From The Canton Repository State Auditor Dave Yost launched a program last month that helps resolve public records disputes so citizens and government agencies don’t wind up in lengthy and costly court battles.
Fellow Republicans in the Ohio House tried to dissolve Yost’s “Sunshine Audit” program through an amendment in the $71.5 billion two-year state budget. They question whether Yost, as auditor, has the authority to oversee such a program. Though they pulled this misguided amendment from the budget bill after a groundswell of criticism, they indicated they may revisit the question in coming months.
There’s no need to. Yost’s program helps rectify a major problem with Ohio’s Sunshine Laws — a problem created a few years ago when state lawmakers placed unnecessary caps on the amount of damages and attorneys fees agencies would pay out for violating the law. Those changes in the law may discourage people with valid complaints from pursuing legal action against government agencies or public employees all while incentivizing those agencies to violate Ohio’s Sunshine Laws.
Lawmakers should — but won’t — restore the financial sanctions that were once the teeth of these laws. Regardless, Ohioans and government agencies still need a free program to resolve these disputes and head off prolonged litigation. As auditor, Yost clearly has the right to step in.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office already offers a mediation program for citizens with complaints against local governments. Yost’s program applies to state agencies. His office will also step in if mediation involving local agencies fails or one party refuses to participate. After reviewing the complaint, giving each side a chance to respond and determining that a violation has occurred, the auditor’s office issues a non-compliance finding. The decisions aren’t binding, but they are an honest attempt to resolve issues outside of a courtroom.
What’s the harm in that?
As he did in calling for a financial audit of JobsOhio in 2013, Yost again appears to be standing up for Ohioans and open government. Instead of questioning Yost’s authority, state lawmakers should be supporting his efforts.