COLUMBUS – What happened in that crash? How is City Council spending your money? Public documents detail the answers, but dozens of Ohio’s officials, including those at 23 governments in Southwest Ohio, haven’t learned how to retain or distribute them.
Nearly one in 11 audits completed in 2016 by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost’s office flagged at least one problem with the way officials handled public records. That led to more than 400 citations of about 350 public entities for violating the state’s public records laws, according to a review Yost’s office completed in time for Sunshine Week, which focuses on government transparency. The citations mostly serve as warnings to help officials avoid potential lawsuits or hiccups with getting records to the public.
For instance, when government officials don’t understand how to save or distribute public records, they can inadvertently destroy paperwork that details important local policies. Residents can be turned away when they are entitled to documents. All these errors can lead to costly legal actions – and can prevent the public from holding its governments accountable.
The most common violation statewide? Officials lacked comprehensive policies – or sometimes any policies at all – on how to distribute records to the public.
Of the 23 entities cited in Southwest Ohio, 16 were missing complete public records policies when auditors asked. For example, Lincoln Heights, the Butler County Agricultural Society and the Coalition for Fiscal Fairness, a group of school districts that lobbies on tax issues, had not adopted policies for retaining or distributing public records. Mount Healthy had a “public records statement,” but lacked a fully formed policy.