Oh. That’s really interesting. After being given 8 weeks to look for it, Miami officials still can’t produce the recording of the hockey coaches. This is supposedly after checking the most dependable, last-ditch place in which to look, the Southwest Ohio Regional Depository, on Miami’s Middletown campus, where a back-up copy of every recording produced as part of Miami’s bicentennial should have been sent. You know, for safe-keeping.
I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking, “Good Lord, woman, why do you keep talking about that hockey coach tape? Can we PULLLEEEEZE get back to the topic of Ron Tammen?”
I apologize. Clearly, we don’t know if the tape ostensibly labeled “Miami Hockey Coaches” is, as I’ve come to believe, of Carl Knox’s former secretary, and thus pertinent to Ron Tammen’s case. My sincere hope is that it is, but we’ll have to watch the tape before we know for sure.
What we do know for sure is that the hockey coach tape hasn’t materialized yet and, what’s more, may never materialize.
A missing tape may not seem like a big deal during these, um, uncharted times in which we’re living, but if you happen to work in a public institution, as Miami’s faculty, staff, and administrators do, in a state that has a Sunshine Law, as Ohio does, it could be considered a very big deal.
You see, when the hockey coach tape was created, it became a public record, as did copies that were created from the original tape.
According to Section 149.43 of Ohio’s Revised Code, Ohio’s Public Records Act, if a member of the public should request it, it should be promptly (their word) made available to them. The law prohibits the destruction of a public record until a certain period of time—called a retention period, which is prescribed by the institution in question—has elapsed, unless special permission has been granted.
But the retention period doesn’t apply in this case. Here’s why: the hockey coach tape was produced by University Archives for the Miami Stories Oral History Project. University Archives, as a rule, doesn’t throw any of its records away. That’s especially true concerning recordings that they themselves created in celebration of the university’s bicentennial, which they dubbed a “legacy project.” Heck, they’ve even saved two recordings of former staffers from the radio station WMUB—one recorded in March 2007 and the second in July 2008—even though the 2007 tape experienced technical issues and the 2008 tape was a do-over. According to university documents, every Oral History Project recording was considered to be a permanent part of the University Archives collection, which means that their retention period was supposed to be forever and always.
Organizers stated as much on their 2005 application to Miami’s Institutional Review Board to conduct its first story circle. Under item #10, “Procedures for Safeguarding Confidentiality of Information,” they wrote: “Oral histories are not confidential. Interviewees will understand this before signing the consent form. Tapes are not destroyed, but instead are saved in Archives for use by future researchers.”
A 2007 iteration of the bicentennial website says: “…Miami Stories discussions are recorded and stored on digital video formats so that future generations may enjoy and study them, and scholars may have ready access to unique information about Miami’s past.”
A December 15, 2008, Oral History Project report said that use of the recordings “is professionally monitored by University Archives. All interviews are filed there for consulting by future scholars, students, University officials, and the public.”
Well…all interviews except one, apparently. Look at it this way: A recording that was created to last forever and always so that it could be enjoyed and studied by future researchers—including yours truly—appears to be lost at best, or, at worst, gone forever.
Oh, there’s one other option, I suppose. The university has indicated through their lawyer that the recording may well exist but is damaged, and they sent the following photo of a tape titled “HOCKEY TAPE #2 (EDIT).” (There wasn’t a tape labeled HOCKEY TAPE #1, and the tape that was in the same box was recorded over and unrelated to hockey.) From what I can tell, no one has watched the damaged tape to confirm if there are any hockey coaches on it because, you know, the damage and all.
I’m skeptical. I don’t think an Oral History Project recording of Miami hockey coaches would be labeled as some generic “Hockey Tape.” Also, I’m a child of the 1970s who used to listen to music on audio cassettes and, later on, to watch my videos on VHS. When those cassettes would get mangled up like that, we’d take out a trusty #2 pencil and stick it in one of the holes and wind it up ourselves, past the part that was damaged. And voila, working again.
When I showed the photo to an expert I know, that’s exactly what he suggested, including the pencil trick. Or, if the tape is too badly crinkled, perhaps the bad part could be cut out and the two good ends taped together. His opinion is that a little damage doesn’t mean the entire recording is compromised. Maybe the end product isn’t good enough to post online, but at least my question concerning the hockey coaches could be answered. For this reason, I plan to request a chance to review Hockey Tape #2.
If we find that it really is just a bunch of hockey coaches being interviewed for the bicentennial, fine. We can all move on with our lives. But if it isn’t of Miami hockey coaches?
No one is going to jail over a missing hockey coach tape. I’ll be proceeding with my case through the Ohio Court of Claims, a process that could potentially accrue even more legal costs, which isn’t exactly the happiest of options for an ordinary citizen such as yours truly.
Ordinary citizens have pursued lawsuits under Ohio’s Public Records Act, and public offices have had to pay hefty fines for noncompliance. One of the most impressive rulings was the case of Kish versus the City of Akron, when two former city employees who were jointly seeking a little more than $900 in overtime pay were awarded over $860,000 in punitive damages: $1000 for each record that had been destroyed (480 records for Elizabeth Kish and 380 records for her colleague Victoria Elder) plus compensatory damages. Obviously, the city wasn’t elated with the outcome. If they were unwilling to fork over $900, imagine their displeasure when they were ordered to pay 956 times that amount. But the ruling was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit as well as the Ohio Supreme Court. In 2011, the amount of damages that a public office could owe was capped at $10,000, regardless of the number of records that were illegally destroyed.
It’s worth noting that any potential punitive and compensatory damages aren’t paid by the people who have destroyed public records. Nope, taxpayer dollars pay for damages owed, not to mention the public office’s legal representation. In my Court of Claims complaint, throughout the mediation process, Miami U’s lawyer has been funded by Ohio taxpayers (including yours truly) as an employee of the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
But honestly? I don’t think the so-called hockey coach tape has been destroyed. Historians, archivists, and people of that ilk have a passion for records that lives deep in their bones. My theory is that, sometime between July 2009 (the last time I know of when the hockey coaches were mentioned in an Oral History Project report) and September 2009 (when they were left off of a master list of interviews), some well-intentioned person might have placed the tape in a dark corner of King Library, hoping, for whatever reason, that it would go unnoticed until all of us were long gone.
Perhaps this theoretical person envisioned some other researcher—someone way, way in the future; someone who is kinder and gentler and less bothersome than I—stumbling upon it. That good person would sit down to have a listen—if they could find the outmoded technology on which to play it, that is—and hear forgotten voices from Miami’s past. Would it be the voices of hockey coaches telling stories about the birth of that program and some of their more momentous matches or would it be the lone voice of Carl Knox’s former secretary sharing her memories of a quiet yet profoundly motivated business student who went missing in 1953? By then, who would really care?
I don’t know yet if my theory will hold up, but you can bet that I really care. Thankfully, there are a few additional places I can look that don’t involve lawyers and legal fees. As mentioned earlier, I’ll be making another trip to Oxford in the near future, asking to review HOCKEY TAPE #2. I’ll also ask to review the three Oral History Project boxes again, especially the folders containing consent forms, several of which I’ve been informed were signed by some former Miami hockey coaches. Lastly, it probably wouldn’t hurt if I just asked a few of the Miami hockey coaches myself, would it?