My topic this week is a citizen winning a public record court case.
Congratulations to the former Mayor of Vermilion, Jean Anderson, for winning her public records lawsuit by being persistent enough in taking her case all the way up to the Ohio Supreme Court. The case was about requesting itemized billing statements for city work that was performed by two private law firms.
I don’t think anyone would want to breach attorney-client privilege, but a citizen does have the right to know how much the city paid out in the way of billed attorney hours and the expense involved. The confidential attorney-client information could have been redacted; but instead, the requested information was totally denied provoking a lawsuit for the information.
It is the law to accommodate a public request for information unless it falls into a certain category. Most of the time when I request public documents, I usually receive them in a prompt manner. The more people who are trained, the easier it becomes to obtain the requested record. It becomes a difficult situation when employees are not trained properly. Training staff keeps the entity out of court, so I would think that the entities would become proactive in training staff before a problem presents itself. If an employee is in doubt whether or not to hand over a document, there is always the Law Director to assist the employee.
The State Auditor teaches free classes on public records. I have always been interested in public records and what you can and cannot request, so I decided to take the four-hour class and I became certified in public records. I highly recommend the class to anyone if they ever get chance to attend. Anyone interested in attending one of the classes can check on the State Auditor’s website for a class near your location. You can also download the Sunshine Law Manual from the State Auditor’s site and educate yourself.
I was fortunate to attend a public records class sponsored by Perkins Township. I hope Perkins will continue to sponsor the classes so they can be conducted closer to home in order to save on commute time and gasoline. The class was packed full and I noticed that Sandusky City Manager, Ms. Ard, had sent some of her staff to the class. I think everyone who handles public record requests should definitely take the training. Anyone can sponsor a class as long as there are thirty people in attendance to make it worth while for the auditor to come from Columbus to instruct the class. Maybe, the City of Sandusky will sponsor a class as well.
Until next time, taking an entity to court should be your last resort but sometimes an example must be made in order to remind the entities that they need to comply with the law even if it means redacting parts of the document instead of disallowing the request completely.