Oklahoma's governor stands behind executive privilege claim

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin says her office has the right to withhold emails that offer confidential advice, despite no such provision existing in the state Open Records Act.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: December 13, 2012
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About open records

A 2009 opinion from the state attorney general indicates emails generated while conducting the public's business are open to the public. The Open Records Act does allow public officials to keep personal notes confidential, but those aren't being sought.

Mullins, who previously worked for the U.S. attorney's office in Oklahoma City, cited federal law and U.S. Supreme Court decisions in explaining his decision.

Fallin and her legal advisers have been criticized for claiming that records requested by various media outlets are protected by privileges that exceed what the state Legislature and the state Supreme Court have granted government officials.

“We have a disagreement on how do you allow a state to function and to allow open and honest dialogue between a cabinet secretary to another cabinet secretary to the governor to the policy staff to the legal counsel to the governor, on whatever issue it might be, and have an open, honest opinion that they want to be expressed by that person without it becoming the headline of the paper the next day,” Fallin said.

“We are preparing documents, but we have literally received hundreds of thousands of documents for our office in requests from all kinds of topics,” she said.

Fallin said it will take hundreds of hours of manpower to go through the emails and records being sought to make sure they fall under the requested topic.

The governor said she will go through the documents, even as she is preparing a budget and a legislative agenda to present to lawmakers in early February, and working with state finance officials about the implications to Oklahoma if Congress and the president can't reach an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff.

“We're trying to be as cooperative as possible, produce documents that we think is the information that people are looking for, but yet also trying to be able to have candid advice,” Fallin said.

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