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Openness laws bring news home

By Diana Baldwin Published: September 3, 2000
Oklahomans read the last words Oklahoma City police officer Jeffery Dean Rominger radioed the dispatcher before he was killed.

September brides found their marriage licenses in the newspaper and oil tycoons checked out the drilling activity on neighboring property.

People in Muskogee County also learned the latest about their sheriff's legal troubles.

The state's openness laws recently helped make this information and much more available to readers of The Oklahoman.

A check of the 858 stories published in The Oklahoman over a seven-day period from Sept. 1-7 showed public meetings and documents were used in 19 percent of the articles. Public records also were used to compile listings of births, marriages, divorces, land sales, and oil and gas activity.

The transcript of radio communications from the high-speed chase that ended in a fiery crash killing Rominger and Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Matthew Scott Evans also was accessible to the public by state law.

Of the 160 stories using information available by the openness laws, 113 of the articles used public records while 31 others came from court proceedings and 16 more from government meetings.

For 10 days, The Oklahoman included a graphic calling attention to the state statutes with most stories where the law helped in gathering the information.

Sue Hale, executive editor of The Oklahoman , said the graphics were published with the stories in an effort to educate readers about the importance of the public's access to the government.

"I doubt that the public realized it, because frankly using the graphics with each of those stories really brought it home to me," Hale said. "I'm probably as aware of the openness laws as anyone, and they made an impact on me."

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