2014-06-25 / Opinion

ONA Sees Problems With Public Records

Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, of which this newspaper is a member, was pleased with the good news from a recent county-by-county audit of the availability of public records.

But at the same time, he is also concerned about changes in Ohio law that make records less and less available.

He points out court decisions and changes by the state legislature over the past 10 years have closed more records to the public.

Today, there are more exceptions to what are considered public records than there were a decade ago, and there are hundreds more exceptions spread throughout Ohio statutes.

Also, the burden to prove a record is public has shifted against citizens.

And it’s harder for someone trying to obtain records to collect attorney fees in lawsuits, meaning fewer people and organizations can afford to fight for the records they need.

Hetzel said Ohio’s definition of a public record is problematic; if it isn’t public, it can’t be open. He said a broader definition that Ohio judges will accept is needed.

Then, too, government creates so many records it takes time and expense to review them, but Hetzel argues fewer exceptions and ambiguities would make searches faster.

“Let’s be grateful for the progress the audit showed,” Hetzel said, “and keep our focus on fixing the big problems that remain, so Ohio citizens have access to information they deserve.”

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