Commentary

06.23.14

Government Accountability: Brought to You by You.

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Have you ever wanted to know more information about how the government is operating? Do you wonder what your local city council, municipal court, or the state General Assembly is up to? If you think an open government is important, then you should request a public record.

Transparency is the key to holding government accountable. Public records belong to you, the people. The government merely preserves the records for you.

A great way for you to be involved in the democratic process is to request a public record from your local government. Public records can reveal discrimination, corruption, fiscal decisions not widely reported, and which elected officials are supporting particular measures, among much more information.

Read the ACLU of Ohio’s Public Records & Open Meetings: A Guide for Activists

If you want to make a request for public records, contact the appropriate person within the particular public office. The request can be made in person, by phone, by letter, or by email. However, making the request in writing is the best way to ensure all parties know exactly what you are requesting. It does not have to be in any particular format. A request should be clear and specific enough for the public office to reasonably identify the records for which you are asking.

Before you send your request, think about a clear goal for what you want to do with the information. When you have a clear goal, you are more likely to have a targeted request to get the information you need.

Government meetings are also supposed to be open to the public. You have the right to attend a government meeting, generally, that is prearranged, includes a majority of the members of the particular public body, and involves discussion of public business. Although the governmental body does not have to give you the opportunity to speak at a meeting, it must allow you access.

For more detailed information and guidance on public records, read our publication, Public Records & Open Meetings: A Guide for Activists.

Open government and public records requests are celebrated every year in March during Sunshine Week. This week brings awareness to the public’s right to know what the government is doing and why. You have the right to know. Exercise your right by making a public records request.

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