Wednesday, February 9, 2011

International expert on government transparency laws will deliver keynote for FOI Oklahoma’s fourth annual Sunshine Week Conference on March 12 in Oklahoma City

An internationally recognized expert on open government laws will offer his insight on creating a state agency that Oklahomans can go to for help when public officials wrongly withhold records or restrict access to open meetings.

As executive director for the nation’s first-such state agency, Robert J. "Bob" Freeman is responsible for providing advice about New York's open records and meeting laws to the public, state and local governments, and the media.

Freeman's keynote address to FOI Oklahoma’s fourth annual Sunshine Week Conference on March 12 in Oklahoma City also will offer advice on making Oklahoma’s open government laws work for the public.

This year’s conference theme is "Putting Muscle Behind Oklahoma’s FOI Laws." The conference, set at The Oklahoman Tower, 9000 N. Broadway, also will feature:
  • State representatives discussing bills requiring the Legislature to comply with Oklahoma’s Open Meeting and Records laws;

  • A panel of local heroes who have gone to court seeking information under the Open Records Act and challenging the conduct of public bodies under the Open Meeting Act; and

  • A workshop training the public to use the Open Records Act to request records and to spot the most-likely violations of the Open Meeting Act.
The luncheon will include a tribute to former Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala. Recipients of FOI Oklahoma Inc.'s annual Marian Opala First Amendment Award and three freedom-of-information awards will be recognized, as will the winners of its first FOI essay contest for college students.

More information on the conference and a registration form can be found at Please register soon because seating is limited.

The daylong conference kicks off with Freeman’s keynote speech at 9 a.m.

Freeman was legal counsel for the New York State Committee on Open Government at its inception in 1974 and became its executive director in 1976. He also is co-author of New York's Freedom of Information and Personal Privacy Protection laws.

"Bob was the first official in the U.S. to conceive of, and implement, an office that is now replicated in a number of states, provinces and countries," an FOI advocate said last year when Freeman was inducted into the national Open Government Hall of Fame.

"Bob was also one of the original proponents of the concept that freedom of information is not merely a legal mandate, but an ethical responsibility for all government officials."

The committee, a division of the New York Secretary of State's Office, is composed of five members from government and six from the public, including at last two representing the news media.

Freeman and the committee are responsible for overseeing the implementation of the state's open government laws and administering the Personal Privacy Protection Law. Freeman has written about 17,000 advisory opinions on behalf of the committee at the request of government officials, the public and the news media. He also has provided several thousand oral opinions by telephone.

Courts typically agree with his advisory opinions, Freeman told the FOI Oklahoma Blog recently.

A financial analysis showed that the committee costs each New York taxpayer less than one cent per year, Freeman said. He and his staff conducted about 90 training programs for the public, government officials and the media last year.

Freeman also has offered advice and consultation on open government laws and concepts throughout the United States and in Canada, the Far East, Eastern Europe and Latin America. He helped with the development of Japan's first access to records law.

"Robert Freeman is one of the people everyone in the Freedom of Information movement has turned to for advice and legal know-how," said Charles Davis, former executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. "He stands as one of the great voices of FOI and has talked to groups, large and small, about the topic more often than anyone else on the planet."

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

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