Bringing transparency to government

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton wrote in a 1996 opinion the following:

One of the strengths of American government is the right of the public to know and understand the actions of their elected representatives. This includes not merely the right to know a government body’s final decision on a matter, but the ways and means by which those decisions were reached. There is great historical significance to this basic foundation of popular government, and our founding fathers keenly understood this principle.

James Madison clearly laid out this strength of our government when he said that:

“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps, both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” The Complete Madison, His Basic Writings (1988) 337 (Letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822).

Thomas Jefferson further expounded on this principle:

“The way to prevent [errors of] the people, is to go give them full information of their affairs throu’ the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right * * *.” 11 The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1955) 49 (Letter to Col. Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787).

White v. Clinton County Board of Commissioners, 76 Ohio St.3d 416 (1996)

It was to implement a public policy of transparency in government that the General Assembly enacted the Sunshine Laws, the Open Meetings Act and the Public Records Act. These laws provide the access to government the public requires to determine who is worthy of reelection and who must be put out of office.

Not all elected officials welcome public scrutiny. Some seem to regard the public as an adversary to whom information must be denied. Those officials fight tooth and nail to maintain obscurity, to conceal in darkness that which cannot bear the light of day. Those I have taken to court and compelled their compliance with the Sunshine Laws.

Others, such as township trustees, have precious little time to learn all the ins and outs of compliance with the Sunshine Laws. They must rely on the advice of the prosecutor’s office which has failed them in many respects. Sometimes a word to the wise is all that is required. Other times, a lawsuit has been necessary.

As Portage County Auditor, I will encourage more transparency in government with less litigation. I will set a different, non-adversarial regard for the public. The people deserve nothing less.