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Open records: What's required and how you ask for it

You can 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. Below is an unedited transcript of the chat.
BY BRYAN DEAN Modified: July 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm •  Published: July 24, 2013

NewsOK reporter Bryan Dean chatted with readers Wednesday afternoon about open records. You can 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. Below is an unedited transcript of the chat.

Bryan Dean 2:30 p.m. I wanted to start by mentioning this ongoing mess with the tourism department.
Bryan Dean 2:31 p.m. The editor of the Madill Record newspaper e-mailed me earlier to say there was some movement on this.
Bryan Dean 2:31 p.m. It looks like the company that bought the property might release the agreements.
Bryan Dean 2:32 p.m. Still, it's frustrating beyond belief that a state agency thinks it can put a confidentiality agreement into a contract for state land and then not release a copy of the contract.
Bryan Dean 2:32 p.m. I've run into something like this before.
Bryan Dean 2:33 p.m. When I covered Oklahoma City government, they settled a case with someone convicted wrongly by Joyce Gilchrist's testimony.
Bryan Dean 2:33 p.m. They put a confidentiality clause in the settlement and then tried to tell me they couldn't release it.
Bryan Dean 2:34 p.m. It didn't take long before they backed down. Any attorney doing their job knows you can't put something into a contract or settlement that would somehow invalidate state law.
Thomas Joseph 2:35 p.m. How do I find out if the daily charges filed information at the OK CO court clerk's office is a public record? The media is allowed to just walk up and go through it, but the public is told they can't see it (the stack sitting on the counter) and instead have to make individual requests for each case after looking it up on OSCN. This wastes time and resources.
Bryan Dean 2:35 p.m. Well, they are definitely public record.
Bryan Dean 2:36 p.m. I would be curious to hear the court clerk's reasoning in not letting the public go through the stack if they requested to do so.
Thomas Joseph 2:36 p.m. I argued that and was told they had to make them available but had no obligation to make it convenient.
Bryan Dean 2:36 p.m. They don't necessarily have to make it convenient, but if they already have a stack, it's hard for them to argue they can't let the public see it.
Bryan Dean 2:37 p.m. Anyone should be able to review that kind of thing.
Bryan Dean 2:37 p.m. There are lots of issues like this with court clerks.
Bryan Dean 2:38 p.m. County clerks and court clerks get some special exemptions for things like copying fees.
Bryan Dean 2:38 p.m. And they often make it way more inconvenient than it should be to get copies of records.
Bryan Dean 2:38 p.m. They obviously keep records electronically, but they don't post them all online and sometimes require you to come and request them in-person when they could easily be e-mailed.
Thomas Joseph 2:39 p.m. I argued they had to make it available in the least costly way to them and since the stack was already sitting in front of me that it would be to the tax payers benefit to just let me see it. They said no.
Bryan Dean 2:39 p.m. I would challenge this. Write a letter to the court clerk. They should be reasonable about it.
James 2:40 p.m. Has anything happened lately with DOBs for state workers? I remember a while ago there was some ruling that said birthdays could be kept private. Is that still true?
Bryan Dean 2:40 p.m. The state supreme court ruled that releasing employee birth dates is an unreasonable invasion of privacy.
Bryan Dean 2:41 p.m. The consequence of this is that there is now no way for the public or the media to background check state employees.
Bryan Dean 2:41 p.m. Without a birth date, there is simply no way to differentiate between people with common names.
Bryan Dean 2:42 p.m. If you look my name up in the court database, you will find several people with criminal records. None of them are me. If you knew my birth date was 4-25-79, you could tell.
James 2:42 p.m. Does that apply to all government employees in OK or just state employees? Does it affect city/county employees, too?
Bryan Dean 2:43 p.m. This would affect all government employees. The state employees' association filed the lawsuit, but the court's interpretation of the open records act is now precedent for all government employees.
