Officials need refresher on public records, meetings

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As far as we are concerned, Feb. 23 can’t come soon enough.
On Tuesday, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office will provide a free training session on Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, including the state laws regarding the Ohio Public Records Act and a discussion of the Ohio Open Meetings Act.
Elected officials in this area, new and longstanding, need it.
They need to be reminded what constitutes a public meeting. They need to be instructed that virtually every document in their offices belongs to public. Most importantly, they need to remember who they work for.
Elected officials serve at the will of the public. They represent the people who elected them and that is why they are mandated by law to perform their operations under the light of public scrutiny.
Some boards know the laws extremely well. They know that information is public and must be provided if requested. This doesn’t mean that they actually like turning over the information, but they know it is the law. It’s not up to an office holder’s discretion whether or not to release the document.
Earlier this week, the Union County Commissioners, and specifically commissioner Steve Stolte, refused to provide the names and resumes of persons being interviewed for the county department of job and family services director position. Even after they narrowed the number of applicants to a few finalists, the Journal-Tribune was denied their names.
State law is very clear about the requirement to release such information to the news media. However, Stolte and the commissioners chose to ignore the provision more or less thumbing their noses at it and making their own law.
One of the duties of newspapers is to act as a watchdog with regard to various governmental entities and inform the public of the actions of officeholders. This helps ensure that the system of governing is performed properly and legally.
Having said that, the Journal-Tribune news staff has always tried to cooperate with officials. For example, when important city and county positions are being filled, and dozens of applicants are being screened, we wait to publish names until the number of job seekers is pared down to three to five persons. At that point, those who are finalists should have notified their employers of their possible job change.
The commissioners denied the Journal-Tribune names of the finalists, and what’s worse, they knew they were breaking the law by doing so. It appears they don’t care.
Think of it this way, no one would tell the boss of a company, the guy who writes the checks, that he can’t look over a list of applicants for an open position. But that’s just what local office holders are doing if they deny a reporter or any member of the general public the right to know who is being considered for a job. The general public writes the checks and those collective citizens are the boss.
This is not the way to run a county government. We hope the commissioners will come to their senses, understand their error and pledge to govern the right way in the future. If this can be accomplished, the Journal-Tribune will continue to act in a cooperative manner with them.

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