Whenever a News Press journalist makes an open records request, it might be seen as extra work for a clerk or that somebody is looking to make trouble.
March 14 kicks off Sunshine Week, a celebration of open government, and we like to keep an eye on our public bodies to make sure they comply with open meetings and open records law.
They way we see it, those are your records, the agencies that have them are holding them for you, and when the need arises, we are the vehicle that brings them to the public.
The records of taxpayer-funded entities belong to the taxpayers. There should be no mistake.
Keep that in mind if an agency wants to create extra barriers or expense to obtaining records. Or if a public body wants to work in shadow.
That’s not the intention of American government, and there aren’t other industries that make it a consistent directive to hold government accountable.
Oklahoma State communications associate professor Joey Senat is also an advisory board member for FOI Oklahoma – FOI meaning Freedom of Information. He teaches something he calls a “presumption of openness,” writing in training material on FOI Oklahoma that “all state and local records are open unless specifically exempted by statute. Always assume a government record is open.”
Now, that’s training for journalists, but it also applies to the public. Those are your records.
Something we’d like to see a little bit more of is training for the people who work in places records are kept. It’s not at all uncommon that a journalist will have to explain to a government employee how open records requests are supposed to work.
Senat also writes, government must, “make available during all regular business hours someone who is authorized to release records.”
We’ve heard more than a few times that the person responsible for helping with records, “is not in” or will “be in later.” That’s technically against state statute.
Thanks, Joey. And, thanks to everyone who understands the necessity of open government.