BA's new school superintendent says district will comply with letter, spirit of state Open Records Act

Broken Arrow's new school superintendent today expressed a commitment to the "spirit of full transparency and openness" by the district's administration and officially waived a $90 search fee for records.

“The Open Records Act is not a theory or hypothesis,” Jarod Mendenhall said in a
news release. “It is the law, and we will follow it to the best of our ability.”

Mendenhall's predecessor, Gary Gerber, had authorized the $90 search fee for redacting information from copies of the district's itemized legal bills.

Gerber, who retired Wednesday,
had refused to recognize the requester as a taxpayer seeking to ensure that district officials are properly doing their jobs.

Under the state Open Records Act, a search fee cannot be charged to "taxpayers seeking to determine whether those entrusted with the affairs of the government are honestly, faithfully, and competently performing their duties as public servants." (
OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.5(3))

Mendenhall agreed that statutory prohibition on search fees applied to this request and waived the $90.

“I want to make it clear that the school district will charge a search fee per Open Records Act allowances if it is determined that the request would cause excessive disruption of the business of the district and cause several people to be taken from their customary jobs and from the business of the people to produce the requested information,” Mendenhall added.

District spokesman Keith Isbell clarified that Mendenhall was referring to commerically motivated records requests, which may be charged a search fee under the Open Records Act.

"Clearly the Act says 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 affairs of governments are honestly faithfully, and competently performing their duties as public servants," Isbell said in an e-mail.

"Most requests fall under that description meaning a search fee can’t and won’t be charged," he said. "If a request for commercial uses causes an excessive disruption of the business of the district, it could be assessed a search/administrative fee per the Open Records Act."

Not charging a search fee to every commercial request is commendable and evidence of Mendenhall's commitment to open government.

"Make no mistake; we work for the taxpayers of this community and this state," Mendenhall said, adding:
People have the right to know and be fully informed about us and all governmental entities, and I can assure you that Broken Arrow Public Schools will do all that it can to be open and transparent in its operations, and that includes doing our very best to follow the spirit and regulations of the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

Mendenhall has certainly talked the talk. So far, he's walking the walk. That's good news for Broken Arrow's students and their parents.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media and Strategic Communication
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.