Monday, October 11, 2010

Open records lawsuit seeks information packets, documents from Bartlesville Redevelopment Trust Authority

Two FOI Oklahoma members are suing the Bartlesville Redevelopment Trust Authority for copies of the information packets and other documents given to its seven-member board for regular and special meetings.

Joel Rabin and Sharon Hurst have been requesting the records in writing since late August, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Washington County District Court.

The Osage County residents have received no response to their requests, according to the lawsuit.

The Bartlesville Redevelopment Trust Authority was formed by the Bartlesville City Council to help develop downtown Bartlesville. According to its website:
One way the BRTA seeks to do this is by acquiring properties within or near the downtown area and making those properties available for redevelopment by private parties.
According to the lawsuit, Bartlesville City Clerk/Treasurer and Finance Director Mike Bailey told Rabin on Aug. 23 that attorney Dan McMahan of Oklahoma City would handle open records requests for the BRTA.

Rabin and Hurst are requesting the information packets and other documents distributed at BRTA meetings since Jan. 1.

Information packets distributed along with agendas to members of public bodies are open to the public under the Open Records Act, a state trial judge held in April 2004. (See Shero v. City of Grove, No. 05-CV-0137-CVE-PJC, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80462, at **4-5 (N.D. Okla. Nov. 2, 2006))

“It is clear that the packets are public records,” said Delaware County District Judge Barry Denney. “The city can keep confidential or delete records they believe to be of confidential nature before distributing them to those who request copies.”

Under the Open Records Act, “A public body must provide prompt, reasonable access to its records....” (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.5(5))

A 1999 attorney general opinion stated succinctly that “prompt, reasonable access” generally means “only the time required to locate and compile” the public records. (1999 OK AG 58, ¶ 15)

“There is no provision in the Open Records Act for a public body to ‘withhold’ records for any amount of time, however small. The duty to provide prompt and reasonable access is complied with only when a public body properly attends to its duty to provide a record,” the opinion said. (Id. ¶ 11)

Rabin and Hurst are being represented by Doug Wilson, a Stillwater attorney and FOI Oklahoma Inc. board member.

The BRTA board members are Walter Allison, Jon Baccus, Randy Bluhm, Sherri Musselman Cox, City Councilman Tom Gorman, David Oakley Jr and Donna Skelly.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

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