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Open Records Advocates Sue Oklahoma Governor's Office For More Transparency

ACLU of Oklahoma legal director Brady Henderson during a Nov. 9, 2015 press conference, with executive director Ryan Kiesel in the background.
Jacob McCleland
ACLU of Oklahoma legal director Brady Henderson during a Monday press conference, with executive director Ryan Kiesel in the background.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma brought a lawsuit against Gov. Mary Fallin Monday over delays in responding to open records requests.

The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of the Oklahoma Observer and nursing home resident advocacy group A Perfect Cause. Both waited more than 18 months for records requests.

“And from what we can tell, the governor’s office has yet to begin their Open Records requests,” said ACLU legal director Brady Henderson. “Now that’s important for a couple of reasons. The Open Records Act isn’t just about getting access to the records that our tax dollars create. It’s also about getting it in a timely way.”

Some records requests have generated ten of thousands of pages of delivered documents, with many duplicate pages, all delivered as non-searchable image files instead of PDFs. The governor’s spokesman Alex Weintz says Fallin’s office processes requests in the order that they receive them, and a staff member reads each page before they are released.

“We can only do the requests as fast as we can do them. And again, we’re talking about 30,000 or 40,000 pages at a time for these requests, and somebody has to read 30,000 or 40,000 pages,” Weintz said.

ACLU executive director Ryan Kiesel says there is no evidence the governor’s office is trying to improve their processing of requests.

“If you want you records request responded to in a timely manner, it’s not a matter of relying on state law at this point,” Kiesel said. “It’s a matter of lawyering up, going to a district courthouse, and filing some sort of an action against the  governor’s office to get a response. And frankly, that’s not the way the Open Records Act is supposed to work.”

Fallin’s spokesman Alex Weintz says the governor’s office has turned over 350,000 pages of open records request documents.

“We do think we have an obligation to actually read those documents to make sure they don’t have privileged information, to make sure they don’t have personal information,” Weintz said. “Someone before was talking about Social Security numbers. We believe we have to read those documents before we can deliver them."

Weintz says three or four members of the governor’s legal team handle open records requests as part of their duties.

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Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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