Oklahoma union faces ethics investigation in stunt to protest records request

BY JOHN ESTUS, BRYAN DEAN and PAUL MONIES Modified: April 2, 2010 at 6:28 pm •  Published: March 6, 2010
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State Attorney General Drew Edmondson is looking into whether several state employees violated ethics rules prohibiting using state resources to engage in political activity.

Charlie Price, Edmondson’s spokesman, confirmed the investigation.

At the urging of their union, dozens of state workers on Friday used state phones and e-mail accounts to complain about an open records request by The Oklahoman for basic employee information.

The workers e-mailed and called the newspaper and a state administrator to protest the records request after the Oklahoma Public Employees Association sent a "call to action” e-mail to its members.

It is illegal for state employees to engage in political activity during work hours or with state equipment, including phones and computers, according to state ethics rules.

The Oklahoman has retained the correspondence showing state workers used state phones and e-mail accounts to fulfill their union’s request.

The workers were upset because the newspaper requested birth dates, salaries and other basic employment information for all state employees. The request remains unfulfilled. The birth dates of public employees have been deemed public information under a recent opinion by Edmondson.

Edmondson released the birth dates for his employees to the newspaper last month. Oklahoma City Public Schools this week released birth dates for more than 5,000 district employees in response to an open records request.

The newspaper requested the information to look into the backgrounds of state employees. Reporters nationwide routinely use public employees’ birth dates for background checks.

They are a crucial component of background checks because they help differentiate people with common names from one another.

Without birth dates, reporters cannot confirm whether felons, sex offenders, delinquent tax filers or other criminals are working for public agencies, which are funded by taxpayer dollars.

"For years we’ve routinely used dates of birth when doing stories that involve people with common names, to ensure that the right person is identified,” said Ed Kelley, editor of The Oklahoman.

"This isn’t identity theft. What it is is solid reporting to protect government workers and more importantly, the taxpayers who fund their salaries.”

Joe Worley, executive editor of the Tulsa World, said, "The Tulsa World has used date of birth information for years to accurately report stories about sex offenders and other serious offenders who were working in schools and government agencies.”

"This is a basic tool that journalists have used for years to assure that we are correctly reporting on governmental agencies. Our readers expect us to get our facts right and dates of birth are absolutely necessary for us to do our job.


Who requests voter information?

Dates of birth already are readily available under the state Open Records Act. The state Election Board sells lists of registered voters, which include name, address and date of birth, a key identifier in determining who is eligible to vote. Since 2003, the election board has received more than 1,800 requests for voter data. Here’s a sample of who has requested voter information data since 2008:

State agencies

• Oklahoma Department of Human Services Aging Division


• Oklahoma State Health Department


• Oklahoma Tax Commission


• State Board of Regents


• University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Political organizations/ consultants

• Helping Oklahoma Public Education


• Oklahoma Democratic Party


• Oklahoma Republican Party


• Republican National Committee


• Oklahomans for Fair Employment


• CMA Strategies


• Wilson Research Strategies


• Cole, Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates


• Oklahoma Education Association


• American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3894


• Shawnee Police Association


• Votizen


• Catalist


• Magellan Data and Mapping Strategies

Financial firms

• All American Loans


• Dixie Finance of Atoka


• Dixie Finance of Wagoner


• Community State Bank


• Continental Credit


• McBride Insurance Agency

Lawmakers

• Rep. Charles Key, R-Oklahoma City


• Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso


• Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City


• Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City


• Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs


• Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant


• Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa


• Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa


• U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore

Cities/schools

• City of Noble


• City of Broken Arrow


• Broken Arrow Public Schools


• Jones School District

Courts

• U.S. District Court Northern Division


• U.S. District Court Eastern Division


• U.S. District Court Western Division

Civic groups/chambers of commerce

• Stillwater Medical Center Foundation


• El Reno Chamber of Commerce


• Bartlesville Area Chamber of Commerce

Marketing firms

• IntellData


• American Information Marketing


• American Mailing List Corp.


• Valentine Direct Marketing

Media

• The Oklahoman


• Tulsa World

Research/universities

• Stanford University


• University of Mississippi

Paul Monies, Database Editor

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