Monday, December 12, 2011

Update: Owasso officials making 'work session' documents available to public prior to meetings

Owasso residents can now read staff memoranda and other documents that form the basis for policy discussions by the City Council during its monthly "work sessions."

City officials had been withholding the documents, claiming they were drafts exempted under the state Open Records Act.

But the statute contains no provision allowing governments to keep "drafts" secret from the public.

Instead, the statute permits governments to keep confidential "personal notes and personally created materials . . . prepared as an aid to memory or research leading to the adoption of a public policy or the implementation of a public project."

The exemption applies only prior to the official "taking action, including making a recommendation or issuing a report." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.9)

In late October, City Manager Rodney Ray agreed to release those "work session" documents to the Owasso Reporter even though he disagreed that the Open Records Act required him to do so.

The Owasso Reporter asked City Attorney Julie Lombardi if the work session documents would be made available to the general public, too.

In November, the city began making the documents available to the general public.

Ray's administrative assistant, Juliann M. Stevens, emailed the September agenda packet to Jennifer Gray, who was a student in my media law course and also an Owasso resident.

The city also is posting the agenda packets for "work sessions" online. See the Nov. 8 packet and the one for tomorrow (Dec. 13).

Thank you to the Owasso city officials for making the documents easily available to the public.

Kudos to the Owasso Reporter for sticking up for not just its need to know but for the public's as well.

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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