NewsOK reporter Bryan Dean chatted with readers Wednesday about open records and public access in Oklahoma.
Join Bryan’s open record Q&A’s on the fourth Wednesday of every month at 2:30 p.m. and submit your questions about legislation and public access in Oklahoma. Read the complete chat transcript here.
Why doesn't the pro-openness crowd support David Prater's investigation of the parole board?
I think a lot of open government advocates are very encouraged by Prater's investigation. There is an obvious lack of enforcement of open records and meeting laws. Any enforcement is encouraging. It would be nice to see similar concern for the law when it isn't a subject near and dear to Mr. Prater.
In the past, Mr. Prater has received FOI Oklahoma's Black Hole Award for refusing to release birth dates of county employees. I've spoken with him before about the lack of enforcement, and his reason for not pressing charges more often was that they were too busy prosecuting murderers and other violent offenders.
That is a common refrain, but it rings rather hollow when they have plenty of resources to prosecute other misdemeanors.
So many law enforcement agencies refuse to release information in the state and district attorneys refuse to prosecute. Do you have solution to this problem? What can be done?
The obvious solution would be for police and district attorneys to enforce the law like any other. Willfully violating either the open records or open meeting acts is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.
That doesn't seem to be happening, though. There are a lot of reasons. The most common offenders of these laws are public officials, and sometimes the district attorneys or police themselves.
One thing that has helped in other states is to create a state open records commission or ombudsman. Essentially, you create an appeal system so people can get relief without having to go through the lengthy and costly court process.
When a public agency won't release a public document, what recourse do people have?
Theoretically, you have both a criminal and civil recourse.
If someone is violating the law, you can make a complaint to local police or the district attorney. However, as we have been discussing, that doesn't usually go very far. The other recourse is to sue.
How about the state ethics commission? Why don't they do more about this subject?
The ethics commission is tasked with overseeing elections, but they aren't a law enforcement organization. They aren't empowered under the law to enforce open records. It is left to local law enforcement and district attorneys. And many people believe that is a problem.