NEWTON FALLS, OH- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter today to Richard Schwartz, law director for the city of Newton Falls, urging him to ensure officials comply with Ohio’s public records law. The ACLU sent the letter after it received complaints regarding officials denying public records requests without sufficient cause and Police Chief John Kuivila threatening a freelance reporter with a lawsuit if the reporter continued pursuing records.
ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “Access to public records is the cornerstone of honest and fair government. Threatening legal action against a resident simply for requesting information is unreasonable and only serves to frighten other people from being active participants in the community.”
The resident, who is also a freelance reporter, was denied several records by City Clerk Kathleen King. In her reply to the resident, she stated that the records did not exist. However, the records were produced in subsequent requests to the city and other state officials.
“While every resident should have access to public records, this case is even more troubling because a member of the press was denied access. Media play a vital role in disseminating information to our communities and investigating critical issues. By blocking access to a reporter, officials in Newton Falls silenced this public discussion,” Link added.
Most of the records requested by the freelance reporter centered around the Newton Falls Police Department. Some of the records included fuel logs for police cruisers, firearms licenses, and inventory assessments of assets of the police department. Officials from Newton Falls repeatedly claimed there were no records for these requests or that they could not fulfill the request because of security concerns, despite Ohio law classifying these as public records.
Link concluded, “When residents want to obtain information on their local government, they should not be given the run around and blocked at every pass. Rather than place obstacles, officials in Newton Falls should work with residents and the media to encourage a greater understanding and interest in local government.”