June 28, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Auditor: Municipalities aren’t as open as they should be

Ohio municipalities could do a better job of making its public records policy known as well as making sure all departments are well versed on what information must be available to the public.

Ohio Auditor Dave Yost’s office conducted a test of 20 counties and cities — Medina County was not among them — for Sunshine Law compliance this year, revealing 40 percent have weaknesses in their public records policies and procedures.

Yost announced the results Thursday during a presentation to the Ohio Association of Broadcasters Board of Directors.

“It’s disappointing in this day and age with all the attention on transparency that we don’t do enough to make sure the people’s records are accessible,” Yost said. “We’ve just got to do better.”

Individual results ranged from full compliance with state laws to the failure to centralize how public records requests are fulfilled and tracked.

During the financial audit of Elyria — a standard audit that is conducted each year by the state and is separate from the performance audit also released earlier this year — a few areas of concern in relation to public records law popped out for auditors.

Carrie Bartunek, spokeswoman for the auditor’s office, said a separate audit looking solely for Sunshine Law compliance was not conducted in Elyria. Instead, auditors inquired into the city’s policies when looking for financial matters. Recommended changes to strengthen compliance were included in the overall management letter that accompanied the release of the audit.

In Elyria’s letter dated June 27, it was pointed out that Elyria’s public records policy is just posted in the law director’s office as opposed to all offices that handle public records. Ohio law states that all public offices should post such a poster in a conspicuous place for citizens to review.

“Failing to post a public records poster in all public offices and locations may prevent the public from being aware of its legal rights to review such records or how to obtain copies,” the letter said.

Law Director Scott Serazin said he could not explain why the posters were not in more places, but believes the spirit of the record law is followed in Elyria.

“In the last two years, we have been working very diligently to provide the training that is required and have the Records Retention Commission meet regularly,” he said. “I have an open door policy involving public records. We have a legal obligation to be as responsive as possible.”

Contact reporter Lisa Roberson at (440) 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com .