Shadows lengthen on access to public records

March 8, 2013 3:48 PM

Editorial from Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association:

Every year, Sunshine Week underscores the importance of open government across the nation. It is a perfect moment to share concerns in Ohio about ever-growing exceptions to an open records law that should ensure you have access to information about what your government officials do and how well they do it.

Whether you’re a Tea Party activist, just an everyday citizen or an unrepentant liberal, we think you should be able to agree on this subject. The exception train needs to slow down.

Ohio’s statute once was considered a model open records law nationally. Most public officials are well-intentioned, and it’s often the case that each idea for a new exception has a justification that appears reasonable in isolation. It is the cumulative effect that alarms us.

We now have 29 categories of records that are secret under Ohio lawThey’ve run out of single letters, so the latest exception was lettered “cc.”  I have seen proposals already in the new legislative session involving fees for county recorder records, new restrictions on school-related records and more.  Certain categories require repairs, too. For example, the lack of information on how taxpayer money is being spent at many Ohio charter schools should be fixed.

Government is a custodian of public records, not the owner. Restrictions on access should leap a high bar; there should be no reasonable doubt that secrecy is the better option.

See the rest at the Ohio Newspaper Association.