Sunshine Week in Ohio

We at Common Cause Ohio agree that “sunshine is the best disinfectant!” Transparency in government leads to accountability, exposes unethical behavior, and encourages our “employees” to work harder. We’re all for letting the light in!

That’s why every year we’re excited to celebrate Sunshine Week — an annual nationwide celebration of access to public information sponsored by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

This year for Sunshine Week, we teamed up with ACLU Ohio for a lunchtime brownbag discussion about Ohio’s Sunshine Laws (and how to use them). 2019’s Sunshine Week (March 10-16) also saw some important announcements coming from statewide office holders. Here’s a quick rundown.

  • Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost released an updated Sunshine Laws Manual. A Sandusky Register article about the release describes “The Yellow Book” as “an up-to-date guide to Ohio’s public records and open meetings laws.” Yost also posted a YouTube videoon how Ohioans can make a public records request.
  • Meanwhile, Ohio Auditor Keith Faber (who championed the mediation process for resolving open records conflicts when he was Ohio Senate president) called for the ability to use the mediation process to address open meeting violations. If this proposal is passed into law, Ohioans could push back against closed meetings or violations of public notice of upcoming meetings by filing at the Ohio Court of Claims website and paying a $25 fee. An article in the Columbus Dispatch explained, “Faber also announced his commitment to giving grades to make public records compliance a significant part of his office’s regular audits of governmental bodies.”
  • Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose spoke out about the need to put all campaign finance contributions online, including those made to local candidates such as mayors. In a Sunshine Week op-ed column, Secretary LaRose explained how putting contributions online leads to greater transparency. Following, LaRose’s lead, on March 13, State Senator Michael Rulli (R-Salem) introduced a bill to put local political contributions online and available on the Secretary of State’s website.
  • In the Ohio House, Speaker Larry Householder announced the House would begin turning on the cameras in committee hearing rooms in the coming weeks. The plan is to have cameras up and running in all committee rooms by the end of summer.  While the process will be a bit slow, the first committee hearing was live-streamed on March 19. Here’s an article about it from the Statehouse News Bureau.
  • Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof and Speaker Householder called for more transparency for JobsOhio, the quasi-governmental development agency that is exempt from public records and meetings law. It was established by former Gov. Kasich to “move at the speed of business” and took over many of the responsibilities of the Department of Development. Currently, JobsOhio is shrouded in secrecy, making accountability extremely difficult.

We’re encouraged to see progress on issues relating to transparency, and looking forward to further gains in the year ahead. Meanwhile, we are happy to help with your questions about making a public records request, or challenging open meetings violations.

With thanks for all you do,

Catherine Turcer & Mia Lewis