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ScissorTales: Sparring over open records requests leaves governor in a bad light

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: November 24, 2012

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

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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