10 Investigates Finds There Is Room For Improvement In Access To Public Records

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UPDATED: Wednesday June 11, 2014 6:36 PM

Government files, pictures, documents and databases - they all belong to you.

But it's not always easy to get your hands on them.

"We do get push back," said Columbus Dispatch Editor Ben Marrison. (The Dispatch is owned by the same company as 10TV).

Marrison says governments often resist public records requests when the stakes are high.  

"You just have to be persistent, sometimes you have to involve lawyers," Marrison said. "Sometimes we just write stories revealing the fact these people won't give out public records.”

But how common is that problem?

Reporters from around the state wanted to know. They posed as ordinary citizens and asked for routine records. The audit was conducted by the Ohio Newspaper Association and the Ohio Association of Broadcasters.

Reporters went to police stations, town halls, and school districts.

They found that 90 percent of the time officials correctly handed over the records, according to the Ohio Newspaper Association.  

That's better than it was a decade ago. Then, officials followed the law 70 percent of the time.

10 Investigates audited the Marysville area. We found the Union County Health Department and most other places turned records over the way they're supposed to.

"We're custodians of public records and it's a bit like a library in some sense," said Union County Health Commissioner Jason Orcena. "Our goal is to help folks find the records they're looking for."

10 Investigates went to the Marysville School District to determine the superintendent's salary. We were told that we had to put the request in writing, but that's not what the law says.   

10 Investigates producer Joel Chow discovered the problem.

"If I was John Q. Public, I would have been, I would have felt that I needed to put my request in writing," Chow said.

Through an emailed statement,  Marysville Schools later denied that it requires people to put their requests in writing and supply their names.

"At Marysville, we care deeply about openness and transparency.  Communicating with our public is key to who we are, and we are uncompromising in that.  We take great care in filling every request. In no way is it mandatory to put something in writing but let's face it: It sure does provide clarity in understanding each request, and it greatly helps the hard working people in our schools and offices each day.  That way, we can be efficient and accurate. "

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