Owasso officials enter into secret settlement to end federal lawsuit, refuse to say how much money was paid

Owasso city officials are refusing to disclose how much money they paid to settle a federal lawsuit filed by a former police officer, the Tulsa World reported this week.

Under state law, "Judgments, orders, and settlements of claims shall be open public records unless sealed by the court for good cause shown." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 158(G))

A federal judge recently refused a request by city officials and the former officer to order confidentiality for the settlement terms, the newspaper reported.

U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell wrote that it "must be denied, as the court no longer has jurisdiction over the case, the parties have not advised whether the settlement is made with any public monies, whether the information is subject to the Open Records Act, whether a confidentiality order could supersede the Open Records Act, and why this court ought to enter an order which might impede an Open Records Act request."

Thank you, Judge Frizzell.

But despite Frizzell's decision, Owasso city officials still refuse to disclose the amount to the Tulsa World.

City Attorney Julie Lombardi told the Tulsa World the city's self-insurance fund is being used to pay the settlement. She claimed the city is barred by the terms of the settlement from disclosing the amount agreed upon last month.

Dear Legislators, why is the city allowed to enter into a secret settlement in the first place? It's the public's money -- even if paid from self-insurance fund or by an insurance company to which the city pays premiums.

The taxpayers of Owasso are entitled to know -- need to know -- how their elected officials spend public funds.

The Owasso City Council unanimously approved the settlement terms in November.

Absent legislative language prohibiting public bodies from entering secret settlements, the voters of Owasso are left with electing City Council members who won't agree to such terms.

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.