Public employees asked to provide common records during a statewide test of Ohio's open records laws in April followed the law in nine of every 10 requests, according to audit results that found much higher compliance than a similar survey a decade ago.
Government employees in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, too, posted high marks.
Records requested included meeting minutes, restaurant inspections, birth records, a mayor's expense report, school superintendents' pay, police chief pay and police incident reports.
Overall, 90 percent of requests were granted either immediately, over time or with some conditions, compared with 70 percent a decade ago, according to audit results. The improvement was illustrated by requests for superintendents' salaries, with compliance rising from about one of every two requests to nine of every 10 requests this year.
The audit was sponsored by the Ohio Coalition for Open Government of the Ohio Newspaper Association. It began April 21 and, in most counties, was completed within days.
Newspaper, television and radio reporters served as auditors in all 88 Ohio counties. Auditors didn't identify themselves as reporters when making requests to ensure the same experience as a typical citizen seeking public records.
Around Ohio, auditors reported positive and negative experiences.
One, who received the salary of a the police chief in Medina almost immediately, reported an ''impressive compliance with the law'' and "probably one of the easiest times I've ever had obtaining public records from a government agency that wasn't familiar with me.'' Another reported a secretary at Ashland schools was ''cooperative and flexible.''
In Trumbull County, the auditor reported ''within a few minutes'' he was given a copy of meeting minutes for Trumbull County commissioners ''with no questions asked and no fees charged.''
At City Hall in Warren, the auditor, after the police Chief Eric Merkel's salary, reported that while the woman didn't have a document that specifically showed Merkel's salary, ''she showed me a document that included his hourly pay rate and calculated out the yearly salary from that.''
Emails to Warren City Schools employees after the district's records policy and records retention policy were met with ease.
The auditor received a link to the records policy the same day he made a request. However, the person sending the link thought it would direct the auditor the retention policy, too. The auditor could not find it and replied asking where to locate the policy.
A few days later ''I got an email back saying that if I used the search feature on the district's website, I would find what I was looking for,'' the auditor reported.
Not every encounter went smoothly. A clerk filled a request for county commissioners' meeting minutes in Clinton County but summoned a sheriff's deputy after the auditor declined to give his name. Several school districts required auditors to fill out a public records request form, a violation of Ohio law which does not require a written request, identification or the reason for the request.
A searchable database shows requests for Warren's records and records retention policy are listed as denied.
The auditor reported, ''I emailed someone in city government Tuesday regarding this request and the next afternoon, they responded to me saying the man who handles those requests was out of the office but would be in Monday to help me.''
All the requests made in Mahoning County were granted either immediately, over time or with some conditions, according to the database.
''It's a meaningful improvement over what was found 10 years ago,'' said Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association.
The attorney general's office, which conducts mandatory three-hour public records training for Ohio elected officials, regularly reminds officials of the law regarding requests, said Damian Sikora, chief of the office's Constitutional Offices Section.
''Sometimes there's a little bit of a disconnect between some of the people taking the request and the office holders themselves,'' he said.
State Auditor David Yost, whose office randomly samples municipalities' open records compliance, said he was troubled not to see 100 percent compliance with requests for things such as a superintendent's compensation or police chief's pay.
''Those are just things that there's really no excuse not to be promptly responsive to,'' Yost said.
The audit turned up some problems with the delivery of information electronically, with many auditors having trouble finding useable email addresses in rural counties.
The website for the Harrison County village of Cadiz listed email addresses, though some were rejected when an auditor tried to use them. Other offices responded to emails quickly.
The audit follows a decade of uneven developments for advocates of open records.
Ohio's 2004 concealed weapons law, for example, shielded the names of permit holders but contained a generous provision for reporters. Lawmakers later restricted the law to allow reporters to view the records but not make copies.
In 2005, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that state employees' home addresses may be kept private because they don't meet the definition of a record under state open records laws.
The following year, a divided court said that private organizations are not subject to open records laws without clear evidence they are equivalent to a public office. The case involved a Summit County halfway house that receives most of its funding from taxpayers.
More recently, lawsuits have challenged Gov. John Kasich's creation of the state development department with JobsOhio, a privatized job creation office not subject to the open records laws.