Three signers of Open Government Pledge elected Tuesday
Voters on Tuesday elected two GOP statewide candidates and a Democratic legislative contender who had demonstrated their support for the public’s right to know by signing FOI Oklahoma’s Open Government Pledge.
In signing the pledge, Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and Auditor-elect Cindy Byrd also promised that their offices would comply with the spirit and letter of the state’s Open Records and Meeting acts.
And Carri Hicks, the senator-elect for District 40, pledged that she would “support legislation to strengthen” those statutes.
They are among the 220 candidates who have signed the pledge since FOI Oklahoma began it in 2008. Of those, nearly half – 109 – have been elected at least once. In some races, all the candidates have signed the pledge.
FOI Oklahoma began the Open Government Pledge as part of a national effort to spur public commitments to government transparency from candidates for president down to city council contests.
While the pledges for legislative candidates and those seeking state or local office differ in some specifics, all candidates promise “to support at every opportunity” the state’s public policy that “the people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government so that they can efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power.”
In mid-2016, the department agreed to end its prohibition on requesters using a pen or pencil to take notes while reviewing records. The policy contradicted a 2006 Attorney General opinion that requesters have the right to use their “own copying equipment ... as long as [that] copying process does not unreasonably disrupt the essential functions of the public body or result in defacing or loss of such records.” (See 2006 OK AG 35)
The prohibition wasn’t being enforced and not removing it from the department’s open records policy was an oversight, an agency attorney explained at the time. The revised policy doesn’t include the prohibition.
On Tuesday, Hofmeister received nearly 60 percent of the votes, according to the state Election Board’s unofficial results.
Her chief of staff at the State Department of Education, Phil Bacharach, is a member of FOI Oklahoma’s board of directors.
State Auditor & Inspector
The state auditor and inspector is “responsible for auditing the financial accounts of all government agencies” in the state. The office also “performs performance audits and special investigative audits upon request by certain state officials and upon petition by citizens.”
As deputy state auditor for local government services, Byrd oversees operations for the auditor’s office in all 77 counties.
Her audits in the last three years “have led to the indictment and/or removal of six officers from office and the exposure of more than $10 million in waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars,” she told the Muskogee Phoenix.
Byrd was endorsed by Republican incumbent Gary Jones, a member of FOI Oklahoma’s board of directors. He ran unsuccessfully for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
On Tuesday, Byrd received 75 percent of the votes, according to the unofficial election results. She defeated Libertarian John Yeutter of Tahlequah, who also had signed the Open Government Pledge. No Democrat ran for the office.
State Senate District 40
Senate District 40 includes parts of Bethany, Nichols Hills, northwest Oklahoma City, The Village and Warr Acres.
Political observers considered it the Democrats’ best chance of flipping a state Senate seat even though it had been in GOP hands for three decades, The Oklahoman had reported. The district includes parts of House seats that Democrats had gained in recent years.
On Tuesday, Hicks received 58 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial results. She defeated Republican Joe Howell and independent Christopher Hensley. Howell had beat incumbent Sen. Ervin Yen in the GOP primary.
Hicks’ opponent in the Democratic primary – Danielle Ezell – also had signed the pledge.
Hicks teaches fourth-grade math and science at Grove Valley. She previously taught in the Putnam and Deer Creek school districts.
Not Too Late to Sign Pledge
FOI Oklahoma invites all newly elected officials to sign the pledge on the statewide nonprofit’s website, where a list of signers also can be found.
Founded in 1990, FOI Oklahoma actively supports those individuals and organizations who are working to open records or provide access to meetings illegally closed. Its board of directors consists of 33 members who are attorneys, educators, journalists, state and elected officials, librarians and private citizens.
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
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, its board of directors or the commentator’s employer. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.