Founding FOI Oklahoma executive director to retire

FOI Oklahoma Executive Director Kay Bickham is retiring after 20 years with the statewide organization.

Bickham, 77, has led the organization since its founding.

“Kay has worked tirelessly for decades as a founding member to help the organization inform the public about critical transparency and First Amendment issues in Oklahoma," said Freedom of Information Oklahoma President Joe Wertz. "She's played an essential — and often thankless — role as a director, organizer, leader and public educator. “Her work formed the scaffolding of FOI-OK — a legacy the organization will build upon as we search for a new executive director to lead our efforts to preserve and promote open government in Oklahoma."

Wertz said Bickham will be honored for her service during FOI Oklahoma’s annual awards banquet this fall.

Besides her service as FOI Oklahoma director, Bickham has served twice as an Edmond City Council member, executive director for three state chapters of national medical associations, chair of the International Visitors Council of Greater Oklahoma City and a trustee for the Central Oklahoma Parking and Transportation Authority. It was during her service as a stakeholder for the Central Oklahoma 2020 Visioning Committee that she met Sue Hale, a founder of FOI Oklahoma. Hale later asked her to consider becoming FOI Oklahoma’s executive director.

“Kay’s passion made her a great advocate for FOI Oklahoma’s mission,” Hale said. “She brought management skills which allowed us to set up public forums and an annual state conference for high school students with help of the board.”

Bickham takes pride in helping create the First Amendment Congress 19 years ago that has “educated hundreds of high school students about their rights under the First Amendment.” She also helped organize Sunshine Conferences, FOI workshops, virtual First Amendment Centers at state libraries and raised funds for Education for Freedom. The project included a banquet honoring Supreme Court Justice Marion Opala and the creation of the Marion Opala First Amendment Award that’s given yearly in his memory.

“I loved working with this organization. The board members are extremely knowledgeable, and there is always something to learn,” she said. “I believe that … FOI Oklahoma is extremely important. People need to know how their money is spent and what decisions our leaders are making.”

Bickham pledged to continue pushing for and educating the public about freedom of information issues, which Hale believes is important.

“She knows the laws and that the First Amendment belongs to the people and not just to journalists,” Hale said. “We will miss her but know she will always be a strong supporter.” As for the next executive director, Wertz has appointed incoming president Joe Hight as head of the search committee. Hight said it will be important that the new executive director understand the foundation of FOI Oklahoma that Bickham helped build while also seeking to grow the organization and further its mission in the future. Hight recently headed an extensive rebranding initiative that will help shape FOI Oklahoma’s future strategy. He said the new executive director will have the ability to expand the role that Bickham initiated.

“FOI Oklahoma may be more important today than it was the day it was founded,” Hight said. “We need a new executive director who has a foundation in First Amendment issues while also understanding the importance of marketing and fundraising. We need someone like Kay who thinks that the First Amendment is just as important for the average citizen as it is for journalists, lawyers, politicians and civic leaders.”

Those interested in applying for the position can send a cover letter and resume to