What you need to know about access to public records

The Ohio Revised Code defines public records as any record kept by a public office. As taxpayers and citizens, residents of the Mid-Ohio Valley have the right to know about property taxes, salaries of public officials and criminal records.

Sunshine Week helps shine a light on Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, which requires that all public records be made promptly available to anyone who requests them. But just how easy is it and is cost a factor in the number of requests received locally? If copies are requested, sometimes a fee will be incurred. However, the Ohio Public Records Act states that public offices may not charge for inspection of public records during regular business hours. We list here some of the most frequently contacted agencies.

Marietta Municipal Court

Public records are required to be available for inspection during regular business hours, with the exception of published holidays. Court records must be made available for inspection promptly within a reasonable period of time. The terms “prompt” and “reasonable” take into account the volume of records requested; the proximity of the location where the records are stored; and the necessity for any legal review and/or redaction of the records requested.

“We get daily requests for public records,” said Emily Heddleston, clerk of Marietta Municipal Court. “They come in by phone, at the counter, by email, fax, mail — every way you can think of.”

Types of records requested can include everything in a case file, excluding juvenile records or medical information, which would be redacted. The cost of public records is adopted by the Ohio Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio and was last revised in November 2012.

All requests for public records should be acknowledged in writing or, if possible, satisfied within five business days following the court’s receipt of the request. If a request is lengthy or will require research, the acknowledgment of the request must be provided in writing and include an estimated number of business days to complete the request, an estimated cost if copies are requested and any items within the request that may be exempt from disclosure.

The charge for paper copies is 5 cents per page and certified paper copies are 25 cents per page. The charge for electronic files downloaded to a compact disc is $5 per disc. There is no charge for documents to be emailed.

The City of Marietta

City Safety-Service Director Jonathan Hupp said he doesn’t get a lot of requests for public records but what he has been getting most recently are requests for individuals from outside the city looking for information.

“They are mining for information about local people who might be owed some money, through the income tax department or the auditor,” he said. “I think I end up with these because they contact the mayor’s office first.”

A citizen did recently ask for copies of all correspondence and complaints from a councilperson. Requests for any public record can be anonymous and can be mailed, emailed or faxed. Individuals can also make requests in person at city hall.

Hupp said copies are 5 cents a page, something that was established by city council, though he said he requested four years ago to increase the fees to 25 cents, a request that council denied.

Council president Josh Schlicher said that they strive for a quick turnaround and have a policy to be open with the public. He estimates though that 60 to 75 percent of the requests are in-house.

“We’re not trying to make money on it,” he said.

Washington County Commissioners

For anyone who wants meeting minutes from the Washington County Commissioners, or budget or personnel information, there is a request form online at washingtongov.org. Citizens can also email or visit the office in person, according to Shelly Vincent, secretary for the commissioners.

“We don’t get a lot of requests, maybe four or five times a year,” she said. “The cost is determined by the commissioners and we last adopted the public records policy in 2007.”

The cost for emailed records is free; copies are 10 cents per page or $1 for a CD.

Washington County Sheriff

“Our most requested records are probably from insurance companies,” said Sheriff Larry Mincks. “The number of requests fluctuate but we don’t require the individual to identify themselves or the nature of the business.”

According to the Ohio Revised Code, no public office can require the identity of the person requesting records or a reason for the request. Any requirement that the requester disclose the requester’s identity or the intended use of the requested public record constitutes a denial of the request.

A lot of information is readily available for free at washingtoncountysheriff.org. Jail inmate records from 1999 to 2015, bad check records from 2000 to 2016, as well as an active warrants list, last updated Feb. 28, are also viewable online for free. A sex offender database is available through the sheriff’s website and links to the county website, washingtongov.org. There, a searchable list of individuals by offense is available for public knowledge.

“The cost is determined by our department, usually 35 cents for a disc, 10 cents for a copy and, if we have the electronic files available, to email is free,” Mincks said.

The department’s public records policy is determined by Auditor of State Dave Yost, who performs an audit annually.

Washington County Auditor

The types of records available through the County Auditor’s website include property records, sales, levy information and unclaimed funds. Requests can be filed at washingtoncountyauditor.us/.

Auditor Bill McFarland was unable to be reached this week for more information.

Washington County Clerk of Courts

Requests for divorce decrees, as well as information from civil and criminal cases, are all available through the Clerk of Courts, Brenda Wolfe.

“I average about one public records request a day,” Wolfe said. “If I can email the information, if it’s just a one-page divorce document or something, then there is no charge. If they come in to get copies, they are 10 cents per page or $1 for certified copies.”

The cost is determined by the agency, with recommendations taken from the Ohio Clerk of Courts Association.

“We can’t charge for anything over the cost to make the copies,” Wolfe said.

Online public records requests can also be made through the county’s website.

Ohio public records laws

¯ OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov

¯ http://sunshineweek.rcfp.org/

¯ https://ohiocourtofclaims.gov/public-records.php