ENID, Okla. — An audience of nearly 100 state and municipal employees, elected officials and ordinary residents gathered at the Autry Technology Center lectorium Thursday afternoon for a seminar on open record and meeting laws.
The seminar was the first of six scheduled across the state to educate communities on what qualifies as public knowledge, what information can be requested, what can be withheld and more. Often, rules may vary depending on circumstance.
Seminars are free, open to the public, and hosted by the Attorney General's Office, Oklahoma Press Association and Freedom of Information Oklahoma.
Abby Dillsaver, general counsel to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, led the three-hour discussion over the Open Meeting Act and Open Records Act, fielding audience questions throughout.
The rules are important for ensuring transparency among decision-making bodies whose actions impact the public, such as school boards, and state and local government. Violating the OMA or ORA can result in civil and criminal penalties against individuals responsible, whether the violation was deliberate or unintentional.
"What this whole presentation has been about is how to avoid ever being in that situation," Dillsaver said, as well as offering guidance for residents, public employees, officials and others on how to communicate and cooperate. Proper communication ensures "everybody having a healthy relationship and healthy respect for one another as we all try to do our jobs."
Waukomis resident Roxanne Pollard said Thursday marked the third open record seminar she has attended. Having served on many boards in her life, and currently on the Autry Tech Board of Education, Pollard said it is critical to be familiar with the laws.
"There are new things constantly coming out ... things they have to add and change. You have to follow all these rules closely and know what to say and not say," she said, or there could be consequences. "Somebody really has to keep up and refresh themself all the time."
Mark Thomas, executive vice president of Oklahoma Press Association, said he was impressed with the turnout.
Thomas said attendance hovered around 65 the last two times open records seminars were hosted in Enid. On Thursday, 93 filed into the lectorium.
"Most of these people are public servants that want to know what the correct thing to do is," he said, adding he was pleased to see and speak with a number of area residents as well. "We want both citizens and public officials to have a common understanding of what the law is."
After Enid, the seminar is headed to Ardmore on Oct. 24, Tulsa on Nov. 14, McAlester on Nov. 21, Lawton on Dec. 12, and finishing in Oklahoma City on Dec. 19.