OPINION: Open records keep Our democracy safe

The following article appeared on Chagrin Valley Today, the website of the Chagrin Valley Times and Geauga Times Courier on March 15. Our thanks to the Chagrin Valley Times for permission to republish the article here.

PGP Web Editor’s Note: The topic of this piece is very important and also very relevant to the political landscape of Geauga County today. Protect Geauga Parks has been very active in obtaining public records pertaining to the operation and management of the Geauga Park District. This process has illuminated several incidents of waste and misuse of public funds and has documented the park board’s repeated failure to abide by Ohio laws that mandate open public meetings. Free access to information about how our governmental bodies function and how our tax dollars are spent is absolutely essential to our democratic form of government.

Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 11:45 pm

The pages of the Times are filled each week with reports about what actions elected officials are taking, what local school districts are teaching your children,  who is pulling zoning petition for new buildings and much more. There are human interest stories, reviews of events and even opinions from your neighbors expressed in letters.

Our reporters as well as thousands of others around the world keep their fingers on the pulse of our communities by talking to officials, checking how your hard-earned tax dollars are being spent and keeping an eye on the public record.

So often we all take this for granted. That’s why we are pausing to mark Sunshine Week, a celebration led by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

This reminds journalists and readers alike that it takes vigilance to keep government actions in the forefront and freedom working.

Sunshine Week highlights the role of the media that is constantly pushing for government transparency.

We believe citizens value their democracy. A recent Pew survey found that about 90 percent of respondents were in favor of fair and open elections and about 80 percent value the system of checks and balances in the government. Open records help us all keep these processes transparent.

Public records are not just for journalists. Clear access is important to every resident. Any citizen can request public documents whether they are financial records of a city, municipal contracts for road projects, a police report or minutes from public meetings.

Those exploring their genealogy use public records to find birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and court records to help trace paths of relatives.  Some of those paths may involve property ownership or a trial documented in court proceedings, all part of the public record.

Access to public records helps citizens hold public officials accountable through documented knowledge of their actions.

Some local residents recently requested and received public records related to how much money a park district spent on legal fees.   It was information they wanted and had a right to obtain.

Technology is making access to open records both more convenient and more complicated. Videos of council or school board meetings are public.  Any 911 audio calls are part of the public record as well.

Technology also makes it easy for just about anyone to access public information and share it, sometimes instantaneously. But how do you know if those shared reports are accurate?  We at the Times take pride in checking the public record, verifying information and ensuring that every fact is solid before going to print.

Imagine what your life would be like if the government – local, state or national – operated in complete secrecy and restricted access to even the most basic information.

Open records keep our democracy strong. We all need to watch over our freedom to keep it safe, and open records are vital to that pursuit.

We hope you will join us in celebrating Sunshine Week.

Categories: Commentary

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