oklahomawatch.com: It's Sunshine Week - it's your right to know

From Oklahoma Watch @OklahomaWatch

It’s Sunshine Week – a time to celebrate your right to know.

Launched by the American Society of News Editors and co-sponsored by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, #SunshineWeek focuses attention on access to public information, open government and journalism’s role in promoting transparency.
Over the past 15 years, newspaper closures and consolidations have left more than 1,400 cities across the U.S. without their main source of regular local news. Those losses also mean the struggle is greater to hold officials and government institutions accountable. 
As a watchdog news organization, it’s our job to shine a bright light every day on government and other institutions. Below are a few of our stories that came about through public records requests by our reporters.

Many Opioid Addicts Shut Out of Sober-Living Homes

This story arose from a portion of a state agency's grant report to the federal government. Our reporter requested the report from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to see how the state was spending grant money to combat opioid abuse. Buried in hundreds of pages was a description of how opioid addicts on medication-assisted treatment such as Suboxone were being turned away from sober-living homes. 
Cities Become Owners of Nursing Homes, Expecting Windfall from Feds

This story started with a tip, but records requests allowed us to verify it and explain a complicated arrangement in which small cities were acquiring nursing homes for increased federal reimbursement and then hiring private companies to run them. Much of the story came from Oklahoma Health Care Authority records containing  questions from the federal government and the state’s response. We also got licensing records from the state Department of Health and contracts from the City of Pauls Valley. 

Higher Payments to Doctors Behind State’s Rescue of Medical Schools

Oklahoma’s dispute with the feds over medical school funding blew a $140 million hole in the state budget. Officials were tight-lipped, but a good tip and Open Records Act requests yielded answers. It took a month, but we got more than 1,100 pages of letters, emails and conference call transcripts that showed the depth of the problem and why the feds seemingly yanked their share of the medical school funding with little notice.

To Disclose or Not to Disclose

Individuals’ tax returns are never public record unless they choose to release them. So we asked candidates for statewide office to release their tax returns. Most declined, but one gubernatorial candidate did, and several in other races provided at least a description of their finances. This story may set the precedent for greater transparency in future statewide races.

William Hickman