Making Records Open in Digital Age
An open records “audit” of local governments in Ohio earlier this year showed improvements in officials providing access to documents. But when it comes to people who request records electronically, a distinctly mixed bag was uncovered.
Not so long ago, Ohioans could have reasonable confidence that if they requested a public document, officials in their area would at least consider the request. But when records are sought via e-mail or through local government websites, the officials in question may not even know information is being sought.
Journalists who conducted the “audit” in all 88 counties sometimes had trouble even finding email addresses to which records requests could be sent. That occurred in Cadiz and, when a follow-up telephone call was placed, the journalist involved was told the email address he sought would not be provided.
In Jefferson and Monroe counties, there were reports of difficulty obtaining information via email requests. That was better than the situation in eight counties, where email requests for documents were simply denied.
Increasingly, many Ohioans use electronic communications such as email instead of letters and telephone calls. And more and more people expect a variety of local government information to be available on websites.
While Ohio seems to be making progress in adapting, some local government entities lag behind. That is not acceptable in state law – and should not be tolerated by those who simply want to know how their school systems, municipalities, townships and counties are taking care of their business.