Florida First Amendment Foundation president
Your Right to Know
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Presumption of openness
Open government expert Joey Senat, an Oklahoma State University journalism professor, said one of the chief causes of open records conflicts is a tendency for government officials to ignore case law that says records are presumed open. In a 1986 case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that "disclosure is to be favored over a finding of exemption.” "The premise is that unless it’s exempted, it’s open,” Senat said. "If it’s not specifically mentioned as an exemption, and there is no case law saying it’s closed, it should be open.” Senat said birth dates are a good example. Government agencies denying the release of employee birth dates cite an exemption in the Oklahoma Open Records Act for unwarranted invasions of personal privacy. Birth dates are not specifically exempted from the Oklahoma Open Records Act, and there is no case law classifying their release as an invasion of privacy. "Attorneys for agencies are always trying to cover the agency’s rear end,” Senat said. "They are always trying to narrowly interpret things so that the agency can’t be held liable for something.”