PDT Staff Writer
On Thursday the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled in favor of Scioto County in a case involving local real-estate appraiser Robert Gambill and Scioto County Engineer Craig Opperman. The issue surrounding the case was county tax maps.
According to information released from Scioto County Prosecutor Mark Kuhn’s office, “The Supreme Court of Ohio in a 6-1 decision yesterday (Thursday) ruled that Craig Opperman, Scioto County Engineer, did not have to give Portsmouth real-estate appraiser, Robert Gambill, a copy of the Scioto County Engineer’s electronic database of tax maps and aerial photos of all Scioto County properties.”
Gambill said the maps were previously available for purchase.
“This issue goes back years, when Clyde Willis first had the (tax) maps shot, they were available in the engineer’s office. You could go over and buy a copy of the map for a dollar, or something like that,” Gambill said. “We had asked at different times, about purchasing the program or buying access to the program so that we could access the maps over the Internet or we could have it on our computers at the office.”
Gambill said Willis sold a copy of the aeriel maps to a number of people that had requested them.
“He told us he was selling the program to generate additional money so the maps could be updated. He said when new ones are available, you will be able to buy an updated copy of the program,” Gambill said. “Around that time Clyde ended up leaving and Craig Opperman took over. Somewhere in that process, after the new maps were shot I kept asking, ‘when are we going to be able to get access to those new maps?’ They were made available in the engineer’s office, and we went for a period of months where I was told they told me an updated program would be available for purchase, but they were having problems making so they could record it to a disk.”
Gambill said a few months later he offered to pay for an IT person to come to the engineer’s office to fix the problem, he said that did not work out.
“They then started charging three dollars a page, which is a clear violation of public records law. The public records law is extremely clear on what they can charge for a copy of a public record,” Gambill said.
He said this is the second time he has filed this suit. He said the first time the suit was dismissed.
According to released information from Kuhns office, “The items requested by Robert Gambill are intertwined with a copyright-protected software program at the Scioto County Engineer’s Office. The Scioto County Engineer’s Office did not have the capabilities to extract the information requested from the copyright-protected software, and could not copy the software because it was copyright-protected. In an effort to provide the information that Robert Gambill requested, Craig Opperman offered to have an outside computer firm extract the information requested from the copyright-protected software. The expense for having the information copied without the copyright protected software was $2,000 that Mr. Gambill refused to pay.”
Representing the county in this case was Scioto County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Danielle M. Parker.
“The Engineer made every effort to give Mr. Gambill the information that he was wanting; however, due to the Federal Copyright Law the Engineer simply could not just copy everything and hand it over. That is why it was necessary to contact an outside computer firm about copying the data without also copying the software program. Ohio Public Records Act allows for a public office such as the Scioto County Engineer’s Office, to transfer the expenses in a situation such as this one to the person making the request.”
Gambill said even though he lost the case he still considered it a victory in some aspects.
“While I am disappointed with certain aspects of the decision, the real winners are the tax payers and those that need to use the maps. Over 90 percent of the Ohio counties have had the maps available online for years. All that I ever wanted was for the maps to be available online like almost every other county in the state,” Gambill said in a released statement.
According to information from Scioto County Auditor David Green’s office, a new website is expected to go online on March 18 that will have all of the county’s tax maps, sketches and photos available to the public.
“I commend Auditor David Green for working to make the maps available online. Further, the County Commissioners have taken an active role in resolving this issue. It was clear from the decision that the authority for the maps lies with the Commissioners to delegate to either the Engineer or others that can make them available and they are not just the property of the engineer’s office as Opperman contended,” Gambill said.
Gambill said at this point he is not trying gloat about the decision.
“One of the problems with this community is that we’ve got to stop fighting with each other over every little thing. We needed to sit down and take a look at the issue asking what could we do to make this easier and better,” Gambill said. “That’s what you run into here, everything you try to do, you have someone kicking you in the face over it.”
Gambill said the issue is not quite over.
“There are several people thinking they want to appeal this decision. I don’t want to appeal it but, there are some public interest groups that are wanting to file some kind of objection,” Gambill said. “When I saw where the maps are going online, I am completely at peace with the whole thing, but it should not have taken five years to have gotten there.”
According to Kuhn, the Scioto County Engineer’s Office currently maintains the tax maps and aerial photographs of all Scioto County Properties. These tax maps and aerial photographs are offered to the public for viewing free of charge at a computer terminal located within the Scioto County Engineer’s Courthouse office, and copies may be purchased for a fee.
Wayne Allen may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.