Authors of Oklahoma's Open Record Act reminisce

The men who wrote Oklahoma's Open Records Act almost 30 years ago say they are satisfied, for the most part, with its application today.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Modified: February 9, 2013 at 1:14 am •  Published: February 11, 2013
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The men who wrote Oklahoma's Open Records Act almost 30 years ago say they are satisfied, for the most part, with its application today.

Problems that the media and public faced getting access to records and meetings in the 1970s and early 1980s would be hard to swallow today, said Ben Blackstock, a lobbyist for the Oklahoma Press Association when the act was signed into law in 1985.

Then, it wasn't uncommon for an all-male school board to meet in a car in the parking lot, or in the school bathroom to avoid a female reporter, Blackstock said.

“They had all kinds of little tricky things that staff members of these different departments and agencies and so forth would think of,” he said. “It's like, why not have a secret government?”

Passing the law

Government transparency advocates depended on favorable attorney general rulings to require that records be open, said Bob Sands, a public television reporter who was then chairman of a statewide news broadcasters organization.

In the push for a law that would guarantee public access to government meetings and records, Blackstock said he found a willing audience in lawmakers easily sold on the idea of government transparency.

Harder to persuade were special interest groups like the Oklahoma Municipal League and county commissioners, who worried government offices would become weighed down by records requests, said Claremore attorney Stratton Taylor, then chairman of the Senate judiciary committee.

At one point, Taylor thought the bill lacked the needed votes to become law. To get it passed, the Legislature, judiciary and law enforcement were granted broad exemptions.

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