An organization for employees of the state of Oklahoma is taking the state of Oklahoma to court to keep the state of Oklahoma from enforcing the law. Huh?
It’s true, although the real target of the lawsuit filed by the Oklahoma Public Employees Association is The Oklahoman and in effect, the audiences we serve. What the OPEA purposely has done is create confusion among state employees about the intent of the Oklahoma Open Records Act. The organization also has a handful of enablers in the Legislature who are more than willing to do their bidding for it. That may be effective politics, but it’s bad public policy and does a disservice to the taxpayers of Oklahoma who deserve a transparent government. The OPEA wants public employees’ birth dates to be added to an already expansive list of information that is exempt from the Open Records Act. Current exemptions in the law include employees’ Social Security numbers, home addresses and telephone numbers. Attorney General Drew Edmondson says birth dates should be considered available to the public unless there are overriding reasons to shut them off. So the OPEA went to court to prevent the state from making the birth dates available upon request. The confusion created by the OPEA in recent weeks has prompted telephone calls and e-mails from readers, including state employees, who question The Oklahoman’s pursuit of the dates of birth, why we would want them and how we would use them. Please permit me to answer some of the most common questions and comments we’ve received. Why does the newspaper want this information? For decades we routinely have used dates of birth as a way of accurately identifying people, including government workers, when they are in the news for whatever reasons. Dates of birth for registered voters are available from the state Election Board. But not all government employees are voters, so we want the birth dates to eliminate common name matches when we conduct periodic background checks of public employees, whose salaries are paid by taxpayers. An example: This has allowed news organizations like ours to differentiate between Joe Smith, a registered sex offender, and Joe Smith, state employee. Here at The Oklahoman, two reporters share the same name as two sex offenders, but have different birth dates. The dates of birth are an identifying marker that goes a long way in protecting Oklahomans who have common names.