Open government update
By Ohio Auditor Mary Taylor
As a public servant and a certified public accountant by trade, I am sensitive to the public’s desire for full disclosure and I often hear comments about the need for a transparent government when visiting with people throughout the state. When elected officials operate behind closed doors, it shatters the trust of citizens in the community. Currently, there are laws to protect your rights to gain information about government’s meetings, decisions and records. These laws are called sunshine laws and exist so that citizens are able to serve as watchdogs over their government. One of my duties as the auditor of state is to ensure Ohio’s governments are following the correct public records and document retention policies so that you have proper access to information about the day-to-day activity of state and local government. I take my responsibilities very seriously and have specific staff devoted to public records.
Our Open Government Unit is dedicated to guiding, informing and training public officials and citizens about the state’s sunshine laws. Our office, in conjunction with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, is currently in the process of finalizing the production of the Open Government Manual. The manual is updated yearly and is available to all Ohioans as a comprehensive guide to public records laws. The most recent copy will be ready for distribution in the coming weeks. Hard-copy versions and electronic versions may be obtained at our Web site, www.auditor.state.oh.us or by calling (800) 282-0370.
This year’s manual contains many updates to Ohio’s public records law, several of which were added due to House Bill 9 (HB 9). This bill clarifies government records requirements for public officials and provides more information to citizens about obtaining public records. HB 9 was enacted by the Ohio legislature last year and took effect Sept. 29.
There are two areas of HB 9 that will be particularly helpful to Ohio citizens. First, each public office is required to post their public records policy in a prominent location. This will provide you with additional information about how and where to make a records request and how the office will respond. Second, if the public office does not provide all of the records requested when responding to a public records request, it must provide an explanation why the request has been denied and include the supporting legal authority. This will ensure you have the legal reason the documents were denied so that you can decide what action is now necessary to obtain the information you want.
As a public records resource for the state, our office plays a role in informing officials of the many changes made by HB 9. One of the major requirements of this legislation is that all elected officials must now attend a three-hour training session. The training must be attended by an official or an individual they designate to attend during each term in office. Furthermore, in the course of a government entity’s regularly scheduled financial audit, our auditors will check their records for proof of training. In the future, once our certification is complete, our office plans to conduct training that will qualify under this legislation. Additionally, the bill requires that our office continue to play a role in local government document retention.
The legislation states that a records commission must be created in each county, school district, library, special taxing district and township. The commission will be required to create rules for document destruction. All requests for document destruction will be sent first to the Ohio Historical Society and then to the Auditor of State’s Office for approval or disapproval. Once approved, the Historical Society will collect all documents of historic significance and the remaining records will be destroyed. Please note that HB 9 made many additional changes and clarifications to Ohio public records laws. Our office, working with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, has included all aspects of the bill in the upcoming Open Government Manual.
We are happy to answer any questions you may have about the bill or any other public records questions.
State Auditor Mary Taylor is a resident of Green.