How the public records audit was conducted

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 12, 2004

CLEVELAND (AP) - Work on an audit of Ohio's public records started when a committee of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government decided it wanted to gauge access to public records.

The coalition last fall appointed Tom O'Hara, managing editor of The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, and Tom Gaumer, editor of computer-assisted reporting for The Plain Dealer, to lead the effort. The coalition was formed by the Ohio Newspaper Association, a trade organization established in 1933 that represents 83 daily and 163 weekly newspapers.

The first task was to find people to cover all 88 Ohio counties. More than 90 people representing 42 newspapers, two radio stations, The Associated Press, the University of Dayton and Ohio University took part. The committee looked for auditors who would not be recognized, so as to reflect the experience a citizen would have seeking a public record.

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The committee decided to seek records that would be available in counties of all sizes. Three media lawyers agreed the records being sought were public. The committee wanted to measure access to public records in Ohio after seeing the results of surveys done in other states.

Gaumer in March conducted nearly a dozen briefing sessions around the state to ensure auditors acted consistently. The survey was done April 21, although some auditors sought records near that date. Results were entered by auditors on a Web site created by The Columbus Dispatch. David Knox, computer-assisted reporting manager of the Akron Beacon Journal, compiled, clarified and analyzed the information.

Survey results were adjusted for varying factors, including whether the auditor was recognized as being a journalist.