Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jet town attorney agrees records copy fee violates Open Records Act; Didn't know AG opinions require records be released in electronic format

Jet's attorney agrees that the town is overcharging for some copies of records.

The small town in Alfalfa County charges 50 cents for each page larger than 8 1/2 by 11 inches, the FOI Oklahoma Blog reported a week ago.

But under the state Open Records Act, the town may not charge more than 25 cents per page for uncertified paper documents 8 1/2 by 14 inches or smaller. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.5(3))

In an email today to Fox 25 reporter Phil Cross, town attorney E. W. "Bill" Shaw agreed that "the charges were not in compliance with the statute."

Shaw said the charges "will be formally changed at the next board meeting."

Shaw didn't indicate how many people the town has overcharged for copies and whether those people be reimbursed the overcharge.

However, the Enid attorney did seem defensive because of Cross' request for the town's contract with Shaw.

"I am not sure of what your purpose is in these records," wrote Shaw, adding:
As I mentioned to you earlier, the town of Jet is a rural community with a listed population of 204 citizens, mostly elderly. The Town's financial resources are very limited and the work required the town clerk to keep up with all the government imposed tasks is very demanding. The board members receive minimal pay for a great deal of time dealing with the maintenance of the streets, cleaning trash, dealing with abandoned buildings, etc. I try to assist the town when requested. Because I am aware of the limited resources of the town I only charge half of my hourly rate for my services.
Of course, town officials could save themselves some of those fees if they would respond directly to questions from reporters and residents rather than having Shaw run interference for them.

Shaw's email also thanked Cross for sending citations for two state attorney general opinions requiring that records be made available in electronic format if kept that way.

In emails with resident Paul Blackledge, Shaw had defended town officials' refusal to provide meeting agendas as email attachments because doing so isn't required by the Open Records Act. True, it isn't.

But Shaw also said records don't have to be released in electronic format. Wrong, they must be.

Shaw had told Cross that he didn't know about the following two attorney general opinions:
  • 1999 OK AG 55, ¶ 23: Because "the Open Records Act does not distinguish between the form of public records," records must be provided "in whatever form they exist."
  • 2006 OK AG 35, ¶ 19: "There are no Oklahoma statutes or laws generally requiring public agencies or public officers to keep records in an electronic format. However, if a governmental agency elects to keep its records in electronic format we believe that such agency must provide records under the Act in this format if so requested."
A town attorney -- even one charging half-price -- should have known about these formal written opinions.

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

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

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