Open records requests cause officials to go “ballistic”

I suspect the general public either doesn’t care or doesn’t get it – maybe both. But having readily available open government records is key to having government do its job well and fairly. It’s not just a way for reporters to give elected officials and bureaucrats a hard time, as some have suggested. Not even a little bit (though admittedly the more open the laws make the records the easier the job is for reporters, which then pays off for the public through better reporting about the government).

That’s why we have Sunshine Week, a yearly reminder to everyone how important it is to have open access to the government and its documents and meetings. Often, a “Sunshine Week” gives a media organization a good reason to conduct open records audit in conjunction, like was done splendidly last year (not during Sunshine Week) by journalism students at Ohio University.

You wudda thought government officials, at least in Ohio, would have learned from OU’s audit. Apparently not.

This year, a group of journalists and concerned citizens across the nation from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government and the National Freedom of Information Coalition went around to emergency management agencies requesting county plans for responding to natural disasters, hazardous materials spills and terrorism.

The Dayton Daily News has the story where in Ohio the requests sent officials into a frenzy, described by Warren County Emergency Management Services Director Frank Young, as some “going ballistic.” And by that we mean, an 88-county alert sent by the Ohio State Highway Patrol to get more information about one of the volunteer requesters – who go anonymously as just citizens to test the system.

And if that doesn’t concern you, I don’t know what will. This is, after all, your government, folks.

Special thanks to alert journo Holly Robinson for the tip, who also tipped us these two accompanying stories on the same topic:

Nationwide Sunshine Week audit finds data guarded both legally, illegally

Sunshine Week questions and answers

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

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