Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sperry school district won't honor standing requests for records

Sperry school officials won't respond to requests for board agenda packets or other documents until after the records are created, Superintendent Brian Beagles recently told Neighbor News.
The district's legal counsel advised Beagles that the state Open Records Act doesn't require the creation of any records in response to a record request, Beagles told a Neighbor News editor who had requested the board's agenda packet.
"Accordingly, there were no documents responsive to your request at the time of the request and your 'standing' request is not allowed by Oklahoma law," Beagles said.
"The District will, of course, respond to your or any person's request in a timely manner for documents after they come into existence," he said.
Beagles has refused to provide the school board's agenda packets to the public until the day after the meetings.
Now, Beagles says the public cannot request the packets in advance.
He said the legal counsel, presumably the Tulsa law firm of Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold, told him that "no law ... requires the Sperry School District or any other public body in Oklahoma to respond to a standing request as to documents that are not in existence or in its custody when the requestor issues its 'standing request'."
The Open Records Act says it "does not impose any additional recordkeeping requirements on public bodies or public officials." (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 24A.18)
The Neighbor News editor didn't ask Sperry school officials to create documents. Instead, he asked to inspect the school board's agenda packet once it was created, which it would be.
The purpose of the Oklahoma Open Records Act is "to ensure and facilitate the public's right of access to and review of government records so they may efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power." (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 24A.2)
The Open Meeting Act emphasizes that this state's public policy is "to encourage and facilitate an informed citizenry's understanding of the governmental processes and governmental problems." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 302)
"The Act serves to inform the citizenry of the governmental problems and processes by informing them of the business the government will be conducting,” said the Court of Civil Appeals in 2008. (Wilson v. City of Techumseh, 2008 OK CIV APP 84, ¶ 10)
Beagles, aided by Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold, is doing his damnedest to thwart the public's right (obligation) to know and have some say on Sperry school board decisions before they're a done deal.
Blame it on the Sperry school board: President Jeff Carter, Vice President Gary Juby, Clerk April Bowman, Derrell Morrow and Mechelle Beats.
They're the ones letting Beagles get away with it.

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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