Pawnee County backs off search fee for public access to commissioners' e-mails about controversial project

E-mail exchanges among Pawnee County commissioners regarding a proposed recycling facility and between the commissioners and an engineering consultant about the same project were made available to the public on Monday without a search fee being charged.

Commission secretary Kandy Jump made printed copies of all County Commission e-mails available in a binder for public viewing, said Jana Dallas-Wagner, one of two residents requesting the e-mails.

District Attorney Larry Stuart had advised Jump to charge a search fee because sorting out specific e-mails was causing "excessive disruption of the essential functions of the operations of" the county commission office. (
Read previous posting on issue.)

Dallas-Wagner and fellow-requester Laurie Mittasch said Jump had estimated the fee at $101.08 (seven hours of Jump's time at $14.44 an hour).

In a May 29 letter to Dallas-Wagner, Stuart quoted an Open Records Act provision specifically allowing a search fee to be charged “if the request (a.) is solely for commercial purposes, or (b.) would clearly cause excessive disruption of the essential functions of the public body.” (
OKLA. STAT. 51, § 24A.5(3))

However, Stuart did not mention this subsequent language in the same provision:

In no case, shall a search fee be charged when the release of records is in the public interest, including, but not limited to, release to the news media, scholars, authors and taxpayers seeking to determine whether those entrusted with the affairs of the government are honestly, faithfully, and competently performing their duties as public servants.

Stuart is retiring after serving as district attorney for 32 years. First Assistant District Attorney Jeff Jones, a Democrat, and state Rep. Rex Duncan (R-Sand Springs) are competing to replace him.

Earlier this month, Mittasch said commissioners should have been required to print the e-mails, which should have been put in a binder the public could access.

Mittasch and Dallas-Wagner say Jump told them she made an "executive decision" to do just that.

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.