Ron Miller 2:43 p.m. Any talk at the state capital about retracting any of the sex offender registration laws with the recent Supreme Court rulings?
Bryan Dean 2:44 p.m. This isn't an issue I've been closely following, so I don't have a good answer.
Bryan Dean 2:44 p.m. I do know from some stories I did a while back that many of these laws are problematic. And law enforcement will tell you the same.
Tim 2:45 p.m. Why do DA office care about open records in citys like Mustang when they refuse or just don't answer request
Bryan Dean 2:45 p.m. Not entirely sure I understand the question, but district attorneys are the ones tasked with enforcing the criminal penalties under the open records law.
Bryan Dean 2:46 p.m. So if a city like Mustang willfully violates the open records act, it would be up to the Canadian County district attorney to file charges.
Bryan Dean 2:46 p.m. But this very rarely happens.
Bryan Dean 2:46 p.m. There are many reasons. Suffice to say, open government laws are not high on the priority list for most DAs.
Bryan Dean 2:47 p.m. Unfortunately, while our open government laws in Oklahoma are fairly good, the enforcement of them is terrible.
Thomas Joseph 2:48 p.m. A similar situation in OK CO. I used to pay $15 weekly to get a DVD with all the criminal and civil filings on it. After several months of providing it, I was told I could no longer have it. The court clerk (previous one - a female) said I could no longer have it because it contained the SSN's and she didn't feel conformable releasing a DVD with 100's of SSN's. I reminded her that even if each case was pulled by hand that information would still be there. She replied (just like they did on the other case), she has to make public records available but not en masse. She also added that I would be limited to only 4 records in a 24 hour period from the court clerks desk. I asked to see this policy in writing and was told it wasn't in writing.
Bryan Dean 2:49 p.m. They have to provide records "in whatever form they exist." If they keep records electronically, which they obviously do, you should be able to get them electronically. Again, there are some exceptions for court clerks, but I would like to see them cite the part of the law that says they don't have to provide records electronically.
Bryan Dean 2:50 p.m. As for limiting the number of records you can pull, that is garbage. They can't do that.
Grannie Dee 2:50 p.m. I recently was told my driver's license was on hold and I had to go to a state testing site to get it released. Long story short, the feds are flagging people's licenses all over the US simply using your DOB and initials. They don't notify you it has been done. This is all done under the Federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act, National Driver Record. You are not allowed to know the name of the person who has a warrant that caused the flag. ITS A HUGE MESS! And, if the person with a warrant dones't get it taken care of, you will be flagged again. In my case, wrong gender, wrong state, wrong first and last name. Only DOB and First initial of first name matched. Ask DPS, they don't like it either!
Bryan Dean 2:51 p.m. A lot of ground covered in that post. I've heard of similar problems with credit checks. I have a twin brother, and the credit bureaus are always confusing us.
Thomas Joseph 2:52 p.m. How does someone fight this sort of denial to access to public records. I called and left two messages with FOI Oklahoma and never heard back. I'm going to make both requests again and record my conversations with them. I was told my only option was media exposure or file a lawsuit.
Bryan Dean 2:52 p.m. That is pretty much true.
Bryan Dean 2:53 p.m. Send an e-mail to FOI Oklahoma. If you send it to me, I will forward it to the organization's listserv.
Bryan Dean 2:53 p.m. You really have three options. Public shaming through the media, civil lawsuit or criminal prosecution.
Bryan Dean 2:54 p.m. You could try to contact David Prater and see if he is willing to prosecute criminally, but again, that is very rare.
Bryan Dean 2:54 p.m. The good news is that if you file a civil lawsuit and win, you can get your attorney costs paid for.
Tim 2:55 p.m. Has there been any movement on the open meeting sute with the DAs office and the pardon and proll board
Bryan Dean 2:55 p.m. This is still ongoing as far as I know. Criminal charges were filed against members of the pardon and parole board for violation of the open meeting act.
