Thursday, October 28, 2004

Err on the side of openness, Ohio attorney general says



By Jennifer Edwards
Enquirer staff writer

SHARONVILLE - About 100 public officials and citizens got a lesson Wednesday on Ohio's public records and meeting laws after a dismal response this year to a public records audit conducted by members of the Ohio media.

Democracy functions best through public openness, Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro told a crowd at Great Oaks Police Academy at Scarlet Oaks Career Development Center in Sharonville. All elected officials and those who keep public records are responsible for understanding the laws and abiding by them, he said.

"Don't think that you can make it exempt. And if you are going to err, err on the side of openness," he said.

The forum is one of 12 scheduled this year by the Ohio Attorney General's Office and the Ohio Newspaper Association.

The forums follow an April 21 audit of public agencies that found half of requests for public records were granted promptly and without unnecessary conditions, such as a written request.

Without identifying themselves, more than 90 people from 43 newspapers, radio stations, the Associated Press and others approached public agencies in all 88 counties. They asked for six documents, such as an expense report for the city manager and the police chief's salary.

Legislation is currently being drafted that likely will include penalties for violators ranging from $250 to $1,000.

There also likely will be mandatory training on the laws for public officials and employees and a requirement for elected officials to adopt policies embracing the laws.

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com.




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