Plain Dealer editorial: Let the sun shine in Ohio on public documents

Editorial from The Plain Dealer Ohio's D+ grade in the latest state-by-state analysis of public records access by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity shockingly ranks it better than all but five other states.

Alaska was the top score-earner with a C-, while Michigan, which was among 11 states that received an F, was dead last.

Despite Ohio's strong ratings on public access to information about lobbyists and pensions, the report left no doubt that this state could do a much better job ensuring that taxpayers have easy access to information that is rightfully theirs.

The Ohio legislature, which works on behalf of the citizens of Ohio, needs to do more to protect the public's right to know as much as possible about the government's workings.

Too often Ohioans must struggle to get government documents. Ohio earned a string of Ds on public access to documents on political financing, judicial accountability, state civil service management, ethics enforcement and executive and legislative accountability -- the report pointed out, for instance, that amendments of unclear origin are wont to surface unexpectedly in bills. 

According to the Public Integrity report, "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" for violators.

It noted two special trouble spots: the lack of transparency for charter schools and for JobsOhio, Gov. John Kasich's flagship quasi-private economic development organization.

The report's methodology isn't perfect. Tony Bledsoe, Ohio's legislative inspector general, pointed out that the report grades states on whether they provide records on lobbyists' salaries – Ohio does not – but not on other important measures that Ohio demands, such as the name of the lobbyist's boss and which legislator and bill is being lobbied.

And it should be noted that Ohio is making progress. The report cited state Treasurer Josh Mandel's searchable database of government spending, although it noted that sometimes it is not up to date.

Still, the report offers a useful signpost: It should not be difficult for any member of the public to get their hands on government documents. Ohio has to work harder to meet that goal.