Being that it’s Sunshine Week, it would be fitting to run a list of our elected officials who have yet to satisfy their statutory obligation to know Ohio’s public record and open meeting laws.
That could be embarrassing, we suspect, for some.
Those elected to public office, under Ohio Revised Code Section 149.43 and 109.43, must attend at least three hours of training on open government laws each term they are in office.
There can be exceptions. If an elected official is unable to obtain the training, they can designate someone in their office to get it. But there must be evidence of the designation, such as a signed letter from the elected official.
In 2015, for example, Findlay City Council designated Councilman-At-Large Grant Russel to complete the training on council’s behalf, although five other council members also received a training certificate.
The state makes it especially easy for officials to comply with the law. Seminars are held at different locations around the state numerous times a year, and an online course is now offered, as well.
There’s really no good reason for any elected official to not want to comply. The training is free. There are no tests.
Sunshine Week is an annual effort to shed light on public records and open meetings laws across the nation. Ohio’s are constantly being revised by the courts and the Legislature, even more of a reason to mandate training. Certainly, all elected officials should know how the laws apply to their office.
There’s no penalty if officials don’t obtain the training, but lawsuits can result when an official violates an open meetings rule or refuses to release a document that the public has a right to see. When that happens, it’s taxpayers who pay.
Everyone benefits from a government that is open to inspection.
A common misunderstanding is that access to public records and meetings only applies to journalists, when in fact the laws regarding both make no distinction between the media and the public.
If you care about open government and transparency, and everyone should, ask your council member, commissioner, mayor, township trustee or auditor if they have taken the training course and when. If they have, ask to see their certificate. They should be happy to show you.
Better yet, attend a public meeting to see the people you elected in action, or file a public records request. Ask for a police report, the minutes from a public meeting or council’s agenda.
Let us know how that process works for you. If you get the requested record, great. If you don’t, let us know that, too.