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Officeholders should take oaths to heart

January is the time of year when we see many aspiring and newly elected officials taking office, either as a returning incumbent or as a first-time elected official.

No matter which is the case, these officials have been duly elected — or in some cases appointed — to serve to the best of their ability the constituents who put their faith in them.

This year, we welcome many new township trustees, township fiscal officers, boards of education members, or in a few cases, newly elected municipal mayors or council members.

As we see it, these officeholders are key in grassroots representation of their residents.

As part of their elected service, each is required under Ohio law to take an oath of office.

It is at that time when they raise their hands, usually at a public meeting surrounded by family members, to solemnly swear to support the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of Ohio, and to faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all of the duties incumbent upon them according to the best of their ability and understanding.

That oath, of course, is sacred. We take this moment to remind these duly elected or appointed officials that we, along with all their constituents, expect that this oath always be remembered, honored and taken fully to heart.

As we see it, that oath represents each elected official’s responsibility to work very hard to become fully educated on the duties of the office. Indeed, holding public office means so much more than just attending meetings. It means being responsive, understanding the term “urgency” and honoring your word to assist your constituents in a timely manner.

It also means taking whatever time is necessary to become educated on things like government procedure; basic meeting rules, including things like Robert’s Rules of Order; and all your new duties, all of which are critically important.

Reading and re-reading the Ohio Revised Code as it relates to any particular elected post is also a good place to start. Too often we see elected officials violate the Ohio Revised Code, Ohio Administrative Code or even election laws simply because they were ignorant of the rules. That, of course, is a poor excuse that holds little weight.

We also remind newly elected officials to take time to learn the governmental entity’s budgeting process, to study past and upcoming expenditures and to understand the need and reasoning for this spending.

Then, there is interaction with all the existing government employees and department heads. We believe that taking time simply to listen and learn is key well before one can begin to take charge of a situation.

Finally, it’s important that officials learn and fully understand Ohio’s Sunshine Laws. Remember, you work for the public, and it’s your job to ensure that all business is being done in such a way that the public may be involved.

Public business must be conducted according to Ohio’s open meeting laws. Records must be stored and made available according to Ohio’s open records laws. That applies not just to requests from members of the media, but when requested by anyone. Ohio’s Sunshine Laws manual, commonly referred to as “the yellow book,” is prepared and updated annually by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The comprehensive manual, which explains well in layman’s terms Ohio’s open meetings and open records laws, is a wonderful place to start. It is available for free download on the Ohio Attorney General’s Office’s website.

While we stress all newly sworn-0in officials take the time to review this type of information, frankly, it’s always a good time for all elected officials — old and new — to read up and become re-acquainted and re-educated.

Most of all, it’s never a bad time to review the oath of office that you took at the beginning of your term and to take to heart that vitally important promise you made to the public that elected you when you raised your hand and swore to uphold the law and do your best.

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