EATON — Recently, several members of the public have expressed displeasure with the Preble County/City of Eaton Dispatch Merger at Preble County Commissioners meetings. During their participation, some have requested public records. Eric Marit, Civil Attorney with the Preble County Prosecutor’s Office, attended the commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 13, to answer some questions the commissioners had on the subject.
“We have received five or six requests from last week’s meeting,” Commission Clerk Connie Crowell said. “They were a variety of requests and we normally send them down your way to formally answer them. I believe you answered the top one, because it wasn’t too broad.
“Then we received a request from Beth Cox during the meeting and Ellen Horton over email.”
Marit said, “This is more versed in an information request. When I look at this, I do not even see it as an attempt to make a public records request. If it is a public records request, it is not something we can answer, but I do not see it that way. They want [the commissioners] to go on public record answering these questions. It is not something you have to do, but it is something you can do.
“However, if her request was to make a public records request, then I would recommend that we are not required to answer information requests — we can only reply by records in response to a request for records.”
“I answered Ellen’s questions she answered via email and I just answered via email,” Commissioner Denise Robertson said. “I don’t think she is asking for anything on paper.”
“Generally speaking, when it comes to public records request, I suggest that you direct those to your public records custodian to respond,” Marit said.
Robertson asked, “So, we don’t have to respond? Should we respond as, ‘Do you have a public records request?’”
Marit answered that he is a fan of discourse and would encourage them to ask for clarification, if unsure. “I don’t think this was a public records request,” Marit repeated. “If she wanted you to answer her questions, then there was nothing you had to do.”
Day asked, “With that being said, if somebody answers these questions individually then they’re not speaking for the board? Unless it comes from the body here, it is a personal answer.”
“Yes, all governmental bodies speak through their resolutions, mostly,” Marit answered.
Day asked Crowell if she would respond to the other public records requests, and she answered she would. However, Marit clarified they only have to provide their own records — not the City of Eaton’s — but, the body does have a responsibility to get the requester in touch with the appropriate body to answer. Simply put, it is up to the Commissioners Office to get the requester in touch with the City of Eaton so he can request public records from them as well.
Public records can be requested verbally or through writing. The commission office must respond in a timely manner, but through email timeliness can be extended. If the public requests a contract, they can provide that quickly, but some responses will take more time.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH