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Transcript of Oklahoma open records chat

Reporters Bryan Dean and Paul Monies held an open records chat with an Oklahoma State University professor Wednesday to discuss public records and answer questions from readers about recent cases.
by Paul Monies Modified: July 25, 2012 at 3:23 pm •  Published: July 25, 2012

Below is a transcript of an open records chat with reporters Bryan Dean and Paul Monies and Joey Senat, an Oklahoma State University journalism professor and open government expert.

Paul, Bryan and Joey will be signing in at 1 p.m. You can start submitting your questions now.
- NewsOK at 12:33

Hi everybody. I'm Paul Monies and I'll be your moderator this afternoon for this live chat on Oklahoma open records and open meetings. I'm an energy reporter at The Oklahoman and a former database editor on the Watchdog team. I'm a data junkie, too.
- Paul Monies at 12:53

Joining me today will be Bryan Dean, breaking news reporter, and Professor Joey Senat from Oklahoma State University.
- Paul Monies at 12:54

We'll be chatting about recent open records cases in Oklahoma and answering whatever questions you might have about public meetings and government documents.
- Paul Monies at 12:58

So I guess we're all here
- Bryan Dean at 13:00

So I guess we're all here
- Bryan Dean at 13:00

I am.
- Joey Senat at 13:00

Yep. Let's get started.
- Paul Monies at 13:00

OK. Let's get started
- Paul Monies at 13:00

Hello all. Nice to be here.
- Bryan Dean at 13:01

What do you think about the Supreme Court's newest decision (2012 OK 60, ¶ 15) ruling that a specific provision in the Open Records Act prohibits the County Clerk from providing information from county land records to a commercial vendor for resale?
- Sojourner at 13:01

It concerns me as both a citizen and a reporter when anyone is restricted from getting information.
- Bryan Dean at 13:02

I was out of town (ironically, doing open government training in the Midwest) when the case came down. I've just started reading it.
- Joey Senat at 13:02

Can we get a little background on the case?
- Paul Monies at 13:02

This has to do with electronic county assessor data, right?

- Paul Monies at 13:02

We've had problems in the past with counties outsourcing their records to private companies which charge way more than is allowed under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
- Bryan Dean at 13:03

I'll leave it to Joey to give more background on this specific case.
- Bryan Dean at 13:04

(We've got a couple more questions in the queue, so thanks for your patience.)
- Paul Monies at 13:05

This is a link to the opinion:

- Joey Senat at 13:05

County Clerk refused production of official tract index, but Supreme Court said the open records act exemption also prohibits production of "land records" to someone who intends to resell them for profit
- Sojourner at 13:05

If I remember correctly, there was a bill at the legislature that set up a new fee schedule for county clerks, right?
- Paul Monies at 13:06

I thought that is what KellPro, Inc., does, and County Records, Inc. (plaintiff in that case) wants to compete with Kellpro.
- Sojourner at 13:07

It's a bit of an odd decision because there is nothing in the Open Records Act prohibiting re-sale of public information. From my perspective, there wouldn't be a need for these compnaies if public agencies would do a better job making the records easily accessible and searchable.
- Bryan Dean at 13:07

New fee schedule was set up for county assessors. 68 § 2864 I believe
- Sojourner at 13:08

Why do you think the openness of public documents is under attack right now? It seems like fewer and fewer things are available.
- Carrie at 13:09

I don't believe the county clerk fee bill passed.
- Joey Senat at 13:09

Count clerks do have some other exemptions that allow them to charge more than the normal 25 cents per page. They've tried to get these rules relaxed even more because just like the private companies, they sometimes see records fees as a revenue generator. That's not how it is supposed to work.
- Bryan Dean at 13:09

It is an odd decision.
- Sojourner at 13:10

It's a complicated answer, Carrie. It seems like there are two main drivers. The first is security and the second is privacy.
- Bryan Dean at 13:10

Governments at all levels have started closing off previously open records in the name of security. Stuff that in many cases, we need to see to keep the government honest. If you want to know if a utility is doing something to put the public in danger, you might be stymied by rules that prohibit the release of records because they don't want terrorists attacking the electric grid, for example.
- Bryan Dean at 13:12

Both security and privacy come into play. And then there are people who prey on fears of identity theft.
- Paul Monies at 13:12

Identity theft/privacy is the other factor. You saw this with the closure of public employee birth dates. There is no data out there showing that thieves are stealing identities off of public records, but it's a scary thought for a lot of people.
- Bryan Dean at 13:13

I'm happy to give my birth date. I actually have a good answer for that question.
- Bryan Dean at 13:14

What about access to criminal affidavits (names, addresses, phone numbers etc)
- MJ at 13:14

What's your birthdate?
- Randy at 13:14

4/25/79. And I'm happy to give it out because there are several other Bryan Deans in this state with criminal backgrounds that I don't want connected to me.
- Bryan Dean at 13:15

MIne is 10/30/60. And I am a state employee.
- Joey Senat at 13:15

Mine is 6/27/75. I'll expect birthday cards now, though!
- Paul Monies at 13:15

Btw, I shared that on the radio when this issue came up.
- Joey Senat at 13:15

And that is one of the big issues here. Birth dates don't just help us find the bad guys. They help protect the good guys. I don't want my name associated with someone else with a similar name who has done bad things. If an employer or someone you are dating or whatever wants to look you up, you don't want them getting the wrong idea.
- Bryan Dean at 13:16

open government to see what is going on is one thing, but open government to copy and duplicate government-compiled databases is another thing, and I think it is the latter thing that creates most of the problems and draws most of the new legislation in response
- Sojourner at 13:17

As for criminal affidavits, court records are generally open unless sealed by a judge. For most criminal cases, you will first see a probable cause affidavit filed by police. This is followed by formal charges. Other court records are filed as the case progresses and are open unless a judge decides otherwise.
- Bryan Dean at 13:17

Does OML propagate the fear of identity theft?
- Paul at 13:18

Problem with criminal issues is that gangs are "tech savvy" these days and use everything at their disposal to find and intimidate and sometimes harm witnesses
- Sojourner at 13:18

Paul, do you mean the Oklahoma Municipal League? Do you have any details on that?
- Paul Monies at 13:18

I guess I don't see the problem with duplicating databases. The government shouldn't be worried about losing out on revenue. That's not what open records are for.
- Bryan Dean at 13:18

Typically law enforcement is sensitive about protecting witnesses and won't list addresses or other information on criminal documents if they are worried about witness intimidation.
- Bryan Dean at 13:19

But in the end, criminal defendants do know about witnesses.

- Joey Senat at 13:20

Bryan, can you talk more about that. We had a recent instance of this, didn't we?
- Paul Monies at 13:20

Not revenue as muc h as it is "ease of access" for unseemly and sometimes criminal endeavors . . . most criminals will not come to courthouse and spend all day looking through documents, but they will download database in a heartbeat
- Sojourner at 13:20

And so will other people. It's what they do with the information that should (and is) criminalized. The answer isn't shutting off everyone's access for legitimate reasons.
- Joey Senat at 13:21

There are all sorts of reasons people want to close off certain criminal data. In the Carina Saunders case, there was a push to keep the autopsy report secret, I can only guess because the details are graphic and her family doesn't want them out there. There is obviously a balance to be struck, but in the end the records belong to the taxpayers, not the police and not the government.
- Bryan Dean at 13:22

Nothing solid, just seems they lean on the side of proecting the trustees instead of the open to the public. Yes Oklahoma Municipal League.
- Paul at 13:22

Ease of access is also important for everyone. Often we at The Oklahoman will compile databases because they give us critical information that people want and need to know. If the information isn't easily searchable, you can't learn anything from it.
- Bryan Dean at 13:23

But allowing public to look at whatever documents they want is one thing . . . mandating that electronic databases be available for download is clearly a step or two removed, no?
- Sojourner at 13:23

No, it isn't. The current law is that the records should be released in whatever form they exist.
- Bryan Dean at 13:23

A database is just as much a record as a city council agenda.
- Bryan Dean at 13:24

No, it's not. Electronic format makes it easier to understand what government is doing.
- Joey Senat at 13:24

There are also personal reasons for wanting access to information held by government. We make many life-affecting decisions about those we allow into our lives. We make better decisions when we can know more about those people.
- Joey Senat at 13:25

It wasn't the OML fighting the release of public employee birth dates. It was the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.
- Bryan Dean at 13:25

Everytime I write a check and/or use credit card, my checking account information or credit card number is distributed to others. That is one thing. Having someone hack into credit card processing company to download list of names and credit card numbers for 1,000,000 people is something entirely different.
- Sojourner at 13:26

I'll give a specific example from my experience. Following a fatal police chase in Oklahoma City several years ago, we asked for a database compiling information about police chases. The department's policy was that officers had to decide when a chase was too dangerous and call it off. Looking at the database, we found that was essentially never happening. The story prompted police to change their policy and now supervisors decide when to call off a chase.
- Bryan Dean at 13:26

Sojourner, that is clearly an illegal act you're describing. We're talking about public data and government records. BTW, there is a state law that says companies are supposed to notify consumers of data breaches like that.
- Paul Monies at 13:27

Credit card companies are public agencies. Hacking is illegal.

- Joey Senat at 13:27

But your bank information isn't in a public database. That's the difference. A public database showing information that involves a public interest is open for a reason.
- Bryan Dean at 13:27

Continue reading this story on the...

by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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