From The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio’s local governments need to pick up their game when it comes to keeping the people’s records and fulfilling public-records requests, state Auditor Dave Yost says.

A sampling of 20 counties and cities for compliance with Sunshine laws found weaknesses in the public-records policies and procedures in eight, or 40 percent, according to results to be released by the auditor’s office today.

“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 in a statement. “We’ve just got to do better.”

Yost announced the public-records audit during Sunshine Week in March, then asked his staff during its normal financial audits to examine how well some local governments handled records requests.

Auditors found no problems in five counties and seven cities (including Marysville, the only central Ohio government in the audit). But they cited three counties and five cities for not following either state laws or best practices.

The most-common problem, found in Allen County, Beavercreek, Bowling Green, Crawford County, Harrison and Portsmouth, was a lack of formal procedures to track public-records requests. Some did not track when requests were received or fulfilled, the auditor’s office found.

Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, drew the harshest remarks in the public-records audit. Some departments did not save sent emails, and some officials could not prove they had attended state-mandated public-records training.

The county also lacked consistency in keeping public-records request logs, and the sheriff’s office failed to track when it provided records and did not keep copies of its responses to records requests, the audit found.

Dennis Hetzel, president of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government, said public-records audits in the past decade have found spotty compliance with Sunshine laws.

“Part of the problem is the increasing complexity of the law, the growing number of exceptions. It’s difficult for even well-intentioned public officials to keep up with it,” said Hetzel, who also is executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association.

“It’s still kind of a mess, and it doesn’t appear to be getting any better than it was 10 years ago.”

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