When it comes to public records, all of the Ohio colleges and universities we have contacted have thrown up as many barriers as they could, despite the Ohio Sunshine Laws that give Ohioans access to government meetings and records — free and anonymously.
Some — like Youngstown State University — claim not to understand our request and then move at snail speed once we explain. Others — like Kent State University — claim they don’t have the standard documents we seek and send us hyperlinks to documents that are not responsive to our requests. And others — like Cleveland State University — do their best to ignore us, then provide an incomplete response.
But so far, the response from Cuyahoga Community College has been the worst and is apparently in violation of Ohio law. During the past three months, we submitted several public records requests to Tri-C. And we recently received the two replies copied at the bottom of this post.
Tri-C’s legal staff doesn’t follow law or its own policies
Tri-C’s response to our first request asked us to pay $650 because of “the volume of records responsive to your request” and asked us “to remint [sic] a payment.” The second response, with a subject line that began “Draft For Your Review,” said our follow-up request was “not specific enough for the College to reasonably identify responsive records.” It cited a section of Ohio law that did not support its objection.
So despite the fact that Tri-C employs several individuals on its legal staff — that staff is apparently unable to compose emails with appropriate subject lines or correctly cite the Ohio Revised Code. We suggest that Tri-C’s legal counsel’s office review the Model Public Records Policy posted on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.
We disputed both of Tri-C’s claims with Tri-C’s legal counsel, citing Ohio law on the issue. And we have copied the Ohio Attorney General’s office on our emails. So far, we have not received a reply from either entity.
What the law says
In the case of Tri-C’s demand that we pay $650 for the documents we requested, Ohio law specifies that a public office may only charge its actual copying costs. It cannot charge for its own employees’ labor to copy or scan.
Despite that — and even though Tri-C’s own Public Records Request Form specifies that it will charge five cents per page for copies — Tri-C demanded 13 cents per page to cover “the cost to copy/scan the documents requested.”
In all of our public records requests, we have asked for digital copies, not paper copies, so there should be no copy charge. Most times, these documents are delivered by email. In the cases where the files were too large, they were burned to a CD and mailed to us at no charge, even though the institution could have asked us to pay for postage.
In the case of Tri-C’s claim that our request was “not specific enough,” on Aug. 30 we asked for clarification. The law mandates that public officials offer advice on how to revise the request so that it may be fulfilled. So far, Tri-C has not provided that, despite our request.
What we have requested
Between June 11 and Aug. 30, we have made a number of public records requests of institutions around the state. We will post all our requests on this page as time allows.
We have requested everything from lists of part-time faculty, their pay and their budgets; overall institutional budgets; sports budgets; lists of the top 50 highest paid employees; policies regarding part-time faculty employment; documents related to disputes of unemployment compensation; and more.
What we have received
So far, the institutions listed below have provided some of the records we requested. None has produced all of them. Some of the records are now posted at the links below; more will be forthcoming once we review them.
How we are using the documents
The documents we receive through our public records requests serve several purposes.
First, we are using them to help bolster the unemployment claims of part-time faculty.
Second, we are analyzing the data they provide to produce website posts such as the following, which we have publicized through Facebook and Twitter to generate hundreds of hits on our website:
FW: Public Records Request
From: Richard, Renee <Renee.Richard@tri-c.edu> Aug 29 (1 day ago)
cc: McDonald, Dannita <Dannita.McDonald@tri-c.edu>,
Northcraft, Sarah <Sarah.Northcraft@tri-c.edu>
VIA EMAIL ONLY
Dear Requester: Due to the volume of records responsive to your request there is a fee to produce the documents. We will produce the requested documents to you at actual cost (13 cents per page). See RC 149.43(B)(1) At your earliest convenience, please provide a check payable to Cuyahoga Community College District in the amount of $650.00 (approximately 5000 pages at 13 cents a page) to cover the cost of the copy/scanning. Should the cost to copy/scan the documents requested be less than the amount requested herein, we will provide you with a refund of the difference between the amount paid and the actual cost. Should the actual cost exceed the amount requested herein, we will provide you with a copy of the final invoice indicating the total cost to copy/scan the originals and requesting you remint [sic] a payment for the balance. If you have any concerns or questions, please contact us.
Renee Tramble Richard Vice President and General Counsel
Cuyahoga Community College
700 Carnegie Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44115-2878
Office: 216.987.4865 Cell: 216.403.6822 Fax: 216.987.4895
DRAFT FOR YOUR REVIEW: Public Records Request
From: Legal Services Aug. 29, 2013 11:52 AM (2 hours ago)
VIA EMAIL ONLY
The below request is not specific enough for the College to reasonably identify responsive records. See RC 149.011(A)
Please revise and resubmit the request.
Paralegal – Office of General Counsel and Legal Services
Cuyahoga Community College- District Office
700 Carnegie Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115
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