Openness laws play critical role in bringing investigations of crime and government to light in Oklahoma

The Oklahoman relies on open government records and meetings to provide a variety of stories to its readers every day. March 13-19 is Sunshine Week, a national effort to promote open government.
BY BRYAN DEAN bdean@opubco.com Published: March 15, 2011
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Political candidates with criminal backgrounds and financial problems; accusations of incompetence, laziness and fraud at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation; and ongoing coverage of a pharmacist accused of murdering a teenager during an attempted armed robbery were among the stories readers of The Oklahoman never would have seen without laws requiring government meetings and documents be open to the public.

March 13-19 is Sunshine Week, a national effort to promote open government. Each year, The Oklahoman relies on open meetings and records to provide both daily stories and investigative coverage of everything from local city council meetings to murder trials.

Following is a summary of a few stories The Oklahoman would not have been able to report in the past year without open records and meetings.

When reports surfaced that state Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, had an extramarital affair with lobbyist Haley Atwood, it brought into question a state contract awarded to one of Atwood's clients.

The state attorney general said nothing criminal occurred in the process of awarding the contract to manage a new juvenile center to a company that hired Atwood, but ethical questions continued, and the center was scrapped as part of budget cuts.

Oklahomans elected new state, federal and local officials in November, and as part of coverage of the elections, The Oklahoman conducted background checks on 147 candidates running for office.

The checks found 25 candidates with histories worth asking about, including unpaid taxes, personal bankruptcies and an assault and battery complaint.

Such background checks would be impossible without public access to court and police records.



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