Sunshine Week brings government to light

March 12, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

If you have questions concerning behind the door activities by City Council, your local school board or any other government entity, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says he wants you to be completely informed as to the laws surrounding “executive sessions,” and other issues of transparency.

Did you know that all elected officials or one of their representatives must attend Sunshine Laws training during their term in office? Do you fully understand the Public Records Mediation Program?

The Attorney General has released his office’s 2013 edition of “Ohio Sunshine Laws: An Open Government Resource Manual,” also known as the “Yellow Book.” The release of the updated manual coincides with the start of National Sunshine Week taking place this week (through March 16).

“Part of our mission to protect Ohio families includes protecting the public’s right to know and to hold their government accountable,” DeWine said. “The Ohio Attorney General’s Office offers many resources to help Ohioans access open government, including our Sunshine Laws Manual, Sunshine Laws trainings, and our Public Records Mediation Program.”

The Sunshine Laws Manual provides a summary of Revised Code provisions and case law regarding Ohio Public Records Law and Open Meetings Law. The 2013 edition includes updates on recent open government legal decisions and law changes. It can be accessed at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/YellowBook.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office offers multiple Sunshine Laws trainings throughout the year. Elected officials are required to either attend training or send a records representative to the training once per elected term. These trainings are free to attend and are open to the public and news media. A list of upcoming trainings can be found at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/SunshineLawTraining.

Established less than a year ago, the Ohio Attorney General’s Public Records Mediation Program provides opportunities for records requesters and local governments to resolve records disputes prior to a lawsuit. Fifty-nine requests for mediation have been made to date, with 23 matters being able to be resolved prior to mediation. Seven mediations have been completed, six successfully. In the requests for mediation that met program criteria and where the persons requesting the mediation chose to pursue their request to resolve the matter, the program has fully resolved 32 of the 38 disputes, or 84 percent.

“The Public Records Mediation Program has been a win-win for both local governments and those requesting records,” DeWine said. “Requesters get the information they seek and taxpayers avoid costly litigation.”

Portsmouth First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson said, over the weekend, the availability of public records is important to the average citizen.

“The history of government is replete with examples of attempts and success at hiding its deliberations and decisions, often to the great detriment of those whom the government purport to represent,” Johnson said. “And our federal, state and local governments are no exception.”

Johnson cited an article in the Columbus Dispatch that says most recently a contretemps has developed over the powers of the State Auditor to audit JobsOhio; as was forcefully demanded for by State Representative John Patrick Carney (22nd District) and now by State Auditor David Yost. Opposing this audit are the governor and legislative leadership. The story says JobsOhio now obtains all profits from the state’s non-free market and non-competitive control of all beer, liquor and wine sales.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com.