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State must surrender public records now

More and more, government officials at all levels seem to have adopted a new philosophy about laws requiring them to turn over public records when they are requested: Just say no. Then, prodded by promises to take them to court if they continue breaking the law, some officials drag their feet as long as they can get away with it.

Officials in the Ohio Department of Education should not be allowed to do that.

In July, DOE School Choice Director David Hansen was permitted to resign after he admitted he had doctored reports on charter school evaluations. Hansen said he had excluded failing grades for some online and dropout recovery schools because he did not want to “mask” the institutions’ other successes.

In other words, Hansen covered for the schools, making them appear much more effective than they were.

Questions arose quickly about whether Hansen was telling the truth when he claimed he acted on his own. Some news organizations and legislators have asked the DOE for copies of Hansen’s communications, to see whether there was collusion with others.

But the DOE has not provided the information. A spokeswoman insisted this week the agency plans to do so. Requests for the records “are in motion,” she added.

If so, the motion has been very, very slow.

Information on how taxpayers’ dollars are spent on schools – everything from official emails to standardized test results – is public record. DOE officials should turn over the Hansen communications immediately.

Why should it take a new “czar” to force government officials to obey the law in both letter and spirit? And more to the point, why should Americans believe the bureaucrats will do that, just because of a public relations stunt by Secretary of State John Kerry?

The State Department’s foot-dragging on release of documents – including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails – has become notorious. Officials there do not seem to care that the law requires complete, expeditious release of most public documents.

On Tuesday, Kerry announced he has appointed a “transparency coordinator” – a “czar” in Washington parlance – to streamline how the agency handles Freedom of Information Act requests. She is supposed to implement new recommendations on retaining and releasing public records.

Again, why is a new high-level bureaucrat needed to tell everyone at the State Department to obey the law? And as far as recommendations go, what’s wrong with doing what the law mandates?

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