GOV. Mary Fallin's staff is looking for reasons not to disclose how Fallin made the decision to return a $54 million federal grant last year after originally accepting it. Right or wrong, such maneuvering leaves the impression she has something to hide.
The Oklahoman sought emails from the governor's office through an open records request. Fallin's legal counsel rejected the request, citing executive privilege and attorney-client privilege. He said releasing such emails would hinder the ability of policymakers to have productive internal discussions.
But an expert in Oklahoma's open records laws says once a personal note or memo becomes a recorded conversation or directive, it isn't personal anymore. And executive privilege isn't an exemption under Oklahoma law.
A 2009 opinion from the Oklahoma attorney general's office was clear: “Emails, text messages, and other electronic communications made or received in connection with the transaction of public business, the expenditure of public funds or the administration of public property, are subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act.”
Fallin and legislative leaders accepted the $54 million grant to establish a federal health care exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act. Only after getting blowback from fellow Republicans did Fallin do an about-face. The taxpayers who paid for the grant and who would have used the exchange deserve to know more about what went down.
Keep it simple
The move to give cities and towns more leeway to enact smoke-free ordinances is sure to continue at the Legislature in 2013. This seemingly simple issue has proved to be anything but that so far. In Oklahoma, municipalities are prohibited from enacting tobacco-related rules that are stricter than state law. This spring, the state House approved a bill that would have let local governments adopt ordinances to control smoking in public places. The bill stalled in a Senate committee. In 2011, a local control bill got derailed over concerns about overly broad language. One section of that bill potentially would have given municipalities a say in how tobacco was advertised, displayed and even taxed, which worried retailers. A recent federal report will give backers of local control more fodder to take to lawmakers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Oklahoma City and Tulsa are among six of the largest cities in the country with weak laws regarding exposure to secondhand smoke. Local control is a sensible idea. Supporters should keep it simple next year — push for a law that lets municipalities determine where residents can use tobacco. The wider the net they cast, the more difficult their work will become.
Hurting those arguments
Recently, there's been a push to overhaul Oklahoma's liquor laws and allow grocery stores and similar outlets to sell wine or strong beer. So far, sellers benefiting from current restrictions have won the day; state regulations have remained intact. Recent trends suggest many entrepreneurs expect little change in future years. The number of liquor stores in Oklahoma has reached 666, the highest total in decades. In 2001, there were just 538. Some have suggested wine sales in grocery stores would increase underage drinking, but it would seem the growth of liquor stores would have the same potential impact. From a free-market perspective, the increased number of outlets should boost competition and keep consumer prices lower, benefiting consumers. But allowing grocery stores to sell wine would do the same. As a result, the growth of liquor stores is actually undermining arguments for the sales restrictions that benefit them.
A chance to help kids
The Court Appointed Special Advocates of Oklahoma County are banking on a little holiday cheer to help the children CASA serves. On Giving Tuesday, which arrives next week, one of CASA's board members will match any gift made to the organization through its website (www.okcountycasa.org/light-of-hope) or by phone (405) 713-6612. This is the first year for Giving Tuesday, a national event that seeks to use the momentum around the holidays and direct it toward giving. “We have Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, so why not Giving Tuesday?” says CASA's development coordinator, Emily Mapes. All proceeds will go toward serving the abused and neglected children CASA represents in court. This organization does great work, and this effort merits support.
Ticket to the unemployment line
Ken Qualls' zealousness cost him his job. Qualls was a Piedmont police officer until a few weeks after he cited the mother of a 3-year-old boy for public urination because the youngster tried to do his business in the family's front yard. The ticket issued Nov. 4 was amended to contributing to the delinquency of a minor — something prosecutors, we're glad to say, refused to pursue. Such citations are generally reserved for adults who help teenagers buy beer or provide them with illegal drugs. In other words, for those who really do contribute to the delinquency of a minor. News of the tinkling ticket spread far and wide and produced a storm of protest. On Nov. 16, Qualls was given his pink slip by the city manager. Qualls' attorney says the firing was an overreaction caused mostly by embarrassment. But the sentiment of Piedmont Mayor Valerie Thomerson in backing her city manager is likely shared by many: “I will not defend stupid.”
An easy decision
In denying a name-change request in a transgender case last year, Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Graves was guided by his aversion to such procedures on moral grounds. But Graves is compelled to follow the law, and on those grounds he failed. This week a three-judge panel of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals ruled unanimously that Graves must order the name change for Steven Charles Harvey, who had asked to change his name to Christie Ann Harvey. Judges may deny a name-change request if they find it's being sought “for an illegal or fraudulent purpose.” Graves said people can't really change their gender because their DNA remains the same, so in essence they're perpetrating a fraud. Poppycock, the appeals court said: “The relevant issue in a name change proceeding is not whether the applicant's DNA corresponds with the traditionally male or female name preferred by the applicant. The statute does not change the sex of the applicant, only the applicant's name.” Graves' decision was ridiculous, its appeal an easy call for the court.
Concerns are for naught
The state Supreme Court this week said a proposed $25 million bond issue for the Zink Dam in Tulsa was unconstitutional because it essentially was a gift to the city. State Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, who had challenged the plan, said he hoped that “in the future ... policymakers will pay closer attention to the state constitution.” But Anderson's concerns are for naught, at least as they pertain to bond issues. The Republican-controlled Legislature has made it abundantly clear it wants nothing to do with increasing the state's bonded indebtedness. As a result, proposals to use bond issues for truly worthwhile projects, such as repair of the Capitol and construction of a new state medical examiner's office, have been rejected. With the GOP adding members in the House and Senate with this year's elections, that sentiment isn't about to change.