Letter to the Editor: There are 2 sides in public-records debate

It's not just Ohio gun owners who have concerns about the media's rampant abuse of open records, and shameless advocacy via biased reporting.

March 25, 2005
Columbus Dispatch

I salute The Dispatch for again raising debate on public records by focusing on the issue in the March 13 newspaper. Clearly, the editors support House Bill 9, sponsored by Rep. W. Scott Oelslager, R-Canton. One didn’t have to wade too far into the six stories to know why the paper feels Ohio needs the legislation. It was evident by the biased reporting. Then the editorial "Focus on Sunshine Week" confirmed it.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics says to "seek truth and report it." The code also says to "distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context."

Only the editorial page was identified as commentary. The newspaper certainly misrepresented the fact and context of testimony of three school communicators in one news story. All three school representatives testified to the House of Representatives’ Civil and Commercial Law Committee that they were strong supporters of the public’s right to know and supported several parts of House Bill 9, including the education portion. They said they take their role as keepers of the public’s records seriously.

Leah Mercer told of a personal incident when she was beset by a parent and feared for her own safety. The parent could easily obtain her home address through a public records request. Jeff Kursman provided examples of excessive public-records requests that were made to harass the district. Karen Derby told of a request for copies of all emails that contained one particular word. She said the proposed fines and limited time window are an enticement to financially exploit taxpayer dollars for personal gain.

Those witnesses and Columbus Police Sgt. Laura Stratton talked about receiving voluminous requests, involving thousands of copies, that were not picked up nor paid for, which cost the taxpayers money that could have gone to instruction or public safety.

With the advent of technology, one can type a phone number into an Internet search engine and obtain a map to someone’s house. Do school, municipal, township and state employees give up all rights of privacy simply because they are on the public payroll?

Most government bodies and public schools provide public records in a timely, lawful fashion. Thousands of public records are being shared each business day.

Remember, there are two sides to this story and readers deserve both.

Fred Pausch
Director of legislative services
Ohio School Boards Association


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