her investigation in 2012 as a result of the inability to prosecute truancy cases.
  Auditor Smith wrote, on page 3 of her 2012 report, “the results of the ODE review were shared with Mr. Ginther, the Chair of the Audit and Accountability Committee.” Further, on page 22 of the state Auditor’s report, Ginther “acknowledged the ODE report did not address the issue raised in either the anonymous letter or the anonymous email. However, he stated it was his conclusion that neither the letter nor the email was specific enough to allow the Internal Auditor to properly investigate the matter.”
  The state auditor continues, “the alleged improper activity reported by the two anonymous sources did not relate to the written policies and procedures. Rather, they related to the unwritten practices put in place by Steve Tankovich. Due to the failure to investigate, the unwritten practices were not uncovered until CCS Internal Auditor’s 2012 investigation and the investigations by the AOS auditors and investigators in 2012 and 2013.”
  Since Ginther now claims otherwise and posted documents to his website which supposedly  provided facts, we did “check the facts” on Ginther’s website, following the links, and found that they did not support his claims. While his website at has big font headlines, such as “Ginther Launches Investigation” and web links to documents, the linked documents do not at all support the claim, and in several cases directly refuted the claim. Since the facts he himself presents do not support the claim, the claim is not a mistake – it is a lie.
  The facts show that Ginther did not take immediate action to launch an investigation -- by his own admission he directed audit staff to align with the state (ODE) effort which he admits did not address the allegations. Further he did not oversee an internal audit investigation until he left the board of education, he fired the first Internal Auditor who was set to investigate a board approved audit from the year before any allegations were made, and then told the second Internal Auditor (Saunders) to drop the long-planned investigation.

14 percent is Good Enough for Ginther

  So I’m trying to imagine life in Andyland, where 14 percent of an important task qualifies as a job well done. 14 percent on a big test?, 14 percent done painting the house? 14 percent of the lawn mowed? Nah, I can’t imagine me, or anybody else being proud of the results. But Andrew Ginther is proud of his school board service, which most notably includes the 14 percent of the audit that was completed in three years under his watch. Ginther says “The audit went on for years. It was ongoing until I left the board of education and joined city council in 2007.” The problem if you are not in Andyland is that -- while the Student Accountability Audit is listed on the Risk Report and listed regularly on Committee Agendas but mentioned only briefly periodically in Ginther’s committee meeting minutes (all posted on Ginther’s campaign website) --nobody appeared to be working on it under Ginther’s “leadership.”
  In fact, after Ginther left for City Council, the February 8, 2008 Audit Progress Report showed just 114 hours completed out of the planned 800 hour investigation. So over the three year period after Ginther was twice notified of data scrubbing and promised action, only 14 percent of the time anticipated for the planned audit had been completed. While the audit may have been on the books and being reported on to his committee, there was never any progress.
  In fact, meeting minutes from his committee on this issue were sparse at best, showing that neither Ginther nor any other committee member asked any questions of the Internal Auditor about what had been termed the “Student Accountability Audit:” According to documents posted on Ginther’s website, the minutes of Ginther’s Audit and Accountability Committee pertaining to this audit were as follows:
  October 27, 2005: “Mr. Saunders updated the Committee on the status of the Student Accountability audit. The Student Accountability audit requires additional fieldwork before the commencement of writing the report.”
  April 6, 2006: “Mr. Saunders stated the Student Accountability Audit and the Special Reviews are being reviewed by the IA.”
  September 14, 2006 minutes: “IA is planning to complete the Neighborhood School Development Partnership (NSDP) review (construction), Grants, and complete the Student Accountability review.”
  In contrast, the minutes reflect lengthy committee discussions on many other topics. There is simply no evidence anywhere that Ginther was overseeing an active investigation of data scrubbing, despite having been warned twice of the issue and its consequences for Columbus school kids and taxpayers.
  So the question is, who was prioritizing other issues over the Student Accountability Audit?  Harold Saunders says the committee members including Ginther and Jeff Cabot removed the Student Accountability audit from his work plan around September 2005. There is no telling when the 114 hours were done (less than three weeks of work for one person), since there appear to be big holes in the documents posted to Ginther’s website, but it makes sense that many of the hours were done around January 2005 when the IA was meeting with ODE to align efforts (there are multiple documents referring to coordination meetings and efforts during that early time period). However, subsequent reporting is minimal at best and there is no further documentation of activity, suggesting that the Auditor of State report and Harold Saunders were correct in saying the audit was dropped in 2005.
  After 2005, an Audit Progress Report reflects that the Internal Auditor was reviewing and reporting things like the fact that money was collected by Franklin School for a Magic Mountain field trip, but lost, and that there was a football game at Linden McKinley, but no gate receipts were issued, and that cheerleading funds were collected at Whetstone High School, but not deposited. Even when looking at the documents Ginther presents as proof, it is very hard to find support for Ginther’s assertion that there was in fact an investigation on-going during his tenure on the school board, which can certainly be viewed as incompetent oversight of such a critical issue.
  Again, in the words of the state audit report, “due to the failure to investigate, the unwritten practices were not uncovered until CCS Internal Auditor’s 2012 investigation and the investigations by the AOS auditors and investigators in 2012 and 2013. When contacted by The Free Press and asked for comment to Ginther’s claim that he immediately launched an investigation and that it remained in effect until his departure from the board in 2007, a spokesperson for the Auditor of State said “our report stands as the office’s final word on the subject.” The Ginther campaign did not respond to an email request for comment for this story.
  Ginther’s current claims that he immediately launched an investigation and continued it even though the administration fought it and that it remained in effect until his departure from the Board in 2007 is simply untrue – there is no evidence anywhere to suggest he immediately launched an investigation (how could he have “launched” something that already had a planned start date before he was even aware of the whistleblower allegations?) or that an investigation remained on the books after 2005 when Saunders says Ginther’s committee took it off his risk plan. The Dispatch wrote “and eight years later, no one seems to know what became of the first internal audit. Not Ginther; he can’t say how the audit committee he led lost track of the investigation. Not Superintendent Gene Harris; she says she didn’t control the audit.” In short, Ginther’s claim, repeated by Democratic Party Chair Bill Anthony in mailings to the party faithful, looks like a big lie.  

