Wednesday, December 17, 2014

AG Makes Sunshine Laws Training Available Online, Predicts Increased Participation

Attorney General Mike DeWine on Monday announced that training on Ohio's Sunshine Laws will now be available through an online module.  In the past, the three-hour training course required of public officials has been administered only in person and at regional sites, Mr. DeWine said, adding the requirement has proved inconvenient for many.  All Ohio elected officials or their designees are required to attend a session during each term of service. Since 2011, 80 trainings have been held for nearly 5,400 public officials, public employees, citizens, attorneys, and journalists, he said.  "However, as we've conducted these training sessions and answered emails and telephone calls from the public, the media and even representatives from state and local government, we've been reminded that many individuals simply aren't able to carve a day out of their busy schedules to travel and attend a three-hour course on Ohio's Sunshine Laws," Mr. DeWine said at a Columbus press conference.

The free online version of the training is broken down into 13 lessons so that individuals may take the classes at their own pace and in multiple sittings, he said. Upon completion, participants are given a certificate verifying the course completion.  The training is the same that attendees receive at in-person lessons because it is a video recording of one of those sessions. Mr. DeWine said, however, the online version would lack the give and take among the audience when the course is taken live. The website does, however, offer an option to email any questions or report technical issues with the site to the attorney general's office.

"Public access to government is the cornerstone of vital and participatory democracy," AG DeWine said. "Ohio's Sunshine Laws are among the most comprehensive open government laws in the nation. Promoting open and transparent government is a priority for our office, and I'm confident this new online format will increase convenience and accessibility to our Sunshine Laws training."  He said he hopes those who take the course in person continue to do that but the online approach would open it up more widely to the public.  "I think it's important that the public understands Sunshine Laws," the AG said. "We do handle through mediation some cases where we try to resolve them where a member of the public is asking a township clerk or township trustees for certain information.  "It's not just something that public officials need to understand. It is something that anybody who wants to follow their local government unit, whether it's a school board or township trustees, if they understand what their rights are and also what the limitations are.

Mr. DeWine said since June 2012 when the office started offering free public records mediation to resolve disputes between those who request records and the local public offices, it has received 170 requests for mediation. Of those 69 were resolved before going to mediation and 23 were fully or partially resolved through mediation.  "What we've found is that when people understand the law and what it really means, we resolve a good number of disputes because these disputes, I think, arise many times from people who don't really get it," he said.  "Sometimes it's city officials, sometimes it's members of the public, and we think that people will see this, have the opportunity to take the course...and it's going to really promote open government."

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