The Ohio Auditor of State issued 14 citations against public agencies in Montgomery County last year for running afoul of state public records rules, more than in any other county in Ohio.
Problems identified ranged from not having a public records policy to improperly releasing someone’s Social Security number in response to a records request. They occurred at cities, townships, charter schools and entities such as cemeteries.
This is according to a report released Sunday that says the 321 public records citations issued to 267 entities across Ohio last year was a 22 percent drop from the year before. The issues were identified as part of routine state audits of 4,803 public agencies last year.
The annual report was released to coincide with National Sunshine Week March 11-17, which raises awareness of the importance of open government and transparency.
Most citations last year stemmed from officials failing to attend state-mandated public records training, lacking public records policies or not making policies available to the public.
“I can understand a bookkeeping error – mistakes happen,” State Auditor Dave Yost said in a statement. “But there’s no justification for violating the clear law of public records.”
Four Montgomery County charter schools were cited for not having a proper records retention policy.
The largest local government dinged for public records problems was Huber Heights, which the auditor’s office found improperly released someone’s Social Security number in response to a records requests.
Anthony Rodgers, city clerk of council, said the city was providing contractor salaries as part of a records request and missed redaction of one Social Security number on one page.
“It wasn’t a systematic problem or anything. It was an isolated situation,” he said. He said both the worker and the records recipient were notified of the mistake.
The report says New Carlisle officials failed to attend required public records training, making it one of five public entities to receive six combined citations in Clark County.
New Carlisle City Manager Randy Bridge said he attended the training as required but a “miscommunication” led to the council not getting credit for it. He said it was fixed and didn’t surface as an issue in their most recent audit released this year.
In Butler County, the village of Millville was cited both for not adopting a formal public records policy and for keeping incomplete minutes of village meetings.
Butler Twp. in Montgomery County also received two citations: one for trustees not attending public records training and another for not keeping documentation of a $25 expenditure.
Township Administrator Erika Vogel said they came into compliance with training requirements and that the $25 charge was an online purchase for supplies by the former police chief for which they can’t find the receipt.
“That was just one that fell through the cracks,” she said.
Yost’s report noted villages received a disproportionate number of violations, followed by townships.
“Message to public officials: These are not your records,” Yost said. “These are public records, and it is the law. You need to do whatever it takes to remind yourself to comply. And there’s training available to help you.”
Number of public records law citations in state audits of local governments in 2017, by county:
Source: Ohio Auditor of State