Sunshine laws create transparency

Ohio’s Public Records Act and Ohio’s Open Meetings Act, better known as the “Sunshine Laws,” have served journalists well in our efforts to inform communities across the state about issues that are important to them.

People outside of the journalism community probably haven’t heard a lot about the Sunshine Laws.

The relevance of the Sunshine Laws in Ohio is strong. The law gives the local city government, BGSU’s Board of Trustees and campus groups clear guidelines and repercussions as to the availability of public records in their care.

City and University officials know the laws bear a lot of weight and the laws affect daily administrative operations.

It seems arbitrary, as to which records are kept private and which ones are available to the public.

A Cincinnati Enquirer story cited complaints against cemeteries and water pollution records that might disclose a trade secret, as things that aren’t publicly available through the Sunshine Laws.

Although there are stipulations, the Sunshine Laws gave The BG News the ability to obtain zoning ordinance information last spring, which significantly aided in our coverage of off-campus housing issues.

More recently, reporter Jacqueline Rabe was able to obtain donor records and old Board of Trustees meeting minutes from the University as she prepared research on former trustee Tom Noe, and these records helped The BG News inform readers of Noe’s long, complicated relationship with BGSU.

While officials in our community are usually forthcoming with public records, this isn’t the case everywhere.

A survey of Ohio’s public universities by students at Ohio University found that its employees properly provided records just one out of four times, on average. Some students were given a hard time when they requested the records or not given them at all.

Although journalists often utilize the Sunshine Laws, they benefit every resident of Ohio.

In an era where the threat of terrorism seems imminent, the government is trying to do more than ever to protect us.

But claims of “security” by both national and local officials are growing in number every year since Sept. 11, 2001, and the constriction that’s putting on the public’s rightful access to information is bound to suffocate our democracy if allowed to continue.

Keep the light on in Ohio. The Sunshine Laws affect everyone’s right to know, not just journalists’.