Former state Superintendent Sandy Garrett directed her e-mails deleted in apparent violation of state law, The AP reports

Former Oklahoma schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett ordered that her e-mail account be deleted shortly before she left office on Jan. 10, The Associated Press reports.

An Oklahoma City television station was told likewise on Thursday after it requested Garrett's e-mail correspondence with the state Board of Education.

Garrett served five terms before deciding not to seek re-election in 2010.

The Associated Press reports that Garrett communicated with her staff through her private e-mail accounts in her last month on the job.

Those e-mails, as well as those on her state account, were public records if they dealt with the expenditure of public funds, the transaction of public business or the administration of public property. (See 2009 OK AG 12)

Such e-mails also were subject to the Records Management Act, which requires state records to be maintained for certain periods of time.

For example, the state's General Records Disposition Schedule requires that substantive correspondence with boards and commissions be transferred to the State Archives after three years. (See sec. 1-58)

The Associated Press reported that no one in the State Office of Archives and Records Management was consulted before Garrett's e-mail account was deleted.

The Oklahoma City television station was also told that Garrett's office did not receive permission to destroy the correspondence.

I sincerely hope that is some sort of snafu and that the e-mails are somewhere at the state Department of Education.

Because otherwise, this would be one of the most outrageous and egregious violations of the public trust by a statewide elected official that I've seen in Oklahoma.

How could an elected official such as Garrett, who had been in office for 20 years, not know she was required to maintain such records? There is no excuse for such ignorance.

What would possess a statewide elected official to destroy such records? And why was she using her private e-mail accounts to communicate with staff?

What didn't Garrett want us to know? Was there evidence of corruption, incompetency? I hope not. But what other impression can the public have?

Even if destroying those e-mails were not illegal, it was ethically wrong. Our elected officials have an ethical obligation to preserve such documents to serve the public interest.

Those records didn't belong to Garrett. They belong to us all. They document not her private life but rather the education of our children and the expenditure of taxpayer money.

Again, I hope this is one whopper of a misunderstanding and the records are stored somewhere.

Otherwise, Garrett should not only find herself in court facing the fullest criminal penalty possible but also be ashamed of herself.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

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.