CLEVELAND - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio urged members of Cuyahoga County Council to adopt open meeting and public records policies that go beyond the minimum requirements imposed by state law. Ohio’s Sunshine Laws provide guidance to elected officials on their obligations to conduct business in public, but allows them to enact additional policies that expand the public’s access. Members of the media, advocates, and concerned citizens have expressed concern over transparency and accountability in the new government after a series of corruption scandals in past county government.
“The Council has a unique opportunity to remake the way our county governs itself,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “We have seen where ‘business as usual’ gets us, and the voters of Cuyahoga County demanded better. County officials should listen to voters and declare that all meetings will be open, detailed minutes will be kept at all meetings, and public records will be released quickly and efficiently.”
County council passed a temporary public records policy in early January 2011 that merely extended the previous county commissioners’ policy, and did not expand access beyond state minimum requirements.
‘While the Sunshine Laws are incredibly important guidelines for public officials, they do not ensure complete transparency,” added Link. “Several council members have already pledged openness, but the people deserve a written policy holding these officials accountable to their promises. Any use of executive session should be narrowly tailored for limited circumstances.”
Members of Cuyahoga County Council have recently been scrutinized for closed door meetings to decide on leadership positions, interviews of county Board of Revisions candidates, and the failure to maintain and release minutes of discussions of those interviews.
In a letter to council members, the ACLU also urged them to attend training on state Sunshine laws as soon as possible. The trainings are provided by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and are required of all state and local elected officials.
“Leaders must follow through on their campaign pledges and resist falling back into the status quo. It is also up to all residents of Cuyahoga County to urge officials to act transparently, and to hold them accountable for the public’s business,” Link concluded.