Ginther’s “Blue Dress” Issue

  Just as President Bill Clinton’s credibility was undone by a certain blue dress, after he wagged his finder at the camera stated “I did not have sex with that woman,” Ginther’s credibility is undone by the presence of three audit reports and a series of more than 130 articles researched and written by Bill Bush and Jennifer Smith Richards in the “Counting Kids Out” series in The Columbus Dispatch – a series that won first place and the First Amendment Award for investigative reporting presented by the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors.
  Just three months ago, The Dispatch reported “Audit Committee minutes show that after October 2005, about a year before Ginther left the board, the internal auditor had stopped reporting that he was working on the data audit. The audit was never completed.” (Could School Scandal sink Mayoral Hopes of Ginther,  Boyd? Dispatch ,January 29, 2015). The facts available simply do not support Ginther’s claims. In short, he and his supports are promoting a big lie, and there a five or six “blue dresses” which disprove his finger-wagging assertions to the contrary.
  Ginther also has credibility questions on such issues as his claim that Joyce Beatty was his congresswoman. His March 12th Facebook post reads “My Congresswoman Joyce Beatty endorsed Ginther for Mayor today. Thank you, Congresswoman, for your support!” Although Ginther claims Joyce Beatty as “my congresswoman,” she is not his congresswoman: according to the Franklin County Board of Elections website, the address Ginther used to file to run for Mayor is actually located in congressman Pat Tiberi’s 12th Congressional District – not in Joyce Beatty’s 3rd Congressional District. As an elected official and Democratic Party insider himself, Ginther clearly knows that Republican Pat Tiberi, not Joyce Beatty, is his congressional representation, leaving The Free Press to suspect that claiming Rep. Beatty was a political ploy for Black votes.
  Ginther also claims in a campaign video that he has been involved for “several years” in infant mortality issue, when Dispatch reporting and his own timeline suggest that he has been involved since July 2-013 – which would be less than two years – not “several years” which would be defined as more than two years, but less than many years.  Again, The Free Press questions the purpose of this exaggeration.
  Many community leaders of the Near East and Near South Sides of Columbus would disagree with a Ginther campaign commercial shot in front of the 12th precinct substation claiming his support for neighborhood safety. After stonewalling the neighborhoods' concerns about drug related gun violence for a year, Mr. Ginther referred to the neighborhoods’ efforts to spark the public debate as a "political stunt." In response, representatives of 22 neighborhoods served by that substation approved an October 26, 2011 letter to Ginther “we are exasperated by Council’s inaction on this  issue.” The organizations posted a video rebuttal to Ginther on Youtube, showing multiple shootings including a murder in the middle of the street. A Franklin Park neighborhood  Facebook posting took offense to the audacity of the Ginther commercial being shot just four blocks from the site of the videotaped murder that Council could have helped prevent through the requested drug loitering legislation that had been proposed for action over a year before it was finally enacted by council. Commenters further noted that nobody recognized the “neighborhood leaders” who showed up in the campaign video with Ginther – suspecting them to be paid actors.
  Certainly voters can expect past mistakes from political officials, who are – after all – human.  Few mistakes could be as big as Ginther’s, who failed in his role and responsibility to ensure the integrity of CCS data during his tenure on the board and chairmanship of the Audit and Accountability Committee. Did Ginther “STEP UP, (AND) MAKE IT HAPPEN” as the whistleblower asked?  The answer is a clear and convincing “no.” The further questions for Ginther’s candidacy for Mayor is whether voters will accept a political leader who was not only incompetent to follow a critical investigation into what is the biggest local public sector scandal of our generation, but who also refuses to acknowledge the obvious – that he screwed up, but perhaps most importantly who seems to seek to mislead them so easily and obviously in so many areas?

About the Author

Jonathan Beard is a Columbus resident whose family has been harmed by the data scrubbing scandal. In the 2010-2011 school year, the Beard family’s home school, East High School, scrubbed data to move from “Academic Watch” status to “Continuous Improvement” status (i.e., from a “D” to a “C” rating). This fraudulent data manipulation, later confirmed by the Ohio Department of Education which retroactively re-issued the school’s report card showing the corrected scoring, left the family unable to access the Ohio Educational Choice school voucher program, which would have provided $5,000 per year in tuition subsidy to any private school that would accept the voucher. The Beards subsequently enrolled their daughter in a private school, where they pay full tuition, rather than the discounted tuition available under the state program. Further research shows that East High alternated from “C” to “D” rating every other year since 2005, meaning every other year East High students were unlawfully denied access to the school choice voucher program and a host of other educational improvement provisions. In addition to the financial harm, the Beards’ daughter was unable to access the Ohio High School Athletic Association Bylaw 4-7-4, which is a provision allowing continuing athletic eligibility for students who transfer subject to federal or state laws governing poorly performing schools; as a result the Beard’s daughter lost a full year of high school athletic eligibility due to the adults cheating and, like Ginther, failing to disclose the unlawful activities going on at CCS. Beard’s lawsuit was dismissed by the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, under the theory of “governmental immunity” – that the school system and its employees are immune from civil liability, even when they knowingly commit fraud.

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