Bryan Dean 2:56 p.m. Prater obviously has a specific interest in this case because the board was making decisions he didn't like. It would be nice to see him prosecute other public officials who he doesn't have a personal beef with.
For Transparency 2:56 p.m. Has there been any thought to creating a department within a state agency that an individual could file an administrative appeal to get release of public records? The current statutory procedure makes it difficult for anyone to pursue the denial of a open records request unless they can pay for an attorney. It would seem to me that we should have some agency charged with handling all denials and providing a level of appeal.
Bryan Dean 2:57 p.m. Several states have a system like this, and it has been discussed here by open government advocates.
Bryan Dean 2:58 p.m. State Rep. Jason Murphy has expressed some interest in this. There has also been discussion of putting the Attorney General's office in charge of something like this.
Bryan Dean 2:59 p.m. I don't know if there will be any bills addressing this filed next session, but I know it is being looked at. There seems to be some recognition from Murphy and a few other legislators that enforcement of the open government laws is pathetic.
Thomas Joseph 2:59 p.m. How does the Oklahoma County Jail get away with charging the public over $200/month to get a copy of the Jail Blotter they produce and give to the media for free? Do they not have to provide it electronically to the public (upon request) the same as they do the media?
Bryan Dean 3:00 p.m. I wasn't aware they were doing this, and it sounds illegal. The blotter is open record. If they have it electronically, they have to provide it electronically, and they can only charge the actual cost of copying (a blank CD for example) unless the request is for a commercial purpose.
Bryan Dean 3:01 p.m. Again, I would challenge this. Ask them what part of the law lets them charge this price. The 25 cents per page rate is only for printed copies.
Bryan Dean 3:02 p.m. This speaks to a major problem in this state, which is that no one bothers on a routine basis to audit public agencies and find out if their policies are legal.
Bryan Dean 3:02 p.m. A few years ago, for Sunshine Week, I called a bunch of police departments and asked for their policies on charging for records. Most of them charged more than 25 cents per page, which is just completely illegal.
Bryan Dean 3:03 p.m. It took several follow-up stories to convince some cities to change their policies. Just a case where no one had challenged them before.
Thomas Joseph 3:03 p.m. OCPD posts it online for free. However, the OCSO is more complete. If you call as a citizen or an attorney they charge up $200+ a month for the exact same info. They say you can come down in person and view it for free, but to send it to you, you must pay their outrageous fee.
Bryan Dean 3:04 p.m. Once again, I would like to see their legal justification for this. It doesn't cost them anything to send it out, so I don't see how they can justify this. They can make you come down there to pick up a CD once a month, but I can't see a justification for charging that amount.
Bryan Dean 3:05 p.m. The reality is that public agencies haven't kept pace with technology. Does anyone actually believe any agency keeps only printed records at this point?
Bryan Dean 3:06 p.m. All this stuff is digital now. It's all kept in a computer. The AG has ruled that records kept electronically must be provided electronically. So I'd bring that up and challenge them to provide a legal justification.
Thomas Joseph 3:06 p.m. Where does a citizen go to read these open records laws so I can quote them in correspondence?
Bryan Dean 3:07 p.m. The easiest place to see the law in on OSCN, the state court network. Click on legal research and then look at the state statutes citationized.
Bryan Dean 3:07 p.m. The open records act is under Title 51.
Tim 3:08 p.m. So if the City of Mustang refuses to release records of why they paid 170.00 a ton to remove limbs while OKC only paid 45.00 a ton I have to file suite
Bryan Dean 3:08 p.m. Well, Tim, first we have to know if such records exist.
Bryan Dean 3:08 p.m. What records specifically are you requesting?
For Transparency 3:09 p.m. I would like to see legislation that requires public entities to publish their minutes, audits, and policies and procedures online, as well as their special meeting agendas. No reason why those basic public records aren't freely available on a website of the public entity.
Bryan Dean 3:09 p.m. There already is a law requiring some of this.
Bryan Dean 3:10 p.m.

