Oklahoma AG Drew Edmondson opinion called vague by some

BY BRYAN DEAN Modified: April 2, 2010 at 6:31 pm •  Published: December 4, 2009
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Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson released an official opinion this week that leaves to government agencies the decision on whether to release public employees’ birth dates.

The opinion seemed to contradict comments Edmondson made Thursday and comments he made three months ago when Oklahoma City refused to release the birth date of an employee involved in a personnel investigation.

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 person’s criminal record or other vital background information.

Edmondson said in September that the city should have released Martin’s birth date because there is no specific exemption allowing birth dates to be confidential.

The opinion released this week states that government agencies have the discretion to determine whether releasing an employee’s birth date falls within an exemption in the Open Records Act. That exemption allows records to be kept confidential if releasing them would be an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

In making such a decision, the agency must weigh the public’s interest in the information against the employee’s privacy interest.

"My opinion is still that an agency is going to have difficulty claiming the exemption as a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” Edmondson said. "My view is that the conditions under which birth dates would be confidential would be rare.”

Joey Senat, an Oklahoma State University journalism professor and open government expert, said leaving the decision in the hands of individual agencies will result in requests routinely being denied. Data Watch: AG opinion muddies the open records pool Read the opinion Data Watch: Should OKC withhold name of disciplined...