Friday, July 6, 2012

Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office persuades Sperry school district to post agenda packets online prior to board meetings

Sperry school district officials will start posting agenda packets online prior to board meetings, the Skiatook Journal reported Friday afternoon.
Superintendent Brian D. Beagles had refused to make the packets available until the day after school board meetings.
The district didn't have the time or necessary staff to ensure that the materials given to school board members could be reviewed and confidential material redacted before meetings, Beagles had told the newspaper and Cindy Wilson, a former school board member requesting the packets.
The newspaper filed a complaint with the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office.
On Tuesday, the DA's Office told the newspaper that the school board materials will be posted to the district's website by 1 p.m. on meeting days.
The board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Monday.
On Friday, Beagles told the newspaper that people without Internet access will be allowed to pay for hard copies at the district office. He would not clarify for the newspaper whether the copies would be made available at the time of the request.
However, the head of the DA's Civil Division indicated to the newspaper that copies will be available when requested.
"My understanding is that hard copies of the packets will be available at 1 p.m. on the day of the meeting for anyone that makes a written request with money in hand,” John David Luton told the newspaper in an email.
Requesters should also be allowed to inspect the records first for free. The state Open Records Act clearly requires that records be made available for inspection as well as for copying. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.5)
Beagles also wouldn't clarify whether the district will continue requiring requesters to make appointments to view other public records.
But Luton told the newspaper, "I don’t think an appointment is required to inspect documents."
The Open Records Act already requires government agencies to have available during all regular business hours an employee who is "authorized to release records ... for inspection, copying, or mechanical reproduction." (§ 24A.5(6))
The statute also mandates "prompt, reasonable access," which the state attorney general has defined as "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 attorney general said. (Id. ¶ 11)
The statute also allows government agencies to "establish reasonable procedures that protect the integrity and organization of its records and to prevent excessive disruptions of its essential functions." (§ 24A.5(5))
A 2006 attorney general opinion said such protection "might reasonably include limiting access to original records by the public or limiting public access to work areas of agency personnel." (2006 OK AG 35, ¶ 13)
Thank you to Wilson and the newspaper for standing up for the public's need to know.
Kudos to the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office for persuading Beagles and the school attorney, Douglas Mann of Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold, to change the policy.
But why did it take intervention by the DA's Office?
The Sperry school board -- President Jeff Carter, Vice President Gary Juby, Clerk April Bowman, Derrell Morrow and Mechelle Beats -- should have told Beagles to change his obstructionist policy.
After all, they work for the electorate. And Beagles works for them. Not the other way around.

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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