A. On or before January 1, 2002, or within six (6) months of the establishment of an Internet website, whichever is later, public bodies shall make available on their Internet website or on a general website if a public body uses a general website, a schedule and information about the regularly scheduled meetings of the public bodies or their governing bodies. The information made available shall include the date, time, place and agenda of each meeting. When reasonably possible, public bodies shall also provide information about the date, time, place and agenda of any special or emergency meetings of the public body.

B. The provisions of subsection A of this section shall not be construed to amend or alter the requirements of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.

C. On or before January 1, 2002, or within six (6) months of the establishment of an Internet website, whichever is later, public bodies shall make available on their Internet website the names of members of their governing bodies and such other information about the members as the public body may choose to include.

D. For purposes of this section, "public body" is defined as provided by paragraph 1 of Section 304 of Title 25 of the Oklahoma Statutes and shall include each institution within The Oklahoma State System of Higher Education.
Bryan Dean 3:11 p.m. Audits are not required to be posted, but agendas and meeting calendars have to be listed.
For Transparency 3:11 p.m. No, not those items. Only regular meeting agendas are required.
Bryan Dean 3:11 p.m. When reasonably possible, public bodies shall also provide information about the date, time, place and agenda of any special or emergency meetings of the public body.
Bryan Dean 3:11 p.m. The real problem with this law is that many smaller jurisdictions completely ignore it.
Bryan Dean 3:12 p.m. There is no penalty for violating this law, and no one to enforce it.
Jaycee 3:12 p.m. Thank you for your help, Bryan. I was wondering -- if a private resident wants to learn more about public records, like take a class to understand what kind of records are public, is there anything available in Oklahoma? Or is there a website or resource that I could use to better understand my rights?
Bryan Dean 3:13 p.m. The Attorney General's office puts on seminars that the public can attend.
Bryan Dean 3:13 p.m. They are aimed at public officials, but they are open to the public and give a good primer about what kinds of records agencies need to release.
Bryan Dean 3:13 p.m. FOI Oklahoma helps with these, as does the Oklahoma Press Association. I know the press association lists a schedule on its website. They are usually in the fall.
Bryan Dean 3:14 p.m. I think they may be every other year, though.
Bryan Dean 3:14 p.m. The other thing you can do is go to FOI Oklahoma's website. There is a lot of good information there.
Thomas Joseph 3:14 p.m. Where can someone find a sample FOI request letter?
Bryan Dean 3:16 p.m. If you are talking about a sample letter for a local or state agency, my friend Joey Senat has one on his website.
Tim 3:16 p.m. City Manger said in council meeting how many loads they had Company was Five Star
Bryan Dean 3:16 p.m. You can request minutes of that meeting. But if you are looking for something else, you need to be specific about your request.
For Transparency 3:17 p.m. And Bryan, they rarely post special meeting agendas..... ever. Rarely do they post their minutes, and never do they post audits or budgets.
Bryan Dean 3:18 p.m. Special meeting agendas have to be posted 24 hours before the meeting.
Bryan Dean 3:18 p.m. Not necessarily on websites, though.
Bryan Dean 3:19 p.m. You are right in a general sense that this is another area where many cities fall well short of where they should be. Oklahoma City posts all of that information, but they are the exception.
Thomas Joseph 3:19 p.m. Do you know if mug shots taken by the OCSO are also considered public record? These are routinely sent to the media digitally. However, when I made a request I was told they were only available to the media or via their website using an inmate search. However, that search only shows mugshots of people CURRENTLY incarcerated. I told them this and said that was their policy and that there was nothing she could do.
Bryan Dean 3:20 p.m. There was a recent Attorney General's opinion that specifically addressed this. The ruling was that mug shots are open record and must be provided electronically.
Bryan Dean 3:20 p.m. One second and I will link to that opinion.
Tim 3:21 p.m. Ask for copy of billing. Five Star has a contract with the City already form Limb removal
Bryan Dean 3:22 p.m. You can request their contract with the city. You can request any claims or checks paid to the company. These would all be open record.
For Transparency 3:22 p.m. I'm speaking of posting on their websites. Most people don't know to pay the annual fee to get notice of all of the meetings.
Bryan Dean 3:23 p.m. Yes, it would be nice if more cities did this. There is no reason in this day and age why those shouldn't be posted online.
Open Records 3:23 p.m. Actually, I believe an AG opinion says if an agency, council, board, etc., has a website, they have to post it there.
Bryan Dean 3:24 p.m. They have to post a calendar of meetings and agendas for all regular meetings. They are supposed to post agendas for special meetings when reasonably possible.
Bryan Dean 3:25 p.m. They are not required to post minutes or audits. And as our other commenter pointed out, the "when reasonably possible" language gives enough wiggle room that many cities don't do it.
Grannie Dee 3:25 p.m. So, is it legal for the federal govermnent to refuse to show a person whose license has been flagged the name, address and DOB of the person who has a warrant that caused the license to be flagged? My understanding is there are thousands of Oklahomans whose licenses have been marked "Hold" and maybe hundreds of thousands nationwide. All based on DOB, and maybe one other factor (gender or initial). This is NOT an identity issue, apparently they flag hundreds of licenses for each offender.
Bryan Dean 3:26 p.m. An arrest warrant is a public record, but I don't know of any law specifically requiring people whose licenses are flagged be shown this sort of information.
Tim 3:27 p.m. Thanks this has been helpful I hope we see more of this. I am a member of FOI Oklahoma and am not a reporter just a person for open goverment hope more people join so we can all make a difference.
Bryan Dean 3:28 p.m. As hard as it can be for reporters to get records, I know it is usually much harder for private citizens to get information. This is why we need stronger openness laws.
For Transparency 3:28 p.m. Cities, counties, state agencies, school districts, public trusts..... it should be transparent to all the public what the entity is doing.
Bryan Dean 3:29 p.m. You make an excellent point. There was no Internet when the open records law passed, and it was still pretty new when the law on posting agendas went through. The law has not kept pace with the technology. There is no reason every public entity shouldn't post this kind of information on its website.
Bryan Dean 3:30 p.m. OK, all. We are going to end the discussion here. Thanks for all the good questions. We'll be back next month.


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