By Kourtney Husnick
In the process of reporting, The Cauldron requests public records from Cleveland State University through the Office of General Counsel for access to information such as budgets and police reports.
Because Cleveland State is a public university, the institution is subject to the state of Ohio’s freedom of information laws, or sunshine laws, some of which address the availability of public records and the process for handling them.
While reporting for recent issues, The Cauldron has come across several situations with the university’s Office of General Counsel that are inconsistent with Ohio Revised Code 149.43, which details the public records laws for the state.
On Friday, March 8, The Cauldron called the office to make a public records request over the phone.
“Can you make it in writing?” Sharon Dean, general counsel administrative secretary, asked immediately after the mention of public records.
When told no, Dean questioned if the request could be emailed.
The Cauldron explained that Cleveland State’s public records policy, as posted on the office’s website, allows for public records requests to be made by phone. Dean then asked if faxing the request was possible before letting our reporters make the request over the phone.
In another request attempt for different records on Tuesday, March 19, Dayrnice Chavis, the office administrator, told The Cauldron that public records requests had to be made online by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Again, The Cauldron explained the university’s public records policy and that Ohio’s laws require the ability to make oral requests.
“Well, we don’t take the phone calls,” Chavis said in response to that explanation. “It’s hard to field them. It’s hard to determine when you should do it, what’s the order. I mean, you can make it online, but it’s always better to get it in writing.”
After hanging up the phone, The Cauldron emailed as Chavis directed and included a request for comment regarding the situation along with the desired records.
Chavis left a voicemail shortly after the call saying The Cauldron could call back to request the records via the phone, but the correction still sparked concern for The Cauldron’s staff.
The law explicitly states that a public office or person responsible for public records may only ask a requester to make the request in writing “after disclosing to the requester that a written request is not mandatory.”
The Cauldron reached out to William Dube, the university’s director of communications and media relations, when no response to the request for comment was made.
“Per Cleveland State University policy and as required by the Ohio Public Records Act, which is posted on CSU’s public website, the Office of General Counsel accepts public records orally or in writing,” Dube responded.
No answer was provided as to why the policy was originally misunderstood by general counsel staff.