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Oklahoma union faces ethics investigation in stunt to protest records request

BY JOHN ESTUS, BRYAN DEAN and PAUL MONIES Modified: April 2, 2010 at 6:28 pm •  Published: March 6, 2010
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The Oklahoman received more than 100 e-mails Friday afternoon from state workers who said reporters shouldn’t have access to that information.

"I work for (Department of Human Services) and one of our big deals is to keep our clients (sic) info confidential. I don’t see us, as state employees, being any different,” LaFonda Haws wrote in an e-mail.

Public state payroll records show Haws is a social services specialist with DHS.

ID theft fears questioned
Friday morning, the state employee union’s executive director, Sterling Zearley, requested and received the newspaper’s Feb. 19 records request to the Office of Personnel Management.

Hours later, the union sent an e-mail to its members asking them to oppose the request.

The union reprinted the newspaper’s records request on its Web site.

"This is just an attempt to bully the newspaper,” said Joey Senat, an Oklahoma State University journalism professor and open records expert, of the union’s action Friday.

Zearley did not return phone calls Friday afternoon. A union spokesman said Zearley couldn’t be reached for comment. Calls to Zearley’s cell phone were not returned.

In an e-mailed statement, spokesman Mark Beutler said: "OPEA is obviously very concerned about the safety of our state employees, and that cannot be compromised. Therefore, we are determined to keep private their dates of birth.”

Many workers Friday cited potential identify theft as the reason they didn’t want their birth dates released.

A privacy expert said such fears are unfounded. Those who investigate and prosecute identity thieves, including Oklahoma City police and Oklahoma County prosecutors, have previously said thieves don’t steal identities from public records and need more information than a birth date to steal an identity.

"Birth date alone is not going to get you an identity theft,” said Richard J.H. Varn, executive director of the Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access and chief information officer for the city of San Antonio.

Varn also said "there is no direct traceback” that shows identity thieves steal people’s identity exclusively from information in public records.

The state Senate last month passed Senate Bill 1753, which would exempt public employees’ dates of birth from the state Open Records Act.

Currently, exempt information includes Social Security numbers, addresses and phone numbers of public employees. SB 1753, by Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, has not been heard in the House.

Senat, the open records expert, said: "We’ve already closed off every other piece of identifying information for employees. Will salaries be the next thing they want closed off? Where do you draw the line?”


Who requests voter information?

Dates of birth already are readily available under the state Open Records Act. The state Election Board sells lists of registered voters, which include name, address and date of birth, a key identifier in determining who is eligible to vote. Since 2003, the election board has received more than 1,800 requests for voter data. Here’s a sample of who has requested voter information data since 2008:

State agencies

• Oklahoma Department of Human Services Aging Division


• Oklahoma State Health Department


• Oklahoma Tax Commission


• State Board of Regents


• University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Political organizations/ consultants

• Helping Oklahoma Public Education


• Oklahoma Democratic Party


• Oklahoma Republican Party


• Republican National Committee


• Oklahomans for Fair Employment


• CMA Strategies


• Wilson Research Strategies


• Cole, Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates


• Oklahoma Education Association


• American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3894


• Shawnee Police Association


• Votizen


• Catalist


• Magellan Data and Mapping Strategies

Financial firms

• All American Loans


• Dixie Finance of Atoka


• Dixie Finance of Wagoner


• Community State Bank


• Continental Credit


• McBride Insurance Agency

Lawmakers

• Rep. Charles Key, R-Oklahoma City


• Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso


• Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City


• Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City


• Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs


• Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant


• Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa


• Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa


• U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore

Cities/schools

• City of Noble


• City of Broken Arrow


• Broken Arrow Public Schools


• Jones School District

Courts

• U.S. District Court Northern Division


• U.S. District Court Eastern Division


• U.S. District Court Western Division

Civic groups/chambers of commerce

• Stillwater Medical Center Foundation


• El Reno Chamber of Commerce


• Bartlesville Area Chamber of Commerce

Marketing firms

• IntellData


• American Information Marketing


• American Mailing List Corp.


• Valentine Direct Marketing

Media

• The Oklahoman


• Tulsa World

Research/universities

• Stanford University


• University of Mississippi

Paul Monies, Database Editor

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