The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 16, 2012

The right to know: Letter, spirit of law should be followed

Enid News & Eagle

— We applaud Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office for hosting a local seminar on the Oklahoma Open Meeting and Open Records Acts.

Oklahoma’s open meeting and open records laws provide the framework for public access to government. The seminar was an opportunity for community residents and public officers to learn more about transparency in government.

The seminar was designed to answer questions concerning the state’s open meeting and records laws and inform elected or appointed officials about their responsibility under the acts.

During the summer, the Enid News & Eagle engaged in an open records fight on the manner in which the records of a felony charge were sealed and removed from public view. A judge ruled records in the case should be unsealed and access given to the newspaper and the public.

A new open-records issue surfaced this week. Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis may have violated university policy prohibiting using email for commercial purposes related to Chesapeake Energy, The Daily O’Collegian reported.

Hargis, a former Chesapeake board member, is refusing to release the emails to the student paper and The Wall Street Journal.

In a higher-profile transparency fight, Gov. Mary Fallin’s office won’t release emails detailing her health care decision by citing executive privilege.

FOI Oklahoma, which actively works to open records or provide access to meetings illegally closed, called on Fallin to drop the privilege claims and open the records on Dec. 5.

“Conducting government in secrecy defies the state’s Open Records Act and frustrates the ability of citizens to understand basic functions of state government,” wrote FOI President Lindel Hutson, the former Associated Press bureau chief for Oklahoma.

“Your actions are puzzling, because you signed a pledge on March 13, 2010, that you ‘will comply with not only the letter, but also the spirit of Oklahoma’s Open Meeting and Open Records Laws.’”

The following day, Fallin’s spokesman told The Oklahoman “hundreds of thousands” of emails will be reviewed and released in a two-month process.

We agree with Hutson and FOI Oklahoma. Everyone in public service should follow the spirit and the letter of the law. The public has a right to know in a timely manner.