COLUMBUS, Ohio — State employees' home addresses may be kept private because they don't meet the definition of a record under state open-records laws, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday.
Addresses don't document the decisions, policies, functions and activities of government, the ruling in State ex rel. Dispatch Printing Co. v. Johnson said. But the court warned state agencies not to rely on the same argument to deny other records requests.
The Columbus Dispatch, which from 1992 to 2002 sought and received state payroll databases that included the addresses, sued to get the same information when the Department of Administrative Services refused to release it in 2003.
The newspaper eventually got most of the addresses from individual state agencies. The agencies still shielded the addresses of law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians and others who feared for their safety if the information became public.
An agency's having provided information in the past without objection doesn't make it a public record, said the ruling by Justice Alice Robie Resnick.
The decision applies only to addresses, and the court is not straying from its history of liberally applying the public-records law, Resnick wrote.
The Dispatch argued that the addresses meet the definition of records that document state operations because Administrative Services said in a sworn statement that it needed and used them for operations, said Marion Little Jr., an attorney for the newspaper.
The ruling dismissed that argument, saying, "At best, home addresses represent contact information used as a matter of administrative convenience."
The full list of addresses still is released to state unions, even if those on the list are nonunion, and to charitable groups who solicit employees for donations, Little said.
"The only group now prohibited from having access to this same information is the public," he said.
Administrative Services appreciates the importance of the public's right to know how government decisions are made, but addresses don't provide insight into the internal workings of government, spokeswoman Gretchen Hull said.