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Ohio Democrats file public records suit in Ohio Supreme Court

GavelThursday afternoon, the Ohio Democratic Party filed suit in the Ohio Supreme Court to press Ohio Governor, John Kasich and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor to release public records.

The records in question are written communication between employees who resigned from Taylor’s office earlier in the year.

Democrats specifically requested records for correspondence between Taylor and her former chief-of-staff, Laura Johnson. They also seek correspondence between Johnson and assistant Heather Brandt in the events leading to the resignation of both staff members in early June.

Leadership of the Democratic Party said Kasich’s office had acknowledged receipt of the records request with an emailed letter. His staff has since decided to refuse to comply with the request and release the details.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman, Chris Redfern said Governor Kasich’s administration has stonewalled public records requests since he’s been in office. He rarely speaks to the press. Redfern pointed out that Kasich’s unwillingness to provide transparency or accountability of his administration is unconscionable.

He said it is their duty to the taxpayers of Ohio to release the records immediately so Ohioans can find out why these staffers left, including one who cited a “hostile work environment” in Taylor’s office.

It has been noted that the employees resigned after officials had discovered time cards that failed to match up with their parking records. They had essentially spent more time away from the office than their schedules had allowed. This was written in a letter by Taylor to the Ohio inspector general on June 5.

Each employee had submitted resignations letters the same week Taylor requested an investigation by the inspector general. Brandt reiterated in her resignation letter that a hostile work environment was the reason she had decided to resign.

On June 9, democrats had asked for the correspondence between the pair. They had also asked for correspondence between Johnson and Taylor from June 1 of 2013 to June 6, 2014. They had also asked for Taylor’s schedule according to the Democrat’s filed complaint.

Kasich’s office had followed up with their request a month later by providing Taylor’s work schedule. Republican leadership had requested clarification on what was meant by correspondence.

The Ohio Democratic Party Deputy Communications Director, Brian Hester said it was using the definition set forth by the Department of Administrative Services. Governor Kasich’s office stated that the request was currently processing. When Hester had followed up ten days later, Kasich’s Assistant Chief Counsel, Kevin O’Donnell Stanek said that the request had went longer than a year and there wasn’t much clarity of what correspondence was sought. The request had been too broad and they would not be able to comply with the request.

Similarly, the Ohio Republican Party filed suit in June against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald. It was their effort to force the Cuyaghoga County executive to release his key card data. FitzGerald has repeatedly refused the request. He continuously stated that releasing the information in question would pose a security risk and, due to this, would have to decline to comply.

Pennsylvania counties could save big with electronic storage

Data CenterA new law could save counties in Pennsylvania thousands of dollars by storing court records electronically. This law would help modernize storage and save money by limiting the process and storage of paper copies and microfilm.

State Senator Matt Smith said it will save the state a significant amount of tax dollars. It is estimated that Allegheny County alone could see a saving of $230,000 annually in storage costs. [Read more...]

Florida court restricts physician speech on gun ownership

HandgunA Florida appeals court stated on Friday that it is constitutional to restrict what a physician can tell its patients about gun ownership. The court said regulating professional conduct does not violate freedom of speech rights under the First Amendment.

Physicians caught breaking this law could be fined and lose their medical licenses.

The Florida appeals court upheld the law by a 2-1 decision as a protection of patient privacy rights. It said any limits imposed by it were incidental. [Read more...]

Records request consumes months of government resources

StressPublic records are designed to keep government agencies accountable for their actions and also to help individuals find information they need in the pursuit of personal, legal, and business pursuits. In theory, public records are the epitome of transparent government. In practice, public records do indeed serve this purpose, but the reality of carrying out a request can be much more daunting than one might initially think.

In December of 2013, for example, Port Orchard, Washington resident Randy Jones filed a public records requests asking for email correspondence details between a few very specific groups and [Read more...]

Massachusetts Governor vetoes MBTA retirement fund exemption

DeniedOn Friday, July 11, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed that state’s final 2015 budget. As part of his overall review and budget approval, the Governor chose to veto a provision that suggested the state’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) retirement fund be exempted from the state’s existing public records laws. His position was that his desire is to see greater transparency in government, and that this exemption would be a step in the wrong direction. [Read more...]

Bay County Appraiser warns residents about property assessment scam

MoneyThere is currently a mail solicitation circulating around the Bay County area from a company calling itself the “Record Transfer Services.” The company offers individuals a copy of their property assessment profile and a copy of the deed to their property for a fee of $83.

When news of this company reached Dan Sowell, Bay County Property Appraiser, he immediately posted a notice on his website to urge the public to save their money, and not fall for this scam because the information is readily available on his site at no cost to the inquirer. Sowell illustrated that on the bottom of the company’s solicitation, it reads that the information they’re providing is online. [Read more...]

Massachusetts SWAT teams don’t need to respond to public records requests

Police LineWhat does a SWAT team have in common with the Girl Scouts of America? It depends on whether they’re located in Massachusetts and the ACLU tries to get records out of them.

On June 24, the ACLU published the results of a year-long study into militarization and American police forces. To do so, it analyzed records of 800 separate SWAT deployments that occurred during 2011-2012 amongst 20 different federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. [Read more...]

Pennsylvania schools to get more transparent in the coming year

ApprovedWhat do Penn State, Temple, Pitt, and Lincoln universities have in common? They’re all classified as “state-related” universities, an affiliation that classifies them as schools which may soon have to report greater amounts of information to the state capitol in Harrisburg.

In 2008, the state established a Right-to-Know law, which explicitly outlined that commonwealth organizations can’t deny access to public records information unless another law would render the action illegal. Of course, the definition of which documents constitute public record is a different matter entirely. As a result of this potential wiggle room, the state legislature is currently voting on Senate Bill 444, which would require the four state affiliate universities to hugely increase the scope of which of their documents are considered public record. [Read more...]