One ramification of the biggest public records release ever from Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's office is that every email from that office now carries a disclaimer that the communication may be viewed by a third party — the public.
Other than that, a recent records release to which at least three state employees needed more than 1,600 working hours to respond has done little to impact policymakers' ability to make decisions and share information.
“The whole process has been a reminder to everyone in the office of something that we already knew, which is if you write something in an email it could show up in the newspaper,” said Alex Weintz, spokesman for the governor.
The office released last month more than 51,000 documents in response to a request by The Oklahoman for all emails related to Fallin's decision to reject a $54 million grant and decline to adopt major provisions of the new Affordable Care Act.
Fallin's general counsel, Steve Mullins, said last week that legal staff has been advised to alter the office's records policy so that all requests now must be responded to in the order in which they were received.
That means a simple request for documents such as a pardon and parole packet will now have to wait until staff complies with requests that take weeks or months.
“We can't figure out a way to say even those persons' (requests) who are short, that theirs is more important and we should take time out to do theirs before we do someone else's, so we're just going to do them in the order we receive them,” Mullins said.
There are 11 different records requests currently pending in the governor's office. Though the office did not provide an estimated response time for each pending request, it's clear several of them — including one requesting all emails concerning the office's corrections reform plans — will take months to be released.
Fallin's office has been criticized by open records advocates who say she is not complying with the state's Open Records Act, both by refusing to release certain documents and by not having a system in place to handle requests more quickly.
Thirty-one emails totaling 100 pages were not included in the office's response to the health care emails request, which was filed in November 2012.
Citing U.S. Supreme Court rulings and case law in other states, Fallin's handlers insist she has the right to keep her documents secret.
In a letter included with the emails release, Mullins listed 23 states where district courts have recognized executive privilege.
Mark Thomas, president of the Oklahoma Press Association, said that at some point the public will remember the fundamental issue is not open records but health care — why the governor opted not to establish an online exchange for plan purchases and why she rejected Medicaid expansion to hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans.
“It took them four months to put these things together. It's going to take us four months to analyze and figure out what they didn't release,” Thomas said of the media. “Hopefully, rural hospitals will not fail before we can figure it out.”
We can't figure out a way to say even those persons' (requests) who are short, that theirs is more important and we should take time out to do theirs before we do someone else's, so we're just going to do them in the order we receive them.”
Gov. Mary Fallin's general counsel