The week of March 11-17 is designated Sunshine Week, as declared since 2005 by the American Society of News Editors. The week is dedicated to reminding the public of the press’s invaluable role in ensuring open government.
The Times-Gazette’s experience with local governments in seeking public records has been mostly positive. That experience was put to the test in 2014, when an audit sponsored by the Ohio Coalition for Open Government, organized by the Ohio Newspaper Association, found that in Highland County, local officials — including those with the county, the city of Hillsboro and Hillsboro City Schools — responded promptly to record requests.
But records requests are not always granted. Such was the case last year when The Times-Gazette sought an audio recording of a Hillsboro City Council executive session, where it is believed that a discussion was held about the decision to continue paying a former safety and service director even after he had been dismissed. The city cited “attorney-client privilege” in keeping the recording out of the public realm, a decision with which this newspaper continues to disagree.
More recently, we demanded answers from federal officials about the decision to withhold grant funds for a previously-approved Rocky Fork Lake project. Some answers were eventually provided, but we are continuing to monitor the situation and will keep readers informed through future reporting on the subject.
Thomas Jefferson said, “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”
Abraham Lincoln noted, “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.”
Ohio’s own state Supreme Court justice, Maureen O’Connor, perhaps summed it up best in a 2006 decision in the case of Kish V. City of Akron: “A fundamental premise of American democratic theory is that government exists to serve the people… Public records are one portal through which the people observe their government, ensuring its accountability, integrity and equity while minimizing sovereign mischief and malfeasance.”
We concur, and we join other news media in our continued commitment to guaranteeing the public’s right to be fully informed about government decisions and actions.