Ohio could use more sunshine and State Auditor Keith Faber has a plan to make the state sunnier — at least as far as open and transparent government is concerned.
Mr. Faber has announced a new star-rating system with which to grade the 6,000 or so public entities in Ohio that are required to comply with Sunshine Laws, which are intended to ensure public bodies conduct public business in a transparent fashion.
Those laws are created to ensure the public has access to public meetings and public records from governmental agencies including the governor’s office as well as the local school districts, cities, and villages.
Whether Ohio’s public officials comply with Sunshine laws can be a mixed bag.
In recent months The Blade has needed to pressure Washington Local School Board about its plans to conduct public business behind closed doors in improper executive sessions. The Blade also won a 2013 court case to force the city of Toledo to release its law enforcement gang map.
The auditor’s office already considers whether public entities are following the Sunshine Laws as part of periodic evaluations.
Under the new system, Mr. Faber’s office will test public offices and issue annual reports to determine each governmental office’s star rating.
For his part, Mr. Faber says he is aiming to reward high achievers rather than shame offices that do poorly.
This is a solid approach, but Mr. Faber should consider public input from everyday citizens seeking access to public records and public meetings as part of his evaluation.
As a state senator Mr. Faber sponsored a law in 2016 that created a mediation path through the Ohio Court of Claims to resolve public records disputes for a fee of $25 as a quicker and cheaper alternative than litigation. This new system for the auditor’s office builds on that.
Mr. Faber’s system would award a sliding-scale of stars based on compliance with Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, starting with no stars for noncompliance statutes regarding making public records available upon request and governing in the open and progressing to four stars for implementing five or more identified “best practices.”
Any entity earning at least two stars could print out certificates for display. Ratings will be rolled out gradually as audits are completed.
The governmental offices that earn high ratings use best practices such as implementing a system tracking public records requests, making applications available online for the public to make requests, and routinely making meeting minutes, agendas, budgets, salaries, and other public information available online.
Democracy depends on transparent and accountable government.
Encouraging Ohio’s public officials to do their best to make sure the public has access to public meetings and public records is an excellent plan.