Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson has issued a clarification after a formal opinion issued last week caused confusion over whether public agencies should release birth dates of their employees.
The new language states that because birth records are not explicitly exempted from the Oklahoma Open Records Act, they are presumed open. If agencies want to claim that releasing birth dates falls within an exception for releasing records that would constitute a "clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” they must justify such a decision on a case-by-case basis and weigh the privacy interest against the public interest in releasing the information.
Why seek an opinion?State Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, asked for the opinion after Oklahoma City refused to release the birth date of Ed Martin, the director of its Weed and Seed program. Martin was placed on administrative leave earlier this year when city officials found federal grant funds in the program had been mismanaged. The Oklahoman requested Martin’s birth date in an effort to conduct background research after he was identified as part of the investigation. Without a birth date to match to common names, it is impossible to determine a public employee’s criminal record or other vital background information. After the original opinion was released last week, Edmondson said birth dates should be open most of the time. But language within the opinion itself questioned the public interest in opening birth dates and seemed to give agencies a ready-made excuse for refusing to release them. "It bothered him (Edmondson) that some of the language in the original opinion caused people to believe that an agency of government could simply say, ‘We’re not going to give you any birth dates,’” said Charlie Price, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.