A decade ago during a statewide public records audit, Washington County officials were found to be only 17 percent compliant in supplying requested records. They denied 83 percent of requested documents, which means they were both breaking the law and failing to exhibit transparency.
This year, during a similar audit, the county was 100 percent compliant.
That's a reason to celebrate.
Our officials are taking public records laws and requests seriously and they have had employees trained on how to respond to requests. That compliance rate means any resident can expect to go into a public office, make a request without having to supply a reason or personal information and have access to the documents within a reasonable time frame. That's exactly how public records requests should work.
There are still a few issues to address but they are relatively minor compared to what the area was facing in 2004.
For example, one area school district has a records request form that asks the reason for the request. This is legal only if the person making the request is informed beforehand that they do not have to supply a reason.
It's troubling that the question is asked at all, particularly because people who might not make record requests often may not know they do not have to supply a reason. They may feel they have to fill in an answer because the question is there.
Other agencies seem to not have enough staff trained on supplying the records. Auditors had multiple experiences where one person was on vacation or out of the office and there was no one else able to supply information within a reasonable time frame. That's problematic. There should be a backup plan if the key record supplier is gone for any extended amount of time.
However, all of these issues are very simple to fix, and we hope they will be. Often, violations of the law regarding public records come from ignorance of the law, rather than someone willfully trying to keep information from the public. We hope training continues and minor issues are corrected.
Overall, we're pleased with how well our community complied with the Sunshine Law. In Ohio's Clark County, when an auditor would not give his or her name while requesting records-which they don't have to do- the office staff summoned a sheriff's deputy.
We're glad those at our public offices know better. There's no reason to be suspicious of those making records requests. Those people are simply asking for information we're all entitled to and too often don't bother to seek out.
We hope, with a little extra awareness, the next audit is even better.