Governors who don’t like open records…It’s turning into a series.

The Associated Press and other newspapers in Ohio are reporting that a summer 2007 intern for the Ohio GOP:

submitted requests this summer for hundreds of thousands of pages of state documents, which Democratic state officeholders say are hampering their ability to respond to other matters.

The requests were submitted to four statewide officials–all of them members of the Democratic Party: Governor Ted Strickland, Attorney General Marc Dann, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Treasurer Richard Cordray.

Cordray provided the documents within ten days for no charge. The other state officials are in complete meltdown over the request and so is The Cleveland Plain Dealer, whose editorial board is full of contempt and disdain toward the GOP and its summer intern.

According to their editorial, the open records request will “gum up the workings of Ohio government” and “Drive up expenses of Ohio government”.

Where have we heard that before? The last time I heard it is when an association of cities, counties and school districts in Pennsylvania became angered by an open records contest sponsored in part by the Pennsylvania news association.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer itself was a co-sponsor of Sunshine Week 2007. One of the suggested activities of Sunshine Week 2007 was for participants to conduct FOIA audits during which:

…The auditors don’t identify themselves as working for a news organization unless they are specifically asked for identification.

It’s hypocritical to sponsor a FOIA audit–involving anonymity on the part of the requestor, and a request for documents just to see what will happen–and then to turn around and criticize political operatives for doing the same thing.

According to this link, in 2001, the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a lengthy series called “The People’s Records”, which concluded that “public records requests met with success only half of the time” and provided “inspiring profiles of in-the-trenches activists who fought for and won the public’s right to view Ohio government records.

But that was in 2001, and now that Ted Strickland has joined the ranks of governors who don’t want to hand over their e-mail, the Cleveland Plain Dealer–who endorsed Strickland for this office–is mad at…the intern?

Here’s a thought. Store records so they’re easy to find.

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4 responses to “Governors who don’t like open records…It’s turning into a series.

  1. Pingback: A FOIA audit for thee, but not for me « State Sunshine and Open Records

  2. Dear Leslie:

    Your recent blog post ( https://openrecords.wordpress.com/2007/10/01/governors-who-dont-like-open-recordsits-turning-into-a-series/) on a Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial presents an extremely misleading and unfortunate comparison of the Ohio audit with a Freedom of Information audit sponsored by the Sunshine Week project last year. The only similarity is that both involved public records requests.

    The Sunshine Week audit request focused on a single document that, by law, must not only be available for public inspection but must be advertised as such annually. Extensive, time-consuming search and review should not have been necessary — and in all cases where agencies had properly promulgated the emergency planning report, no special search or review was required. Indeed, more than one in ten agencies posted the report on their Web site.

    The intent was to test whether these agencies were providing the information to the public as required by law. So, all auditors — some of whom were reporters, some members of League of Women Voters chapters, some students — were instructed to present themselves simply as citizen requesters. That was particularly important in the case of reporters because we all know that public officials often are more responsive to the media than to members of the general public. For the reporters to have identified themselves as such would have been a self defeating test. What in fact happened is that, contrary to law, many requesters were asked to identify themselves and to state their purpose in requesting the records. When that happened, the reporters identified themselves. This is a widely accepted audit approach.

    A carefully planned and executed freedom of information audit is not designed to just “see what will happen.” It is a proven method to report on access to public information and, where needed, encourage compliance with the law. Public access to official information is a bedrock of this nation — and your FOI blog — and protecting that access ensures that people have the information to engage constructively in their communities. In addition, the Sunshine Week team strongly encouraged those media that did receive the emergency planning document to use it as the basis for a report on community emergency planning. Many did just that.

    This is quite different from the Ohio situation, where a Republican party intern made a very broad request for hundreds of thousands of documents, only from offices headed by Democrats, in what had the appearance of a partisan fishing expedition. The Sunshine Week audit sought a single document from the appropriate office, regardless of the political affiliation of its top official.

    We have tried very hard to present and maintain Sunshine Week as an effort to broaden the non-partisan, or bi-partisan, conversation on open government.

    Your analogy did that cause a disservice.

    Sincerely,

    Debra Gersh Hernandez
    Coordinator
    Sunshine Week

  3. Debra, I disagree altogether.

    I think the Cleveland Plain Dealer has done a disservice to the idea of FOIA audits–not me.

    I’m disappointed by your response.

  4. Pingback: Disgraced Marc Dann, former Ohio AG, files huge records request « Open Records

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