Some people are refusing to reveal public records or at least are making it difficult to
That's among the findings of a statewide effort conducted this summer to check citizen access to government records. The project included three components:
Results showed only 17 percent of the 308 cities, schools and law enforcement agencies surveyed complied with all five legal requirements of the act.
People whom Oklahomans hired with their tax dollars to collect, maintain and provide these records are the ones blocking the door. In some cases, even people citizens pay to enforce laws apparently are breaking them in denying public access to public records.
"Those who are in a position of power are only there as representatives of the people who put them there," Attorney General Drew Edmondson said. "The records do not belong to the clerk or the council or the mayor. They belong to the citizens who pay the taxes."
The project found good news, too. Most records were accessible, with many being easily available, often with offers of help from government workers. Still, access to some records was delayed or otherwise made difficult, or simply denied.
The survey checked to see if government complies with the Open Records Act, a law intended to assure Oklahomans can see what their government is spending, who it's keeping in jail and generally what it's up to.
"The whole idea of democracy depends upon the people having maximum access to government information," said Paul McMasters, First Amendment ombudsman at the Freedom Forum, a media-related foundation based in Arlington, Va.
How we did it
To see if Oklahomans can get the records the law says are open, the Oklahoma Press Association, Freedom of Information Oklahoma Inc.
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