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Supreme Court ruling on public records not good news for journalists

by Alan Herzberger Modified: April 18, 2013 at 1:31 pm •  Published: June 29, 2011

The Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a ruling on June 28 that wasn’t what journalists in Oklahoma were hoping to here. Database Editor Paul Monies did a great job with his story in explaining the issue and offering some of the key background information.

The issue at hand is whether or not the dates of birth of state employees should be a matter of public record and subject to the Open Records Act.

At issue were requests under the Open Records Act by The Oklahoman — and later the Tulsa World — for state employee information. Among the records requested were birth dates, employee identification numbers, salary, tenure and job title.

The Oklahoman is in favor of open records and open government. Speak with any reporter in our newsroom, and they’ll share a story or two of the hoops they’ve had to jump through throughout their careers to get public information from government agencies. That public information, by the way, is the same information that should be available to all citizens.

Those reporters and editors feel they are standing up for all citizens in seeking government records that, by law, are available for all citizens to see. That information ranges from email records to travel expenses of public officials to government contracts to jail records to court records to a wide variety of information on ways the government is spending taxpayer money. In this case, dates of birth of state employees became a hot topic.

Here is Kelly Dyer Fry’s quote about the issue. Fry is the Editor of The Oklahoman and the Vice President of News for OPUBCO Communications Group. She also happens to be my boss.

It’s not just a question of using dates of birth for identification, but also for misidentification.  If average citizens run their names through the sex offender registry, they might be surprised to find someone on the list with the same name. Birth dates can quickly sort out who’s who. I respectfully disagree with the court’s decision.

And here was Mark Thomas’ quote on the issue. Thomas is the executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association.

It’s ironic that private citizens are required to give our information to the government to vote or drive, but the same information about state employees is off limits.

To read more on the issue, dating back to our stories from last year, visit the Public Records Dispute ongoing coverage page on our site.

by Alan Herzberger
Digital Managing Editor
Alan Herzberger is the Digital Managing Editor for NewsOK.com and The Oklahoman. He focuses on content within OPUBCO Communications Group’s variety of digital products. He’s been with The Oklahoman since 1997, when he joined the sports...
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