The Ohio Auditor of State, Keith Faber, recently published a Bulletin (2019-003) that announces a new star rating system for all public officials to follow. Here is the bulletin for your review: Auditor of State’s Bulletin on Ohio Sunshine Laws 2019-003
Here are a couple of excerpts that we found interesting:
“Central to the founding principle of self-governance is the ability of the public to participate; to create a partnership among the citizens of a community, some of whom have come forward in elective roles. Transparency in governing makes those who serve more accountable to their fellow citizens and also fosters the exchange of ideas to increase efficiency and effectiveness with public dollars. To that end, Ohio Sunshine Laws ensure all citizens are granted the right to have broad access to government records and meetings.” (Emphasis added by LFC)
“If a citizen believes the Public Records or Open Meetings Acts have been violated, it’s
imperative that staff work with them to help them understand the public records process. This helps to create goodwill between the public office and constituents while avoiding potential litigation that can be costly to taxpayers and the community.”
“AOS (Auditor of State) will be testing for statutory compliance with the Ohio Public Records Act and Ohio Open Meetings Act, and reporting those results with more emphasis. The General Assembly has empowered the public to ensure their local governments are acting transparently in carrying out the peoples’ business by creating these two self-help statutes. If a citizen believes a public office has violated either Act, they can file an action in the appropriate court.”
“Because the Public Records Act is a self-help statute, if a person believes the public office has violated the Act in any way, he or she must initiate a legal action themselves. Neither the AOS nor any other public official can do so on their behalf. More general information can be found in the Ohio Sunshine Manual found at http://www.ohioauditor.gov/open.html. For more specific information, both citizens and public offices should consult their legal counsel.”
Full disclosure: This writer has filed a lawsuit (Pro se) in the Lake County Court of Common Pleas against Commissioner Jerry Cirino and the Lake County Visitors Bureau for a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Cirino asked me to leave a meeting requested by the Visitors Bureau, and attended by Cirino and Commissioner John Hamercheck.
Here is the deception being played on the taxpayers. Note that the Auditor states that if there is a perceived violation then ‘John Q. Public’ must initiate legal action themselves. Translation – pay $300.00 to file in the Lake County Court of Common Pleas, and thousands to a lawyer – unless you go it alone as a Pro Se (literally, on one’s behalf) litigant. And who represents the public officials? Why, none other than the prosecutor’s office, and in the case of the Visitors Bureau, expensive lawyers that are all paid by taxpayers’ funds. Do you think we would have a more transparent, and accountable government if the public officials had to spend their own money in the public lawsuits?
Another lesson that LFC has learned from dealing with State officials is that they are not the cavalry coming to the aid of the average taxpayer. The Ethics Commission should just be shut down, and their budget spent on something else; and all we get from the other State agencies is “we do not have the jurisdiction to act.” So they purposely force the average citizen into the court system to fight on their own against a cadre of lawyers that love to “flex their muscles” against the average citizen by filing dispositive motions, counter-claims and citing case law that they think applies.
There has to be a better alternative to fight this entrenched bureaucracy that continues to steamroll the average citizens. The State can have all the ratings systems they want, but it really will not amount to anything because the politicians and bureaucrats know very well that they have “stacked the deck” against the average citizens.