OKC refuses to disclose DOB of employee placed on administrative leave during investigation

Disclosing the birth date of a city employee placed on paid adminstrative leave as officials investigate mismanagement of public funds would constitute an warranted invasion of privacy, an Oklahoma City official told
The Oklahoman on Thursday.

But, Assistant City Attorney Richard Smith indicated to the newspaper, disclosing the birth date of an employee not under investigation wouldn't be an invasion of privacy.

Say what?

Smith's explanation flies in the face of a revised opinion issued this week by state Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

Dates of birth of government employees are presumed open and should be released unless the agency can demonstrate that the employee's privacy outweighs the public interest in the record, Edmondson said. (2009 OK AG 33)

The opinion notes that agencies and other public bodies may not enact blanket policies declaring all employee DOBs confidential.

Edmondson told the newspaper last week he thinks agencies are "going to have difficulty claiming the exemption as a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

“My view is that the conditions under which birth dates would be confidential would be rare,” he said.

In contrast, OKC officials don't seem hesitant to make the claim. OKC seems to think the public has little or no interest in an employee placed on administrative leave when city officials discovered federal grant funds had been mismanaged in a program overseen by the employee.

If not under these circumstances, when would the public have an interest that outweighs the employee's protection against a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy?

The Oklahoman requested the birth date in an effort to conduct background research after the employee was identified as part of the investigation.

As reporter Bryan Dean noted, "Without a birth date to match to common names, it is impossible to determine a public employee’s criminal record or other vital background information."

Edmondson seems to have faith that government officials will give serious consideration to the public's interest in the disclosure of employee birth dates.

Oklahoma City officials are proving him wrong.

But they are demonstrating why the decision to release records should not be put in the hands of individual officials.

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.