The elevator went to the fifth floor at Akron City Hall.
And that’s as far as it got in an unsuccessful attempt to view public records as part of a statewide review of open records law compliance.
Akron City Hall was the only place in the Akron Beacon Journal’s five-county circulation area where an attempt to inspect public records in person failed.
The public can easily walk into the municipal building. But to get access to offices and officials, people need to be buzzed in through locked doors in the lobbies. (Employees use a keypad to unlock doors.) The city provides lobby telephones and directories so people can call the office they need and ask to come in.
But in this one instance, an unidentified city employee in the finance office denied a request to review publicly available records — the police chief’s salary and the mayor’s latest expense report — and hung up during a conversation on the fifth floor lobby telephone.
The employee, a woman, said a public records request needed to be made first, did not unlock the door and then hung up after a visitor said he was making the records request in person as allowed by law. No one answered the finance office telephone when it was redialed. The visitor, an Akron Beacon Journal reporter taking part in the statewide records audit, then left.
The city provided a different account.
Akron city spokeswoman Stephanie York said the city finance director, Diane Miller- Dawson, told York she was the person who picked up the telephone and that the conversation went differently. Miller-Dawson said she told the person on the lobby phone to make the records request to the city law office and then hung up to come out to the lobby and speak with the person. York said Miller-Dawson told her she also went to City Council chambers to see if the visitor went there seeking the records. York said public records requests normally would go through the law department first.
Meanwhile, a top Akron Public Schools official and staff readily provided expense report records and a budget document showing the superintendent’s salary. Other Akron-area agencies also made available public records or showed where they could be found online.
Three Beacon Journal reporters — Jim Mackinnon, Rich Heldenfels and Kim Hone-McMahan — participated in a statewide test of Ohio’s open records law undertaken the week of April 21 by the Ohio Coalition for Open Government, with work done by members of the Ohio Newspaper Association and the Ohio Association of Broadcasters. Ohio University journalism faculty also coordinated the information.
The statewide results found that public employees complied with 90 percent of the records requests — a much higher percentage than a similar test in 2004.
The news staff who conducted the records audits did not disclose their names or their jobs to public employees. The auditors were to act as members of the general public and told to be patient and not get argumentative if a public records request became difficult.
Mackinnon did in-person audits at Akron City Hall, the Akron Police Department, Summit County Council and Akron Public Schools. Hone-McMahan did public records requests via email. Heldenfels did in-person audits in Richland County.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.