Broken Arrow school board votes to release detailed billing records from law firm

Taxpayers will get a better idea of what a Tulsa law firm did to earn more than $200,000 from the Broken Arrow Public Schools in one year.

The school system's board of education voted 5-0 Monday night to release all detailed billing records that establish the nature and amount of charges incurred by the school district for legal services provided by the Tulsa firm Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold.

The board also will release the district’s engagement letter with the Tulsa law firm Crowe & Dunlevy and detailed billing records submitted to the district by the firm.

School board members had hired Crowe & Dunlevy in June to advise them whether to release the billing records from Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold.

The records are expected to be made public this week, says Chris Tharp. He had been seeking the billing
records submitted by Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold since September.

"Only took a year, but I got it. Or will get it in the mail later this week," Tharp told the FOI Oklahoma Blog on Tuesday.

The school district spent about $8,500 on legal fees in fiscal year 2007-08, says Tharp, whose children attend Broken Arrow Public Schools.

That amount increased to more than $200,000 in the 2008-09, he says.

and the citizens group Broken Arrow Parents for Truth want the information to determine if the school board “is spending taxpayers’ money wisely, and not to the detriment of the overall purpose for BAPS – education.”

School district officials would tell him how much the law firm had been paid but wouldn't provide the detailed billing records for the services provided. One school board member said she didn't think the public was "entitled
to know exactly what we spend our legal bills on.”

“I mean, I’m elected to represent the public. This is not a democracy. This is a republic. That means that I am elected and you guys trust me to make decisions and because you all don’t have the time to go into and research everything. That’s what I’m elected to do, to research and study all this stuff,” said Maryanne Flippo, who didn’t seek re-election to the school board this past spring.

Doug Mann of Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold contended that attorney-client privilege shielded the information from public view.

Tharp hired an attorney, who in June requested documents demonstrating what legal services Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold has provided for the district since being hired on Aug. 6, 2008.

In response, the school board hired
Crowe & Dunlevy for advice on releasing the records.

Tharp added
to his request the district’s engagement letter with Crowe & Dunlevy and the detailed billing records it submits to the district.

In a June letter to the school district, Tharp's attorney,
Marvin Laws of Hayes Magrini & Gatewood in Oklahoma City, referred to the Oklahoma Open Records Act's preamble:

“As the Oklahoma Constitution recognizes and guarantees, all political power is inherent in the people. Thus, it is the public policy of the State of Oklahoma that the people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government.” (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.2)

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.”

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.