Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dear Mayor Bartlett: Please live up to your campaign pledge of open government

As a candidate for Tulsa mayor,
Dewey Bartlett Jr. pledged “to support at every opportunity the public policy of the State of Oklahoma that the people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government so that they can efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power.”

But in today's
Tulsa World, Bartlett said having open meetings of a city-county collaborative committee would likely hamper frank discussions by its members.

“It seems to me that when some things are said regarding policy, there are a lot of ‘what if’ scenarios, and I think in those cases it’s probably not necessary for an open meeting,” he said.

Bartlett even seemed dismissive of Tulsa Councilman
Chris Trail, who said he might vote for the committee if its meetings were open. Bartlett said if that's Trail's stipulation, “he doesn’t have to worry about being involved with it.”

How ironic that Trail,
who didn't sign FOI Oklahoma's Open Government Pledge, is calling for open meetings, but Bartlett -- who did sign -- seems opposed to the public's right to observe open and frank discussions by its elected officials.

The pledge isn't conditional, Mr. Mayor. It contains no exemption for "frank discussions" only behind closed doors.

By signing the pledge, Mr. Bartlett, you endorsed "the purpose of Oklahoma's Open Meeting and Open Records laws to ensure and facilitate the public's understanding of governmental processes and problems."

That understanding occurs best when the public observes frank and open discussions by its elected officials.

More than 30 years ago, our state Supreme Court said, “If an informed citizenry is to meaningfully participate in government or at least understand why government acts affecting their daily lives are taken, the process of decision making as well as the end results must be conducted in full view of the governed." (
Oklahoma Ass’n of Municipal Attorneys v. Derryberry, 1978 OK 59)

That's true even for discussions by the proposed Collaborative Government Advisory Committee, which would look for ways that Tulsa and Tulsa County could save taxpayer money by sharing services and purchases.

Don't fear open government, Mr. Bartlett. It's what you promised the voters.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Journalism

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