Open Government and Public Record Access

Open government leads to a better-informed citizenry, greater public participation in government, better public policy, and more effective use of public resources.

With this in mind, my council colleague Meghan George and I are proposing an Access to Public Records policy, to ensure the preservation and public accessibility of records.

Having a chapter of our code dedicated to public records would not make Lakewood unique, nor is it intended to invalidate the city’s current records process by which many in the community have been well served. In fact, an important objective of this proposed legislation is to maintain and reinforce important portions of the city’s current Public Records Policy by codifying them into permanent law. Some of these include:

  1. Not requiring requesters identify themselves and not making them give a reason for the request, as conditions to obtain public documents
  2. Not limiting the number of requests made by any one individual.
  3. Only charging for the cost to produce and mail requested documents.
  4. Ensuring that requests can be made to any city employee, at any time, by any means.

New objectives of this proposed legislation include:

  1. Create a public records request web portal that is easy to use, up to date and interactive that will allow the public to:
    • Easily and quickly submit specific requests in one place.
    • Allow for anonymity.
    • Track requests in real time.
    • Fulfill the request.
    • Store all requests for review, reporting, and public search.
  2. Two-day response time to initially respond to a request.
  3. Strengthen provisions around redactions and exemptions, to make sure we are withholding only what is absolutely necessary.
  4. Appointment of a city employee as Public Records Administrator.
  5. Mandate public records training for top officials.
  6. List types of records and information open to the public (non-exhaustive).

This ordinance was influenced by advancements in information technology, by other municipalities’ laws, by input from experts in the community, as well as by our own County’s Public Records Policy. We intend that Lakewood city should strictly adhere to all of its obligations under Ohio’s Public Records Law, and to exceed those obligations whenever it is practical and makes sense to do so.

We are encouraged to see the city embracing technology like the city’s mobile app, Police-2-Citizen web portal and the building department’s soon-to-go-live Citizen Access program. An online public records access platform is a natural complement to the city’s growing digital services.

We feel strongly that not only should we have a chapter in our code dedicated to the extremely important topic of public records, but that we continue to leverage technology to make the public records request process more transparent and easier to use.

We will post a link to the public agenda for the May 20th meeting, which will include this piece of legislation, as soon as this is available.