OU, OSU public records procedures seem to violate AG's open records opinion

All public records requests to OSU and OU are funneled through one office on each campus even though a 2005 attorney general opinion requires that government documents be made available where they "are located in the ordinary course of business."

OU's open records office includes one records clerk and an assistant,
The Oklahoman recently noted.

OU General Counsel Anil Golahalli told the newspaper that sending the more than 3,000 records requests a year through one person is efficient. He said OU officials take one or two days to respond to a basic records request.

records requests are funneled through university spokesman Gary Shutt’s office.

"The law allows us to handle and develop a process for open records that we think makes sense for our organization,” Shutt told
The Oklahoman. "It’s perfectly within our legal right.”

But in 2005, state Attorney General Drew Edmondson said, “If a public body has more than one office location, its records must be maintained and made available to the public at the office where the records are located in the ordinary course of business. (
2005 OK AG 3, ¶ 10)

“The Act does not expressly address at what office location records must be maintained and made available to the public if a public body has more than one office location," said Edmondson.

"It is our opinion that the ‘prompt, reasonable access’ to records that the public must be provided under the Act indicates the Legislature’s intent that the public body's records shall be maintained and available at the office where the records are located in the ordinary course of business,” he reasoned. (Id. ¶ 8)

In contrast, the universities' practices create a bottleneck for requests and can result in much-delayed access.

This past spring, for example, an OSU reporting student waited nine days for Shutt's office to provide a document. Even though the record was in the hands of the person being interviewed, the student was told she would have to go through Shutt's office to obtain the information.

When the student returned to Shutt's office for a third time to ask about the request, she pointed out the requirement that records be made available at the location where they are kept and in a prompt manner.

She was told by Carrie Hulsey-Greene, OSU associate director of communication services, “The problem is, we can’t expect everyone to stop doing their regular jobs just to do open records.”

Shutt agreed that responding to records requests is part of the job but told the student, “If you are doing three other things during the day, [the request] might not jump to the top, depending on what their supervisor is having them do.

“Our intent is to make the records available as soon as possible,” Shutt said. “Clearly, it should not have taken as long as it did.”

Oklahoma public agencies and officials do have a “duty” to provide public records to the public.

“The purpose of the 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,'" said Edmondson in 2005. (
Id. ¶ 4)

"To fulfill this purpose the Act imposes a duty on a public body to ‘provide prompt, reasonable access to its records’ and make a person available to release records during the public body’s regular business hours,” he said.

Edmondson has defined "prompt" as "only the time to locate and compile the records." (1999 OK AG 58, ¶ 15)

That is best accomplished by the person who already has the document in hand at the time of the request.

Public bodies may establish procedures for access to public records but “such rules must be consistent with the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act,” Edmondson said in 1999. (1999 OK AG 55, ¶ 25)

OSU's and OU's procedures for records requests are at best the antithesis of that spirit and at worst a violation of Edmondson's binding opinion.

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.