Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Tulsa County clerk election goes to candidate favoring fee to access records online
The Tulsa County clerk's chief deputy was elected to the office Tuesday, meaning that the $30 monthly fee to access land records online seems likely to continue.
Pat Key won with 50.5 percent of the vote, besting her opponent, Dean Martin, by just 179 votes, according to unofficial results from the Tulsa County Election Board.
Martin told the Tulsa World that he plans to ask for a recount.
The Republican runoff chose the new Tulsa County clerk because no Democrat filed for the office. Republican Earlene Wilson is retiring after 12 years in the job.
Key has defended the clerk's practice of charging a $30 monthly fee for the public to access land records online. Martin said he considers it a violation of the Open Records Act.
A flat subscription fee for online access seems problematic under the statute because it isn't the direct cost specifically incurred in responding to each request. The fee clearly could not be implemented as a moneymaker for the clerk's office.
Earlier this week, The Journal Record editorialized against the fee, noting that "public records are owned by the public, not the bureaucrats."
"The Tulsa County clerk's office has forgotten that premise," the publication said. "It is in the county's best interest to provide free access; not only does it make government more transparent, it avoids any possible violation of the law and makes the process more convenient for both the public and the clerk’s office.
"More importantly, making public access free is the right thing to do," it said.
The publication's editors believe the subscription violates the Open Records Act but said they haven't sued because the small amount makes "litigation a pointlessly expensive alternative."
Would a class-action lawsuit be feasible?
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
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.