This is Sunshine Week, a national celebration of access to public information and government transparency. It will be negligibly observed March 10-16 by those precious few Americans who give a rat’s behind about what they pay for on the local, state and national levels.

Sunshine Week is a time to give thanks that we are not yet a kakistocracy (government by the least suitable or competent citizens of a state).

We’re getting closer every day, mind you.

Ohio attorney general and former state auditor Dave Yost kicked off Sunshine Week by releasing the 2019 edition of the Sunshine Laws Manual, a one-stop resource for information on the Ohio Public Records and Open Meetings Acts.

It is my experienced opinion that there are far more public officials who have not read the “Yellow Book” than those who have. In fact, I doubt one in 10 public officials can name the relatively few reasons for an acceptable executive session without calling legal counsel.

“Most days, what happens at city hall or the county courthouse has much more impact on your life than the latest installment of outrage from Washington, D.C.,” Yost said this week in a news release. “Our ability as a people to stay informed and hold local politicians accountable hinges on the freedom to access government information through public records and open meetings.”

That all sounds well and good. But as the Cincinnati City Council Gang of Five – and other public office-holders have demonstrated time and again – Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, Open Meetings Act and public records access are often more of a political sideshow than a real, enforced policy for all citizens. The Queen City doesn’t have a corner on the abuses, either.

In a column today at http://sunshineweek.org/ and headlined “Public officials must be transparent at all times,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos wrote: “Transparency isn’t just a buzzword, or something we should do as government officials. It is a requirement, that all power being originally inherent in and consequently derived from the people, therefore, all officers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants; and at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.

“We must never forget that in government, our boss is the public.”

Indeed.

Cincinnati’s Gang of Five are the most recent and most obvious of public officials who have forgotten – or simply ignored – this basic tenet of good government. There are others who have acted in similar disgrace.

Ohio’s Public Records and Open Meetings laws, collectively known as the “Sunshine Laws,” give Ohioans access to government meetings and records. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office purportedly helps public officials and citizens understand their rights and responsibilities under these laws. (Forgive my cynicism.) For more on Sunshine Week, go to http://sunshineweek.org/.

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Speaking of public officials, the city of Hillsboro is losing a good one this week.

Hillsboro City Council president pro tempore Justin Harsha said today that Lee Koogler is resigning as Hillsboro City Council president.

That’s unfortunate for Hillsboro citizens and taxpayers.

In a statement presented at the March 11 council meeting, Koogler said: “Due to health issues and family considerations, I formally resign as president of Hillsboro City Council, effective immediately. I consider public service an honor and responsibility of the highest degree. I truly appreciate the trust and support of the citizens of Hillsboro over my years of service. However, at this time, my attention to myself and my family is of greater importance. I hope everyone will respect my desire for privacy at this time, and I will not offer any further public comment.”

In my opinion, Lee Koogler has earned his desire for privacy as well as the community’s respect.

Koogler was re-elected in November 2017 for a fourth term on city council – the third as council president – with his current term set to expire Dec. 31, 2021.

The Highland County Press endorsed Koogler on Oct. 24, 2017 for president of council. I noted that Koogler “has been a voice of reason in an often difficult and contentious position on city council. Given the many dubious distractions associated with the city administration over the past five-plus years, citizens, taxpayers and voters ought to appreciate Mr. Koogler’s efforts – many of which aren’t always publicized. He deserves your complimentary vote.”

Regardless of what you may have heard related to Koogler’s resignation, I stand by that 2017 endorsement. I also wish the best for the former president of council and his family.

Highland County Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Kevin Greer administered the oath of office for Koogler in December 2017. Judge Greer told Koogler (along with council members Justin Harsha and Adam Wilkin) “Don’t let the people that try to give an opinion with less than half the facts change your mind on how you should decide things, and I think everything will work out.”

The judge added: “We’re fortunate because you’re all, in my opinion, independent thinkers. You don’t go along just to get along. It’s rather tough times, really, and we appreciate good people with solid families and people that can reason problems through to be on council.”

Koogler certainly did that – and more – for the city. Not always, but often enough, he worked with an adversarial administration and members of his own political party who were off on their own agenda. (By their own admission.)

In October 2018, I offered this: If I were the president of council, I’d have a difficult time showing up for the monthly circus. There are probably a million good reasons for Lee Koogler to resign as council president. That’s totally understandable given the actions of some in city government. But with that said, I hope Lee continues as council president and I thank him for his integrity and public service.

Whether city voters – and taxpayers – realize it or not, Lee Koogler was one of the few remaining voices of reason in city government. I’ll include City Auditor Gary Lewis and three other honorable members of council (I’m sure they’re better off not being named here) in that observation.

Former Hillsboro Mayors Betty Bishop and Dick Zink tried to warn us. But very few listened.

According to the Highland County Board of Elections, for the council president’s seat: In odd-numbered years, “If a vacancy occurs in any of these municipal elective offices more than 40 days before the next general election in an odd-numbered year, a successor shall be chosen at that election to fill the unexpired term, provided the term does not expire within one year from the day of the election.”

It will be interesting to see if the popular kids’ political party chooses to play more musical chair politics that ends up with not one change on city council, but two. Who knows? Maybe they’ll send someone already rejected by popular vote back on council.

It would probably serve us right.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press, Highland County’s only locally owned and operated newspaper. Related story: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Lee-Koogler-resigns-as-Hillsboro-City-Council-president/2/20/49211