Ohio Auditor Keith Faber has recruited an important ally to seek passage of a bill to allow Ohioans to cheaply and quickly challenge apparent open-meetings violations by governmental bodies.
In a Sunshine Week announcement March 12, Faber said Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) has agreed to support legislation to permit open-meetings complaints to be filed as part of an Ohio Court of Claims program that handles public-records disputes.
“We’re ready to move to the next level” and allow Ohioans an easy means to seek a binding ruling when they believe a council, school board or other government entity has met illegally or improperly retreated behind closed doors for deliberations about public business, Faber said.
As Senate president, Faber was the primary sponsor of the bill that created the $25 Court of Claims public-records complaint program, which has handled 237 cases since late 2016.
About half have been resolved in mediation, and others have advanced to rulings to pry loose improperly withheld records.
The Ohio News Media Association is working with Faber and legislators to piece together the pending legislation, which probably would allow the Court of Claims to overturn decisions that governmental bodies reached illegally in secretive executive sessions.
Faber also announced the auditor’s office more regularly would examine compliance with public-records laws while conducting financial audits of governmental entities.
The auditor’s office issued 325 audit citations last year to governments that did not comply fully with records laws. Most of the citations were for the failure of officeholders or their designees to attend required public-records training.
“I tend to believe that sunshine makes people act better,” Faber said.
He also said he continues to press JobsOhio officials to be more transparent in sharing information with the public.
The privatized economic-development nonprofit organization created early in former Gov. John Kasich’s tenure was exempted from public-records laws by Republican legislators and must release only certain data, such as employee salaries, once a year.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who soon will make his first appointments to JobsOhio’s board of directors, also has expressed support for demanding more accountability from JobsOhio, but no legislation has surfaced.
Faber objected to JobsOhio’s recent statement that it would not disclose the compensation of its new president, J.P. Nauseef, until it files its required reports with the state nearly a year from now.
Faber said if he is handed the duty, he would add a public audit of JobsOhio’s finances to his office’s workload.
His predecessor, Dave Yost, now the attorney general, insisted on auditing the nonprofit during its first year of operation, but the legislature then acted to prevent further public audits.
Also during Sunshine Week, Yost issued the so-called “Yellow Book,” his office’s updated comprehensive manual on Ohio sunshine laws.
“Most days, what happens at city hall or the county courthouse has much more impact on your life than the latest installment of outrage from Washington, D.C.,” Yost said in a statement. “Our ability as a people to stay informed and hold local politicians accountable hinges on the freedom to access government information through public records and open meetings.”