Skip to main content

Why the secrecy of a Greenfield council meeting?

The Highland County Press - Staff Photo - Create Article
Rory Ryan

By Rory Ryan
The Highland County Press

It's been 20 years since the Ohio Coalition for Open Government published its initial investigative results on government offices' compliance with public records requests.

According to former Ohio Auditor and current Attorney General Dave Yost, only 60 percent of Ohio cities responded promptly to a request for public records by the auditor’s office in advance of Sunshine Week a decade ago.

“The good news is, six out of 10 cities responded to our request within the reasonable time we specified,” Yost said. “Many of them did it in only one or two days, several even the same day. The bad news is, far too many cities failed timely responses. A very few failed to respond at all, despite three additional requests.”

The auditor’s office made a request for payroll records of all 247 cities in Ohio, as part of an effort to evaluate the format of electronic records and the ease of use and access to payroll records, which typically represent the majority of spending by local governments – close to 80 percent of revenues, in some cases.

"If my office gets only 60 percent, what is the response rate for a lone citizen?” Yost asked.

From personal experience, I can answer the question: Not good.

On those past occasions during my earlier years when public records requests were ignored, I came up with an idea. (Maybe it wasn't an original idea, but it was mine.) If a public records request were denied, I would inform the public official of three things that were as certain as rain in southern Ohio:

• I will publish a story about your denial of public records.

• I will publish a column about it.

• And I will – ultimately – receive the records as requested and publish that information.

We can do it the easy way or the hard way. It's up to you.

That approach has served me well for the past three-plus decades in this business. But what about a private citizen's request? How many people simply take "no" for an answer and forget about it? 

The Ohio’s Public Records Act provides that "Every public office must promptly prepare and make available for inspection and copying all public records at all reasonable times, during regular business hours." 

With few exceptions, virtually any record kept by a public office, whether it's paper, computer file, film or in any other form, including electronic, is in fact a public record and available to the public.

According to the Ohio Revised Code, "public record means any document regardless of physical form, including an electronic record, created or received by or coming under the jurisdiction of any public office, which serves to document the activities of the office." (ORC Sec. 149.43, April 5, 2024.) 

A public official's salary? Public record. Revenues and expenses? Public records. Recordings of public meetings? Public record.

Which brings us to an online link to the audio recording of the May 24 Greenfield Village Council meeting.

While making six requests for the minutes to a 57-minute May 24 council meeting with only one notable action taken, I was provided an online link to the audio recording of the meeting. I listened to it, but the audio was often inaudible. I was able to use quotes from two members of council. I also included a link to the recording on our website at…

Later, council clerk Katherine Blumenberg informed me (via a public record) as follows: "I have reviewed your recent updates to The Highland County Press article about the meeting from earlier today. For clarity, the Google Drive link I provided for you was to enable you to download the audio recording with as much ease and convenience as possible; Google Drive is simply the most accessible way to move such large media files. However, the link to that Google Drive itself was not approved to be published for the public, per the city solicitor’s advice. I am only reaching out after business hours due to the urgent concern of an unauthorized link being used for the publication. At this time, I have disabled the previously provided link; if you’d like a fresh link for download, please feel free to reach back out. I won’t be available to answer further emails until after the weekend, but I’ll be more than happy to supply a new link first thing Tuesday, if necessary."
"On an additional note of correction: your updated article states that you have made multiple requests for the meeting minutes; I have received only one official request from your office, with one additional follow-up email regarding the status of the transcription; I presume this was a matter of inattentive word choice rather than misleading reporting."

No, it was not a "matter of inattentive word choice rather than misleading reporting." I have made six separate requests to village officials for the council meeting minutes. Those requests were made to the clerk, council president and city manager. To be clear, the clerk reports to council not to the city manager.

In the absence of those minutes, I thought – and still maintain – that Greenfield residents have a right to hear their elected representatives' deliberations. Why the secrecy?

Having tried to live a good and decent life and not become a lawyer, I will allow that I do not understand the Google Drive process. However, I do believe the recording itself ought to be available to the public, not just local media. According to Google Docs, to make a document, spreadsheet or presentation available for a large audience to see, publish the file. After you publish your file, you can send a new URL to anyone or embed it into your website. Based on the account’s settings, when you publish a file, you can make it visible to everyone. You can also adjust the permission settings to make it public – but not editable. 

And of course, the village also posts its council meetings on social media, e.g.

To the clerk's credit, she did inform me that the minutes will be available on May 30. That's fine.

Meanwhile, it is unfortunate that Greenfield residents are denied the opportunity to listen to their representatives during a public meeting.

Let the sun shine in on this cloudy May Day.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press, Highland County's only locally owned and operated newspaper.

Add new comment

This is not for publication.
This is not for publication.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
Article comments are not posted immediately to the Web site. Each submission must be approved by the Web site editor, who may edit content for appropriateness. There may be a delay of 24-48 hours for any submission while the web site editor reviews and approves it. Note: All information on this form is required. Your telephone number and email address is for our use only, and will not be attached to your comment.