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Undercover work getting harder for ‘Sunshine police’

March 21, 2010
Morning Journal News

The third week of March gives us more than just St. Patrick's Day to celebrate at the Morning Journal. That week is usually designated as Sunshine Week by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and this year it was celebrated March 14 through today.

Each year Mojo reporters spend the week gathering information for a records audit to see how well local officials are complying with the Ohio Open Records Law. We've been doing this for several years now, and people are catching on to our clandestine techniques. Upon seeing one of our staff members this year, one local official exclaimed, "Oh no, we've been attacked by the Sunshine Law people."

In many instances our staff members were recognized, but it's difficult to be incognito when most of our reporters have between 10 and 30 years of local newspaper experience.

Nevertheless, we still try not to blatantly reveal our identities so that our staff could see what types of problems the general public might encounter when requesting public records. Journalists are used to asking for information and most (but not all) officials readily comply with our requests. Seeking public records is supposed to be as easy for private citizens as it is for journalists.

Even though Sunshine Week has been developed by those involved with newspapers, it's the general public which sees the most benefit of open government and should be the most vigilant in protecting the public's right to know.

We're saddened when it seems that many of our attempts to bring government operations into the open are met with disdain by government leaders, apathy from the general public and sometimes rejection by the judicial system.

Nevertheless, we consider this to be one of journalism's greatest roles - that of providing a watchdog on government.

A full account of each Morning Journal reporter's records quest begins on Page 1, along with the information gathered this year.

And, you should be happy to know that everyone charged with keeping the books in our local municipalities received high marks from our reporters for being in compliance with the Ohio Open Records Law.

Now, if we could just get the elected officials to be as vigilant about complying with the Open Meetings Law, it would be very sunny in Columbiana County.



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