By Marc Kovac
Nearly half of the local government offices reviewed by state officials for their compliance with open-records laws are falling short, according to a report released Thursday by Republican state Auditor Dave Yost.
Though many local government officials are working to ensure public records are open and available on request, auditors identified “places where the door is being shut, the curtains are being drawn and barriers are being erected, and it’s just wrong,” Yost said. “When government is not open but is closed, it’s a short path for government to become our master instead of our servant.”
The “weaknesses” in policies and procedures don’t necessarily rise to the level of law violations but are noted in management letters for larger financial audits of the political subdivisions.
Yost announced in March that he would audit 20 local government offices to determine if they were meeting the requirements of the state’s Sunshine Laws.
A dozen of those offices did, including the cities of Ashland, Struthers and Canton and Williams, Washington and Tuscarawas counties.
But eight others had deficiencies ranging from not having procedures in place to track public-record requests to not keeping copies of documents provided in response.
Cuyahoga County had the longest list of short- comings, including some departments not maintaining email, a lack of evidence that employees attended mandatory Sunshine Law training and departments neglecting to note the dates that records requests were submitted.
“Cuyahoga County has had a lot of challenges,” Yost said. “They’re coming out of a very dark period in their history. If there’s any place in Ohio that I would have hoped would be striving to be the best of the best, it would be Cuyahoga County, and that’s not what we found. We found a fairly negligent operation when it comes to making sure of the public’s right to know.”
Yost presented the findings Thursday during a meeting of the Ohio Association of Broadcasters’ board of directors meeting in a hotel conference room across from the Statehouse.
He also said his office would double the number of public records audits next year, with plans to review 40 local governments for compliance.