Open government is crucial
By Mike DeWine
Government functions best for the people it serves when it operates openly. Ohio’s Sunshine Laws enable citizens to see how their government works.
Ohio’s Sunshine Laws keep government at all levels transparent and accountable. Sunshine Week, March 15-21, was a great time for citizens of our state to learn more about and take advantage of our Sunshine Laws.
My office oversees and is involved with most facets of Ohio’s public records and open meetings law through our Public Records Unit and through our role as the attorneys for all state agencies and universities.
For example, my office creates and updates the annual Ohio Sunshine Law Manual — also known as the “Yellow Book” — which serves as a guide for local governments and other parties interested in knowing more about these laws. The Yellow Book’s 2015 update was released last week and is available at www.Ohio-AttorneyGeneral.gov/YellowBook. We also offer in-person Sunshine Laws Training and last year made it available online at no cost. Although the training is directed toward elected officials, their designees, public employees, attorneys, and journalists, it’s open to anyone who is interested (https://SunshineLaw.Ohio-AttorneyGeneral.gov).
Some basic points about our Sunshine Laws include:
All public records must be made available to a requester, unless they are exempt from disclosure under Ohio law.
Any person may ask to inspect or obtain copies of public records from a government office that keeps those records. If the request is too ambiguous or broad in scope, the parties involved may need to revisit and refine it before going forward.
A person who believes that he or she has been wrongly denied a public record by a government office may file a lawsuit against that office. The requester who files a lawsuit must show that a proper public records request was made and the government office must show that any record it withheld was subject to valid exceptions.
Until recently, those who asked a government agency for public records and had their request denied or delayed unreasonably had no way to settle their dispute except through a lawsuit. That’s why, in July 2012, my office launched our Public Records Mediation Program to help citizens and local governments resolve public-records disputes without having to expend resources or go to court.
Anyone who has requested public records from a local public office, or a public office that has received a public records request, can apply for mediation so long as the requester hasn’t already filed a lawsuit.
Since our program began, we’ve received 174 requests for mediation. We have fully resolved 76 requests without having to go through mediation. Although some situations were not able to be resolved due to disqualifying factors, we have completely or partially resolved 103 out of 137, or 75 percent, of valid requests for mediation.
Ohio’s Sunshine Laws are among the most comprehensive open-government laws in the nation, and my office is dedicated to making them work. For more information, go to www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or call 800-282-0515.
Mike DeWine is attorney general of the state of Ohio.