A government watchdog group that surveyed all 50 states on public access to information gave Oklahoma an F because of a lack of enforcement of the state's open records and meetings laws.
The State Integrity Investigation gave the state a passing grade for the rights guaranteed to the public in the law, but the lack of practical enforcement and a cheap and quick appeals process brought the overall grade down to 55 out of 100, putting Oklahoma 33rd in the nation.
Lindel Hutson, president of Freedom of Information Oklahoma Inc., said the survey was dead-on in its assessment.
“There are no teeth to the statute,” Hutson said. “That is a hindrance to freedom of information. Until something is done about that, we will continue to get failing grades.”
The investigation was a joint project of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. The survey also includes dozens of other categories relating to a state's vulnerability to public corruption.
Oklahoma scored 75 percent on the rights guaranteeing public access to information in the law, but was marked down because there is no agency or official entity that monitors compliance. The state scored 33 percent on the effectiveness of its laws.
Although the Oklahoma law guarantees access to most public records and meetings, there are exceptions. When state or local government agencies wrongfully deny access, the only way to appeal is to file a lawsuit or persuade a local district attorney to file criminal charges. Violating the open records or meeting laws is a misdemeanor.
Lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming, and district attorneys rarely file charges, often because those violating the laws are their fellow public officials, Hutson said. In some cases, police or district attorneys may be the ones violating the law.