Sunshine Week: 12 examples of how we use public records to show what’s really going on

Ohio’s public records laws and open meetings act make democracy possible. They allow voters and taxpayers to hold elected leaders accountable and understand how government decisions are made and public money is being spent.

These laws are often referred to as “sunshine laws,” after a quote by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis more than 100 years ago: “Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant. If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.”

This week is National Sunshine Week, an opportunity to reflect on the importance of these laws.

The Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun and Journal-News use public records laws every day. Here are a dozen recent examples of how our reporters use these laws to shed light on issues of public importance.

1. Records obtained from the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office shed light on an ongoing investigation involving Montgomery County Clerk of Courts Mike Foley.

2. Police records routinely shed light on the actions of law enforcement officers, like what led to a recent arrest in Butler Twp that is now under investigation by state and federal officials.

3. Emails and other records showed how the number of employees at Speedway’s former corporate headquarters in Clark County fell below what’s required under the terms of a tax abatement awarded to the company in 2018.

4. Journal-News reporters obtained records revealing that the president of Miami University has two houses.

5. Springfield News-Sun reporters obtained records revealing violations of Ohio ethics law by a former Clark County development director.

6. Huber Heights code enforcement records and court records aided a report on the experiences by local renters and agencies with VineBrook Homes, one of the region’s largest landlords.

7. Personnel records, police records and court recordsunsealed because of a story by the Dayton Daily News — revealed the details behind a criminal investigation and charges against a Montgomery County assistant prosecutor.

8. Reporters have used numerous types of public records to track how local governments are spending more than $1 billion in federal COVID relief funds.

9. Reporters revealed the scope of local mailbox thefts using records obtained from local law enforcement.

10. The Dayton Daily News reported last year how reporters used public records to reveal suspected fraud in a federally funded rental assistance program administered by Montgomery County.

11. Records obtained by Dayton Daily News shed light on how a Wayne Local Schools employee was not paying income taxes for employees and how much it cost the Waynesville village.

12. Reporters obtained records from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and Central State University showing how much Central State spent on investigation into its president.

Public records aren’t just for journalists. Anyone can use them to obtain records from their local government. You can learn about Ohio sunshine laws and how to use them with the newly updated Ohio Yellow Book released by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

If you know of public records our reporters should request to shed light on an important issue, fill out the form below.

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