Boards administering grants funded by tax dollars are subject to state’s FOI laws

Any board administering a grant funded by tax dollars must abide by Oklahoma’s Open Records and Open Meeting laws, public officials were reminded this week.

Assistant Attorney General Gay Tudor also reiterated that cell phone texting and e-mail correspondence would violate the Open Meeting Act if public business were discussed, The Claremore Daily Progress reported.

Tudor also noted such correspondence would be open to public inspection under the Open Records Act, the newspaper said.

In a written opinion this past May, Attorney General Drew Edmondson said records of government business belong to the public even if they are created, received or stored on an official’s private smart phone or laptop.

“To conclude otherwise would allow public officials and employees to circumvent the open records laws simply by using privately owned personal electronic communication devices to conduct public business,” the opinion (09-12) said.

At an open government workshop in Claremore on Tuesday, Edmondson and Tudor answered questions regarding the state’s Open Records and Open Meeting laws. About 75 people, including county and municipal officials and representatives from public boards, attended the seminar, the newspaper reported.

Tudor warned officials not to abuse statutory exemptions allowing for closed-door executive sessions. ““It’s very important for the public to know they can trust you,” she said.

The next seminar will be Aug. 31 in Tecumseh. The workshops, sponsored by FOI Oklahoma Inc. and the Oklahoma Press Association, are free and open to the public.

The written opinion in May warned public officials and employees not to alter or destroy public records on their private communication devices unless allowed to do under the state Records Management Act.

“E-mails, text messages and other electronic communications made or received in connection with the transaction of public business, the expenditure of public funds or the administration of public property are subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, [its exemptions] and the Records Management Act regardless of whether they are created, received, transmitted or maintained by government officials on publicly or privately owned equipment and communications devices,” the opinion concluded.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Journalism

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.