Government transparency vital to build public trust

ONE of the hallmarks of good government in a democracy is transparency. That involves the public’s right to know regarding the various entities of local government.

Transparency applies to public records, such as property records and salaries of elected officials and government employees, and arrest and incident reports by police. These records ensure that residents in a community have access to information to help keep government accountable, particularly with taxpayer money.

Transparency and the public’s right to know are central to a lawsuit filed recently by former Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown against Columbus Police Department Chief Jon Rohde for what she alleges is a violation of the state’s public-records law.

Brown contends that the police department did not fulfill her formal request for a public-incident report. The matter was regarding an incident involving a former county jail commander and a county parole supervisor that occurred Aug. 23, 2016. Eleven days after the seven-day state statute deadline for responding to a public-records request, Brown was given material that she contends did not contain all the factual circumstances and descriptions of injuries, property or weapons involved from the Aug. 23 matter.

Brown maintains additional information should have been in the reporting officer’s narrative, which by law the department is required to keep.

Subsequently, Brown filed a complaint with the state’s public access counselor, who sided with Brown. Luke Britt said that a public-incident report the police department gave to Brown did not meet the requirements of state statutes, and that any additional information the department has per her request should be turned over to her.

The former mayor contends that either the police department failed to follow protocol or is withholding information.

In its reply, the Columbus Police Department said it turned over all the information it had.

Columbus City Attorney Alan Whitted, in a response to the public access counselor, asserted that the city was not required to generate documentation about the Aug. 23 incident because no one was arrested, summoned to court or jailed.

The city also contends that no requirement existed for producing a document under state statute, so a complaint about a violation of state law is unfounded.

A judge will have to decide which assessment is correct.

We believe that public entities, such as local governmental offices and law enforcement, should always strive for the utmost transparency.

That means being forthcoming and making it easy for residents to get the information they seek. Doing so helps dispel ideas that anyone has a hidden agenda and wants to hide information, and in the process builds public trust.

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