The public has a right to access records detailing operations of government entities, and transparency is the key to keep everything above board, which is important when it comes to the expenditure of taxpayers' money.
Everything from salaries of public employees to phone records, police reports and various documented expenditures of government funds are all matters of public records, and if requested by anyone, must be provided in a timely fashion without question.
There are instances, however, when it's also important to keep certain records confidential - such as when an investigation is ongoing, when personnel issues are being discussed or when negotiations are under way regarding contracts for the sale of property or for labor issues. These items are protected as exceptions to the Sunshine Laws that are in place to keep public matters open.
While the laws are clear cut, sometimes there are disputes over these issues. Just recently in Ohio, Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the start of a new mediation program designed to resolve disputes between local governments and parties requesting public records. The Public Mediation Program is now available to governments and requests from other parties through the Ohio Attorney General's Office.
According to DeWine, the new program will protect the rights and interests of both Ohioans and public officials on the local level by helping to resolve disputes before parties turn to "time consuming and costly litigation."
Mediation may be requested by either party, and the Attorney General's Office will seek to resolve disputes over public records requests that have been alleged to be improperly denied or not responded to in a reasonable period of time. There will be no cost to either party.
The system, while fair, is oftentimes too tied up with legal disputes that end up costing the taxpayers more money than they are worth. We applaud the state Attorney General's office for taking this proactive step to clear up red tape and help keep the hinges oiled on the doors of Ohio's open government laws.