Claremore Daily Progress

August 16, 2013

Open records? Not so much

Public documents not available in county clerk’s office to newspaper or public

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE —

Rogers County Clerk Robin Anderson’s office refused access Wednesday to the minutes and agendas of several county proceedings requested by the Claremore Daily Progress.
The Open Records Act requires public documents, including minutes, agendas, claims and records of county proceedings be made available for public inspection.
The Progress requested access to the public records of the Rogers County Finance Authority and Rogers County Educational Facilities Authority in the clerk’s office, during business hours.
Agendas and minutes are to be in a book and available to the public, according to state statute.
Title 19 of the Oklahoma State Statute outlines the duties of the county clerk, including “to record in a book for that purpose, all proceeding of the board,” and “to preserve and file all accounts acted upon by the board.” 
Purchasing Agent Nelson McSwain first refused the newspaper access to meeting minutes, agendas and the review of the $33.5 million bond documents.
McSwain, a former field staff auditor for the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Office, is familiar with Open Records Act and acknowledged the files were required to be open to the public.
The bond serves to pay the debt in the Material Services Inc. lawsuit.  Voters approved a measure Tuesday to reduce the debt by approximately $4 million in the next five years.
Hesitant to answer questions on the matter, McSwain said, “I have to get permission to do that [provide access to the files].”
First claiming to not know where the files were located, McSwain later acknowledged it was not his decision to refuse access.
“I am just doing what I was told,” McSwain said.
At least one other record request has been refused in the past, according to McSwain.
The clerk’s office provided access to some of the 2012 files for the two county trust authorities, while refusing access to the more recent meeting minutes and agendas sought by the newspaper. 
Multiple requests for the records were then made by the Claremore Daily Progress directly to Anderson.
The Claremore Daily Progress asked Anderson why the files are not being made available to the public. She said the minutes were located on her computer.
She refused to pull the documents, stating she had to go into a meeting, but remained in the outer office. 
The agendas are used as a template for the meeting’s minutes, as a result, the original agenda is not saved and not available to the public, according to Anderson
At that point, Anderson said she would get the records if the request was put in  writing prior to public viewing. When questioned further, Anderson could not offer a consistent reason for why the documents have not been filed in the official books for public review.
Anderson claimed the office scanning and printing equipment has been down in the last week, preventing documents from being filed in the books.
However, the minutes requested were from two meetings — June 6 and July 1 — both more than a month prior to the equipment failure.
Anderson would not offer any explanation of why documents are not being filed into the public books of record. 
Anderson said the documents were available on the county’s website and the county Information Technology Director Brett Williston should be contacted for assistance.
All of the documents requested were not published on the county website prior to press time.
A fourth request was made regarding the files to be viewed in person at the clerk’s office. Anderson refused the request again and walked away.
Rogers County Commissioner Mike Helm was present during the discussion, but offered no assistance with the request for access to public documents.
“Any public official who willfully violates any provision of the Oklahoma Open Records Act, upon conviction, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $500 or by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not exceeding one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment,” according to Title 51 of Oklahoma statutes.