County auditors cannot charge fees to access online copies of public records

By MARC KOVAC @ohiocapitalblog C-N Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- County auditors cannot charge fees to access online copies of public records, according to a recent legal opinion from Attorney General Mike DeWine.

State Auditor Dave Yost sought direction on the issue from DeWine's office in relation to the Monroe County auditor, who was charging a monthly subscription fee to access online records.

Yost and Monroe County Prosecutor James L. Peters sent a letter to DeWine in June following a public complaint about the fee.

According to documents, the county auditor hired a private company "to build and maintain" online access to various public records, via the county's website. The auditor was then charging users $15 per month to access the records to cover the cost charged by the private provider to maintain the portal.

"... The county auditor advised that her office lacked sufficient funds to provide free online access to its public records," Yost and Peters wrote.

In a legal opinion released earlier this week, DeWine wrote that "a county auditor makes a public record available for inspection when he provides access to the public record online through the county's website."

As such, "a county auditor may not charge or collect a fee for making public records available for inspection on a county website," he added.

Carrie Bartunek, a spokesman for Yost, said the auditor is not aware of any other county offices charging comparable subscription fees for public records access.

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