2008-03-22 / News

Guest Column: It's National Sunshine Week

By Auditor of State Mary Taylor, CPA

Have you ever wondered how your tax dollars are being utilized? Or how a decision was made by a government entity that affects your everyday life?

Fortunately, Ohio law provides citizens with the opportunity to get answers to these questions by providing broad access to government records and meetings. National Sunshine Week, March 16 through 22, highlights our right to access government information. The term "sunshine" is used to describe the process of citizens shining a bright light on government activities. This week is an occasion for us to celebrate how far we have come as a state and as a nation in the area of government transparency. It is also a chance for you to take advantage of your rights under Ohio law.

As the Auditor of State, one of my duties is to help ensure that Ohio's governments make public records available. My office has dedicated an entire department, the Auditor of State Open Government Unit, to teaching public officials about public records law. One of the many resources offered by the Open Government Unit is the publication Ohio Sunshine Laws 2008: An Open Government Resource Manual. The manual is updated yearly and is a comprehensive guide to public records laws for all Ohioans.

The Open Government Unit also provides Certified Public Records Training for public officials. Recently, the state legislature enacted requirements for most elected officials, or a designee, to attend a three hour training session during each term in office.The required classes focus on government transparency and promote the importance of public disclosure. The Attorney General's officecreated and certified the public records training course and has contracted with the Auditor of State to provide this training.

Although it is important for public officials to understand their obligations under the public records law, it is just as important for Ohio citizens to know their rights as well.

Making a public records request should not be intimidating or overwhelming. In fact, it should be a successful and positive experience and a few quick tips can help make the process run smoothly.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when requesting public records:

• Ohio law does not require you to put your public records request in writing.

• Ohio law does not require you to reveal your identity.

• Ohio law does not require you to tell the public officewhy you want the information.

• Ohio law also states that anyone has the right to make a public records request.

• Research the office'spublic records policies beforehand.

• Clearly specify the records you would like to receive.

Making a public records request should be a simple process, however there could be potential roadblocks. If at any point you get stuck during the public records request process, our officecan assist you. Our guide to public disclosure, Ohio Sunshine Laws 2008: An Open Government Resource Manual, is a valuable resource and can be found electronically on our Web site www.auditor.state.oh.us Requests for hard copy versions of the document and questions for our AOS Open Government Unit can be directed to 800- 282-0370.

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