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Speak Out for open records

March 18, 2009 - Jennifer Houtman
Spring has sprung and that means more than warmer days and the start of the NCAA basketball tournament. It's also the time of year news organizations spread the word about open records.

For years, we've been reporting information about what government records are open to citizens and the ongoing struggle to make sure our local officials and government offices understand their role in maintaining public records and also making them accessible to the public.

Recent events show we still have work to do. Most recently, outgoing Washington County Commissioners became the focus of an investigation after they cleared county records from computers as the left office. Statements made by both men indicate they didn't know the rules regarding what's considered a public record, nor did they understand laws pertaining to the retention and destruction of public records.

They, and every other public official, as well as the people who staff their offices, should know and the state Attorney General's Office has made it easier yet. Not to mention, it's now a state law that all elected officials attend public records training.

The next public records training planned for southeast Ohio is July 9 at the Ohio University Campus in Zanesville. We hope anyone elected to office last November will plan to attend this session if they haven't already received the training.

Public officials aren't the only ones who need to be aware of public records laws. So do citizens. To help make this information easier for people to get, the Ohio Attorney General's Office has posted its latest Ohio Sunshine Laws Mannual, referred to as "The Yellow Book," online and available for download. Just go to the Web site to get your copy.

Coming this weekend, the Marietta Times will feature in Saturday's edition a look at the types of public records available to all citizens and how to access them. And, in the months ahead, we will resume a monthly feature we called "We asked, so can you" in which we request various types of public records and pass along the information to readers. We also will explain where we went for the information, how to request it and how the information might be useful to everyday citizens.

The newspaper is full of public information every day, information we obtain thanks to the laws that are in place regarding the release of public records. Land transfers, arrest reports, marriages and divorces, stories about applicants for school board positions and superintendent jobs and stories about city council and courts, all are possible because these laws are in place.

If you've never walked into your school board office, city hall or local court and asked for a public record, give it a try. It's very empowering to realize there's a ton of information out there available to all citizens. All you have to do is ask for it.


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