Archived Story

Board lets the ‘sunshine’ in

Published 12:00am Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ohio’s open records laws — commonly referred to as the Sunshine Laws — are better than those in many states, although there are still gray areas where the proverbial light doesn’t shine.

Oftentimes elected officials, public employees and government agencies try to live within these margins of the law, sometimes hesitant to release public documents for a variety of reasons including a lack of understanding and a misguided sense of privacy.

The Chesapeake Board of Education and Dr. James Payne, superintendent of the Lawrence County Educational Service Center, are certainly not among those, at least as far as a recent circumstance is concerned. Both should be commended for the willingness and effort to comply with the law and provide the transparency that those rules seek.

One of the biggest problems with Ohio’s open records laws is the vague language. It doesn’t clearly define how long a government agency has to provide public documents. The law is built upon the phrase “reasonable period of time,” but that could mean many things to many people.

The Tribune recently asked for — publicly and also through a formal written Freedom of Information Act request — public documents that included the applications turned into the Chesapeake school board by individuals seeking to become the district’s next superintendent.

Even when faced with a tight timeline, the school board, Payne, who was serving as interim superintendent, and consultant Cross Management Consulting, went above and beyond to provide this information quickly.

The formal request wasn’t delivered until Aug. 24, a Friday, and the documents were requested as soon as possible because the board was slated to meet Tuesday, Aug. 28.

By Tuesday afternoon Payne hand-delivered a nearly inch-tall stack of documents that were complete and thorough.

The board hired former Fairland superintendent Jerry McConnell later that night. It will be up to the taxpayers in the district to decide if the board made a good choice, but the applications show that he was at least among the most qualified candidates.

Ultimately, citizens should be proud of this process because the board and the others involved greatly promoted transparency.

Some people question why this information should be made public at all.

It all comes back to serving the taxpayers.

Full disclosure about the entire field seeking a position like this and details about the finalists help discourage favoritism, nepotism and political agendas. It also allows citizens and taxpayers to see the same information their elected officials use to make vital decisions.

Some people like to argue that making this information public damages those applying for a job.

It would only be potentially problematic if individuals seeking a position did not tell his or her current employer that he or she was looking at other opportunities.

That really isn’t the public’s concern.

Is that the kind of person who should be hired to lead a school district or government agency? How long before he or she starts looking to see if the grass is greener elsewhere?

Most people, when faced with an opportunity, want to handle it the right way and inform their employer that they’re at least interested. Employers are most often supportive of this and want their employees to do what is best. If that isn’t the case, it may be time for that individual to find a new job anyway.

Ohio’s Sunshine Laws are designed to ensure transparency and accountability. It doesn’t always work but it certainly did in this case. The taxpayers and parents in the Chesapeake School District are better for it.

 

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.

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