OKLAHOMA CITY – The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma has called on Governor Mary Fallin to correct serious failures to comply with Oklahoma’s Open Records Act. In a letter to Steve Mullins, Governor Fallin’s General Counsel, ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director Brady Henderson cited both ongoing illegal practices and the Governor’s continuing denial of access to records requested by local news and entertainment outlet, The Lost Ogle, more than one hundred days ago.
“They’ve turned over nothing, period,” said Patrick Riley, Publisher and Owner of The Lost Ogle. “We have given them nearly four months, and received absolutely zero information.”
After trying fruitlessly by mail and phone for over one hundred days, ACLU of Oklahoma representatives went to the Governor’s Office last Thursday to inspect public records in person, only to find that the Governor does not comply with an important provision of the Open Records Act. “The law requires public offices like the Governor’s Office to have at least one person available at all times to release records to the public for their inspection,” said Brady Henderson, Legal Director of ACLU of Oklahoma. “We found that the Governor’s practice is simply not to do that.”
The Lost Ogle’s request seeks a variety of records relating to Governor Fallin’s controversial decision to reject federal funding for medicaid expansion and refuse to set up a state health insurance exchange. Both decisions have had serious impact for all Oklahomans, and in particular some of the State’s most vulnerable citizens. Questions about the motivation behind the decisions led to multiple news organizations having sought the public records that can provide answers.
“So far, the Governor’s Office has stonewalled every attempt to bring these records to light,” said Brady Henderson, Legal Director of the ACLU of Oklahoma. While The Lost Ogle never received a response from the Governor’s office citing any objection to its request, other journalists seeking similar records have been denied access based on an assertion of “executive privilege,” a privilege that does not exist in Oklahoma law.
In its letter to General Counsel Mullins, the ACLU of Oklahoma expressed both a desire to avoid litigation and a readiness to pursue it if necessary to secure the right to open and transparent government guaranteed to the people of Oklahoma.
“We continue to hope that Governor Fallin’s office will choose to obey the law voluntarily,” said Henderson. “The letter we sent Tuesday should serve as a warning that continuing to flaunt Oklahoma’s Open Records Act can not only result in a waste of taxpayers’ resources, but in a potential recommendation to the Oklahoma District Attorney to investigate criminal charges,” Henderson continued.
The letter also warned Governor Fallin of the larger consequences of her decision not to comply with the law, cautioning that “such conduct rides roughshod over the people’s right to open and accountable government, leaving a shattered public trust and a smokescreen of secrecy in its wake.”
The letter, sent on Tuesday, March 26, is attached, and contains a full timeline of the numerous steps taken by the ACLU of Oklahoma and The Lost Ogle to obtain access to the records.