In a recent interview with the Sandusky Register, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel said “I think it’s important for federal agencies to comply with the Freedom of Information act. “ “We need to have common sense disclosure and access to public records,” says Mandel.
While we agree with Mr. Mandel’s statements, disclosure and access to public records ARE important, we would be remiss if we did not point out that the actions of Mandel and his staff do not match these statements: Seth Metcalf, and the rest of Mandel’s staff, have been ignoring a record request from Plunderbund since the Spring.
On March 15th, 2012, exactly five months ago today, we sent a simple public record request to Seth Metcalf, Mandel’s General Counsel in the Treasurers Office, and to every other statewide office holder. Every other elected official has since responded, but after many attempts to contact his office, we have still received NO RESPONSE from Mandel. None. Zip. Not a single word.
And don’t think we were sitting on our hands just waiting for a reply.
We followed up with emails to Seth Metcalf (General Counsel), Seth Unger (Press Secretary) and the Constituent Affairs staff on March 15, April 11, April 12, April 27, April 30 and June 8 of this year. We also called and left voice mail messages for Mr. Metcalf on April 30th and on May 25th. On May 30, 2012 we sent a certified letter.
Again, we have received NO responses to these emails, no calls back on the voicemails and no response to the certified letter. Not. a. peep.
On the same day we sent the exact same request to every other statewide office holder in Ohio including the AG, the Governor, the Secretary of State and the Auditor. Within a week, every office had responded by acknowledging the request was received. Within a month, most offices had (with a little prodding) completely responded with responsive records
The Auditor’s office provided the fastest response, sending the first set of responsive records the following day, and sending the final set within three business days. The Auditor’s office also used an online delivery system for the large files so they didn’t add further delay and cost by having to burn and mail CDs.
The request was simple, asking for a copy of the log each office uses to track the record requests it receives, along with a copy of the requests themselves. The goal was to assemble a comparison of how each office responds to requests, how many are rejected, how long it takes to respond, etc.
Again, every office holder responded except for Josh Mandel.
Now I certainly understand that Mandel and his staff may not appreciate the coverage we’ve given them here at Plunderbund. And no doubt every other Republican office holder, especially the Governor’s office, certainly feels the same way. But that is not an excuse for breaking the law. And make no mistake, that is exactly what Mandel’s staff is currently doing by ignoring our request. You can not pick and choose which record requests you fulfill simply because you don’t like the person making the request.
The law is very clear on this matter. From R.C. 149.34 :
(B)(1) Upon request and subject to division (B)(8) of this section, all public records responsive to the request shall be promptly prepared and made available for inspection to any person at all reasonable times during regular business hours. Subject to division (B)(8) of this section, upon request, a public office or person responsible for public records shall make copies of the requested public record available at cost and within a reasonable period of time.
Under no circumstances is five months a reasonable period of time to respond to a public record request. Mandel and Metcalf both know this. And yet they have chosen to ignore our request for no apparent reason except, it seems, that they don’t like the coverage we’ve given Mandel and his campaign.
ODP has had similar problems with Mandel providing records, but in that case (or should I say 9 cases), a response was given – just an incomplete one. Of the many, many public record requests I have filed, I have never once had anyone completely ignore the request like Mandel and Metcalf are doing.
Josh Mandel can talk all he wants about the importance of disclosure and public records, but it’s all just meaningless BS as long as his office continues to ignore requests from any of his constituents – even the ones he may not particularly like.
Plunderbund is currently working with legal counsel to plan our next steps, which may include a mandamus action ordering Mandel’s office to comply with Ohio’s public records laws.