I am a newly-elected public official. What are my obligations under the Public Records Act?
All elected officials in the state of Ohio, or their appropriate designees, are required to attend training approved by the Attorney General once per elected term. Ohio Revised Code (ORC) Section 109.43. The purpose of this training is to ensure that all employees of public offices are appropriately educated about their obligations under the Public Records Act. The training is intended to enhance officials’ knowledge of their duty to provide access to public records, and to provide guidance in updating their offices’ public records policies.
How can I meet this requirement?
As required by the Ohio Revised Code, the Attorney General develops, provides and certifies Public Records training programs and seminars for all elected officials or their designees. Currently, only the Attorney General’s Office and the Auditor of State offer the approved training program for elected officials. The Attorney General’s Office may not charge a fee to attend the training programs it conducts, and all of the three-hour elected official trainings are certified for three hours of Continuing Legal Education Credits. ORC 109.43(B)-(D). Schedules for these training programs are available online at http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Legal/Sunshine-Laws/Sunshine-Law-Training. You can also take the entire training online at your own pace at https://sunshinelaw.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/. Note: Attendance at any public records program offered by an entity other than the Attorney General or Auditor of State will not satisfy this requirement, and a public official would still be required to attend an approved training.
If I have been appointed to complete a prior elected official’s term, and that official was already certified, do I still have to attend the training?
Per statute, training shall be three hours for every term of office for which the elected official was appointed or elected to the public office. Therefore, an official who is appointed to fill an elected official’s place is still subject to the requirements of the act, even if the predecessor had already satisfied this requirement. ORC 109.43(B), (E)(1).
How can I prove that I have satisfied this requirement? Who should I report to?
Compliance with this training program will be audited by the Auditor of State in the course of a regular financial audit. ORC 109.43(G). After attending a certified public records training program, offered by either the Attorney General or the Auditor of State, a public official or their designee will be mailed a certificate (or, if the course is completed online, the user will be able to save and/or print his or her certificate). This certificate offers proof that the public official or their designee attended an approved training program and should be saved with that office’s appropriate records.
Who is considered an “elected official” that is subject to this requirement under the Public Records Act?
The Ohio Revised Code broadly defines an “elected official” as “an official elected to local or statewide office.” Note, though, that the act explicitly states that an “elected official” does not include the chief justice or a justice of the supreme court, a judge of a court of appeals, court of common pleas, municipal court, county court or a clerk of any of those courts. ORC 109.43(A)(2).
Who is considered an appropriate “designee” under the Public Records Act?
The act states that a “[d]esignee” may be a designee of one elected public official or of all the elected officials of a public office if that public office includes more than one elected official. ORC 109.43(A)(1). The statute does not provide a definition of an “appropriate” designee, but the term implies an official or employee of the same public office with an appropriate connection to the training requirement.