DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Public records are essential in our business. They help us tell you exactly how your tax dollars are being spent.
Ohio Law requires local governments make them available to anyone and a recent audit looked at who is following that law and who’s not.
This public records audit was conducted by journalists around the state who requested the same information from all 88 counties.
They asked for specific records like superintendent pay from schools, meeting minutes from county commissioners and incident reports from police departments.
They found some public employees are better than others at making sure you have access to that information.
Anyone can request public records. It’s open government at work.
“It’s the public’s right to know what the government is doing,” said Troy’s Administrative Assistant Sue Knight.
But not all public employees are fully aware of what Ohio’s Sunshine Law says that’s why the Ohio Coalition for Open Government decided to conduct a test.
Undercover journalists including WDTN’s own news director took part in the audit.
While the data shows the state is doing a better job of giving people access to public records, some agencies are still not making it easy.
When the city of Troy was asked for budget information, they responded without hesitation.
“No one has to give us a name or reason, we just need to understand the request,” said Knight.
When Troy School’s was asked about getting an expense reimbursement form, the reaction was different.
The requester reported being asked who she was and if she had a child that went to the school.
According to Ohio law, you don’t have to say.
So, I asked Superintendent Eric Herman about what happened.
“We typically don’t have someone physically come in and ask for a records request so I think the reaction was of the secretary was ask who are you, is it about a student or what are you searching for to try to get more information. It wasn’t to stop a records request by any means,” said Herman.
Herman says once the request got to the right person it was filled in a timely manner.
He said their office has gotten better at filling requests in the past few years.
Herman, “we seem to be getting a lot more requests for public records from a variety of sources.”
Herman adds that he understands the law and wouldn’t deny a record to anyone who is not willing to give a name or reason.
“It’s just sharing information so people know that their money is being spent appropriately and they know how we are running things management wise,” said Herman.
If you want to know how easy it was to get access to public records in each county click here.