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Lack of birth dates connects Oklahoma City, county public employees, offenders

BY BRYAN DEAN and JOHN ESTUS Published: January 17, 2010
More than 250 Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County employees’ names match those of registered sex offenders.

Nearly half of those employees work in public safety: 43 are police officers, 42 are firefighters and 27 work in the county sheriff’s department, according to a computer-assisted comparison of city and county employee rosters to the state sex offender registry.

But whether those employees are convicted criminals remains a mystery because a potentially illegal decision by city and county officials has made it impossible to conduct accurate background checks of public employees.

The decision by those governments to keep their employees’ birth dates secret comes despite a recent attorney general’s opinion calling for their release. Birth dates are a crucial component of background checks.

The 250 employees who might be sex offenders are just one example of why open government advocates say the city and county are not acting in the best interest of taxpayers or their employees.

"The public is entitled to know about its employees,” said Joey Senat, an Oklahoma State University journalism professor and open records expert. "Making birth dates available protects employees’ privacy. That way it is less likely you would be confused with someone that has committed a crime.”

The Oklahoman requested employees’ names and birth dates from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County and Attorney General Drew Edmondson’s office after the release of a legally binding attorney general’s opinion by Edmondson last month.

The opinion said birth dates are presumed open under the Oklahoma Open Records Act unless the government agency proves that releasing the birth dates would violate employee privacy in a manner that outweighs the public interest.

Edmondson released his employees’ birth dates. A comparison of his employee roster with the sex offender registry found two employees who shared common names with sex offenders. However, the employees did not share birth dates with the sex offenders, making it possible to determine that the attorney general employs no convicted sex offenders.

That same determination can’t be easily made for Oklahoma City or Oklahoma County, which both denied The Oklahoman’s request for employee birth dates.

City and county attorneys claimed releasing birth dates would be a "clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy.”

City and county elected officials are split over whether they agree with their attorneys.

Pete White, Ward 4 Oklahoma City councilman and an attorney in private practice, said he read Edmondson’s opinion and believes the city attorney’s office is misinterpreting it.

"I don’t think the privacy concerns are enough,” White said.


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