By CHRISTINE HENDERSON
Mercer County public employees scored 100 percent compliance with Ohio's so-called Sunshine Law while Ohio counties as a whole were only at 50 percent.
The county was only one of two counties in the state who gave out all of the public records sought, without question or delay in a statewide check on April 21 of how well public officials comply with the public records law. The audit was sponsored by the Ohio Newspaper Association and coordinated by The Associated Press.
Ohio's law requires public entities and officials to provide records, with limited exceptions, on how they spend the public's money and/or take official action to anyone who asks. Those asking for public records do not have to give names or reasons. If copies are requested, officials can charge only the cost to produce them.
Armed with a shopping list of public documents and a requirement not to reveal my media connection, I talked with whoever came to the front counters at Celina City Schools, Celina Police Department and the city of Celina. While government workers expressed some curiosity, sometimes lots of curiosity about my reasons, they granted all records immediately and with courtesy.
Mercer County scored a perfect six. All six public documents wanted were immediately provided. The Auglaize County volunteer auditor was granted the five documents that were correctly requested. Darke County officials granted four documents immediately and two with conditions. In Mercer County, Carolyn Kohrieser, Mercer County commissioners' secretary, provided the most recent commissioner meeting minutes and made a copy of the page requested. She asked no questions.
Pat Smith, Celina auditor, was curious and did ask my name and reason for seeking the information. This questioning did not appear to be a requirement for getting the data, though. Smith was already handing over the police chief's salary and the mayor expense report when he asked.
Dispatcher Ricky German at the Celina Police Department also asked for my name. She asked if I was with The Daily Standard before providing a copy of the incident reports from the previous shift.
Celina Police Department was the only agency charging to copy the one-page sought. The department charges $2 for incident reports. Still, German went out of her way to be sure I immediately got the accident report copy I sought.
At the office of the Celina City Schools treasurer, Connie Rose quickly grabbed the treasurer's phone bill off her desk when I asked to see it -- and handed it to me. She made a copy of the bill when I asked for it.
R. Scott Braun had more difficulty coming up with documentation for the salary of the superintendent. He was more than ready to tell me the amount, but finding the paperwork was harder. He did, though, find minutes for the meeting when the amount was approved.
Government workers in Mercer County seem well aware of the law granting access to the public of most records and are willing to comply.
-- Henderson of Shelby County works as a page designer at The Daily Standard.