Ohio’s public record law, ORC 149.43, applies to all levels of state government and grants access to most records for anyone, not just members of the media, who requests them.
That’s important to remember not only this week, Sunshine Week, but throughout the year.
Although public records are sometimes unlawfully denied, and can make the news when they are, most public officials and their agencies and offices follow the law.
A “public record” in Ohio is defined as any record kept by any public office including, but not limited to, state, county, city, village, township, and school district.
Public record law is not as simple as it used to be. There are now 32 kinds of records that are not subject to release.
Statistics released Sunday by State Auditor Dave Yost suggest public officials are doing better about knowing when they can release records and when they can’t. But some are still making mistakes: There were 321 public-record citations filed against 267 state entities last year, down from 414 citations against 357 entities in 2016.
The violations were turned up through routine audits and were most common among the township and village levels of government. Every area county had at least one public-record-related violation in 2017. According to statistics, Seneca County had 10, followed by Hardin and Wood counties (four each); Henry (three); Wyandot (two); and Allen, Hancock and Putnam counties (one each).
Even one violation is too many, of course. The fact that the most citations were for officials’ failure to attend state-required public records training, for lacking a public records policy, or for failing to make public records available, suggests more educational efforts are needed.
Training is already mandatory. Any person elected to statewide or local office is required by law to have three hours of public records training for each term of office or designate someone from the office to take the training. The training must be certified by the Ohio attorney general. The state auditor enforces the training rule requirement and other public record provisions through its audits of state governments.
Knowing public record law should be a high priority for every public officeholder in the state. The rest of us, meanwhile, have an obligation, too, to understand our right to access public records and to make sure the people in charge of them are following the law.
Ohio Sunshine Law 2018, an open government resource manual, can be found at http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/YellowBook