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From the Editor’s Desk: Obtaining public records from OU shouldn’t be an excessive waiting game

One hundred and nineteen days.

That’s how long The Post has been waiting on data to create our third annual salary guide. 

For the past two academic years, The Post has published a university-wide salary guide with the goal of making that financial information more readily accessible to the university community. Additionally, we believe our readers deserve to know what the salaries of those working at Ohio University look like while the university navigates a period of financial instability. The salary guides have propelled conversations about the university budget forward, and each one receives thousands of pageviews a month. We’ve even gotten multiple DMs on our social media platforms asking when the latest salary guide will be published. 

Under Ohio Revised Code, the Open Records Law gives any individual a right to the salaries we requested. Records, as defined by Ohio Revised Code, are “any document, device, or item, regardless of physical form or characteristic, including an electronic record . . . created or received by . . . any public office of the state or its political subdivisions, which serves to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the office."

However, one particular part of the Open Records Law can lead to frequent stonewalling of journalists in Ohio.

Under the statute, public offices are required to “promptly” prepare public records for inspection, and copies of public records are supposed to be made “within a reasonable period of time.” There is some court precedence that gives context to what “prompt” and “reasonable” timing is, but I’d be surprised to find an interpretation of “a reasonable period of time” that justifies 119 days.

The request for the name, title, academic title, organization and salary of all university employees for the past fiscal year was filed Oct. 12, 2021, and was acknowledged Oct. 13 of that same year. Since then, I have personally asked for multiple updates on the status of the request via email and, during virtual Teams meetings, Post editors have with those in University Communications and Marketing on a monthly basis. 

We were told during one of those meetings in 2021 that the salary guide information would not be prepared until after the new year, meaning the request would be unfulfilled for over two months. Then, on Wednesday, some of The Post’s executive and news editors were told the university will be releasing salaries on its own website. We were told we would get a link to the web page in return for our request. Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, also informed us the university’s salary website will have an option for viewers to download the data themselves.

Later Wednesday, Leatherwood said she was unsure if the data presented on OU’s salary webpage will be reflective of the academic, fiscal or calendar year — or any other sort of time period. She also said the webpage will be published in early March, with the date still being up in the air while data collection continues. So, if the university web page showcases data that is not from the fiscal year, it would be different from what was originally requested by The Post, leaving our request still unfulfilled. 

The university previously kept salaries on file at Alden Library, Leatherwood said, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for some individuals to easily obtain the data. Having the data online will help move the publication of university salaries into the 21st century, Leatherwood said.

The salaries of university executives were put online in 2020, and the move to put all university salaries online is a win for transparency. However, this victory seems minuscule in comparison to the 119 days we’ve waited to obtain our data.

While Leatherwood did confirm hours after the meeting between UCM and The Post that we will obtain a set of all university salaries ahead of OU’s web page going live, it’s worth noting we were only told this after I called Leatherwood and asked a few questions about the decision in preparation for writing my Editor’s Desk column. Without calling out the curious decisions surrounding this web page in my column, I’m unsure if we would have been given the courtesy of receiving the data we requested so long ago.

The stonewalling of journalists through delayed records requests is nothing new. It happens across the nation, and it’s something numerous Posties have experienced themselves. While I applaud the university for making salary data more accessible, records still need to be accessible to journalists within a reasonable time frame.

Abby Miller is a senior studying journalism and political science at Ohio University and the editor-in-chief of The Post. Have questions? Email Abby at am166317@ohio.edu or tweet her @abblawrence.

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