WCPO is committed to making sure local governments are accountable -- not just during Sunshine Week

One of our most fundamental roles as journalists is to hold public officials accountable.

We take our job to be a watchdog for you seriously.

Our reporters here at WCPO spend countless hours combing through public records to make sure your tax dollars are being spent appropriately and to make sure elected officials and government employees are acting in good faith.

Our brand is 9 On Your Side . And we mean it.

This week is Sunshine Week. It’s an annual week put on by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The week is designed to spotlight open records and the public’s right to know.

Some lawmakers look to make public records laws less open. That means not just journalists but regular citizens like you have less ability to find out what is happening in your government, with your tax dollars.

Even if the laws aren’t changed public officials use a variety of tactics to keep information from being seen by the media and people like you.

In the last four years, WCPO has taken legal action three times to fight for the public’s right to information.

On top of that, there have been many times when our team has battled behind the scenes to get access to information that the law requires to be open.

As part of Sunshine Week, I wanted to share nine of our team’s most impactful public records related stories.

Some of these stories are available only to WCPO Insiders. We believe this type of local, watchdog journalism has value and needs to be supported. If you agree, you can become a WCPO Insider using the promo code SUNSHINE for just $10 for an entire year.

1. Mark Greenblatt for the Scripps Washington Bureau and WCPO’s Dan Monk used great reporting with 34 whistleblowers along with stacks of documents to show major concerns at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center. One year after our original reporting, those same whistleblowers said the VA has changed for the better.

2. Using public records Joe Rosemeyer and Evan Millward discovered that Cincinnati police were no longer tracking race in traffic stops. Their reporting found enforcement has eased up on white drivers more than black drivers, raising questions about why it's happening and if there's a problem that needs to be fixed. Months after Evan and Joe’s report, the city announced plans to create a new tracking system.

3. A WCPO review of government and environmental records revealed a history of negligence and pollution at the Beckjord power plant near New Richmond and a big dilemma with coal ash that stretches across Ohio. Unlined coal ash ponds sit next to the Ohio River — the drinking water supply for 5 million people.

4. If you’re like me, you love to eat. Dan Monk sifts through thousands of restaurant inspections to let you know which restaurants have had violations.

5. Public records aren’t just about keeping government accountable. Dan and chief investigative reporter Craig Cheatham looked at the salaries of top employees at the area’s 100 largest nonprofits.

6. Cheatham reviewed police reports, personnel files and Title IX records in a story about whether the University of Cincinnati is responding quickly enough to sex assault cases.

7. Investigative reporter Hillary Lake reviewed reports from every unannounced inspection conducted at Rainbow Child Care Centers in Northern Kentucky over the past year. She found troubling allegations and that more than half of the centers were at risk of losing their licenses.

8. Cheatham and Lisa Bernard-Kuhn examined 164 heroin and opioid trafficking cases in Hamilton County from 2016 and found that at least 43 percent of those convicted received no prison time.

9. Finally, just this week Paula Christian, Hillary Lake and Amanda Seitz reported on the Center for Closing the Health Gap. They reviewed thousands of invoices the Health Gap billed to the city over the last two years. The investigation revealed thousands spent on $175-an-hour executive coaching sessions, $950 spent on embroidered aprons, and tens of thousands paid to subcontractors for work such as “watching the front desk.” In some cases there was no description of what work was performed; in others the city was billed before work was performed.

Thanks for reading and supporting local journalism. In addition to supporting WCPO Insider, you can also support Sunshine Week. Here are details.

Mike Canan is editor of WCPO.com. Contact him at mike.canan@wcpo.com. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.

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