In Ohio: a struggle to obtain public records from state

From The Cincinnati Enquirer Where did a mysterious amendment come from, Rep. Ron Amstutz was asked after a House Finance Committee meeting in 2014.

After some hemming and hawing, the panel’s chairman came up with an answer:

Out of thin air.

He later said he was joking.

But Ohioans who want to keep track of both their tax money and their public officials don’t find much humor in the Buckeye State’s laws and everyday practices on government accountability, ethics and transparency.

In recent years Ohio’s legislature has weakened many of those laws – the same legislature that since 2012 has seen seven members convicted of crimes, including grand theft, bribery, perjury, money laundering and securities fraud.

“While Ohio has many appropriate ethics rules and a strong Sunshine Law, there are simply too many loopholes,” said Catherine Turcer, veteran watchdog with Common Cause-Ohio.

Sixth in the nation

Ohio earned a D+ in the State Integrity Investigation, an assessment of state government openness and accountability by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity, but that modest score was actually good enough to place 6th in the nation. Alaska, which received a C, was No. 1. Michigan, among 11 states getting an F, was last.

In a 2012 State Integrity Investigation, Ohio got a D, which ranked 34th among the 50 states. Despite the apparent improvement, the two scores are not directly comparable due to changes made to improve and update the project and methodology, such as eliminating the category for redistricting, a process that generally occurs only once every 10 years.

The state did worst in simply providing overall public access to information, getting its only F in that specific category. Part of the reason for such a low score: unlike many states, Ohio has no statutory mechanism to monitor how officials are adhering to open government laws, no formal appeals process when access is denied and no serious repercussions if public officials violate these laws.

The tone has been set at the top.

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