CLEVELAND- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed a lawsuit today in the Ohio Supreme Court after Cuyahoga County officials denied part of a records request seeking documents relating to the Executive Committee, as well as other committees and subcommittees working on the county’s charter transition. In its response to the records request, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office claimed that they would not provide the documents because they do not consider these committees to be public entities. The ACLU filed its public records request on February 17, 2010, after leaders claimed they were not subject to Ohio’s Sunshine Laws.
“From the new charter’s inception, transition leaders have promised transparency to the public. Unfortunately, they continue to ignore the people’s demand for full access by maintaining that the law does not apply to them,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link.
The ACLU received records from the Transition Advisory Group (TAG), which was created by the charter to oversee the transition. The county does not dispute that the TAG is a public body, but maintains that the committees it oversees are private. In the lawsuit, the ACLU asks the state’s high court to rule that all transition committees and subcommittees are public bodies and are subject to Ohio’s open meetings and records law.
“By continuing to hold itself above the law, transition leaders are undermining the work accomplished by its volunteers,” added Link. “After years of corruption, many Cuyahoga County residents have a deep-seated distrust of county government. Even the mere appearance that they are attempting to deny access to records is poisonous to any meaningful reform effort.”
On February 9, 2010, several news reports quoted leaders stating that some transition meetings would be held in secret, and that Ohio’s Sunshine Laws do not apply to the committees. After public outcry, they opened several meetings and posted minutes and agendas to their website.
In its lawsuit, the ACLU contends that Cuyahoga County officials have been intertwined with the transition process since it began. Nearly every committee charged with revising the charter has a county employee assigned as a co-chair. In addition, the county has provided substantial technical assistance such as a website, data retention, and management of the transition’s social networking sites.
Defendants in the lawsuit include members of the TAG, Executive Committee, and Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners.
“Ohio’s Sunshine Laws exist in order to protect citizens’ ability to hold government accountable. Transition leaders want to be excluded from these laws, while claiming they are transparent. The Ohio Supreme Court must send them a clear message that they cannot do the people’s work without fully adhering to the guidelines that ensure a fair and open process,” concluded Link.