How do you begin a week promoting openness in government?
If you’re the Oklahoma Senate, you clear your gallery of journalists and onlookers and host a secret meeting.
If you’re Joey Senat, you serve as master of ceremonies of a statewide conference celebrating Sunshine Week. (If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a national initiative emphasizing the importance of freedom of information.)
At the state Capitol, Oklahoma legislators are exempt from the state’s Open Meetings Law. According to The Associated Press, Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said he requested the closed-door executive session to discuss “Senate decorum.” Senate Democratic leader Sean Burrage agreed to the motion.
“Ironic, to say the least,” Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University, told AP. “Maybe it shows they are clueless that Sunshine Week even exists.”
In Norman, Senat worked to make that known as Freedom of Information Oklahoma hosted a conference at the Gaylord College of Journalism on the University of Oklahoma campus.
The Oklahoma Daily, OU’s student-run newspaper, quoted Senat making a fundamental point.
“The biggest threat to our rights is our own ignorance of those rights, and we have a right — if not an obligation — to know what our government is doing,” Senat reportedly said.
FOI Oklahoma’s distinguished honor, the Marian Opala First Amendment Award, was presented to the Enid News & Eagle Saturday in Norman.
Additionally, Gov. Mary Fallin and her general counsel, Steve Mullins, earned the less prestigious Black Hole Award, which recognizes someone who has damaged the public’s right to know. The Ben Blackstock Award went to the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise. State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, was presented the Sunshine Award for opening the doors of secrecy at the Department of Human Services.
We believe in openness, and we fully support Sunshine Week. Let the sun shine in, even at the state Capitol.