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State auditors issue 321 citations for 2017 public records violations

• Mar 24, 2018 at 6:00 PM

COLUMBUS — State auditors issued 321 public records-related citations to 267 public entities in calendar year 2017 – a 22 percent drop in citations from the prior year.

Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost made the announcement as part of Sunshine Week, a nationwide initiative designed to raise awareness of the importance of open government and public records. Sunshine Week ran from March 11 to 17 and occurs every mid-March, coinciding with the National Freedom of Information Day on March 16.

In all, about 5.5 percent of the 4,803 financial audits issued in 2017 included citations for non-compliance with public records-related requirements. The prior year, 8 percent of the 4,446 audits released included noncompliance citations.

The majority of citations stemmed from officials neglecting to attend state-required public records trainings, entities lacking public records policies or a failure to make the policy readily available to employees and the general public. Auditors routinely review public records practices during audits.

In 2016, there were 414 citations issued to 357 entities by state auditors for public records-related matters, meaning citations decreased by more than 22 percent in 2017.

“I can understand a bookkeeping error; mistakes happen. But there’s no justification for violating the clear law of public records,” Yost said.

“Message to public officials: These are not your records. Do whatever it takes to comply with this law: Put up a sign. Post it on social media,” Yost said. “These are public records and it is the law.”

While townships represented 13.7 percent of the 4,803 reports released in 2017, they represented 27.4 percent of the public record citations. Similarly, villages represented 7.8 percent of reports, but were responsible for 29.2 percent of citations. The entities most cited:

• Townships – 13.7 percent of all reports released; 27 percent of all entities cited

• Villages – 7.8 percent of all reports released; 29 percent of all entities cited

• Police/fire/EMS and ambulance districts – 1.4 percent of all reports released; 7 percent of all entities cited

• Cities – 6 percent of all reports released; 6.5 percent of all entities cited

• School districts – 16.7 percent of all reports released; 5 percent of all entities cited

• Counties – 2 percent of all reports released; 4.7 percent of all entities cited

• Community schools – 7.6 percent of all reports released; 4 percent of all entities cited

Both the state auditor’s office and the Office of the Ohio Attorney General offer public records trainings to public employees. More information about compliance requirements for Ohio’s public records laws is included in Auditor of State Bulletin 2011-006.

PULL-OUT:

Auditor’s checklist for public records compliance

The following is a checklist of the documentation required to prove compliance with the provisions enforced by the AOS:

• Elected official or his/her designee attended a three-hour certified public records training for each term of office;

• If a designee has attended the training on behalf of the elected official, the designee is an employee in the elected official’s office;

• If the training was attended by a designee, there must be documentation of such designation;

• Attendee should retain documentation of attendance.

• Public office has adopted a public records policy;

• The public office’s public records policy doesn’t:

1. limit the number of public records it will make available to a single person;

2. limit the number of public records it will make available during a fixed period of time; or

3. establish a fixed period of time before it will respond to a request for inspection/copying of public records unless that period is less than eight hours.

• Public office’s records custodian/manager or employee who otherwise has custody of the records of the office acknowledged receipt of the public records policy in writing;

• Public office created a poster that describes the public records policy of the office;

• Public office’s public records policy is included in the employee handbook or manual (if a handbook or manual exists)

SOURCE: Ohio State Auditor’s Office

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