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August 20, 2012

Oklahoma gets an ‘F’ when it comes to public records access

CLAREMORE — A national investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International has given Oklahoma a failing grade when it comes to public access to information.

The failing grade is due to  lack of enforcement of the state’s open records and open meeting laws.
Originally, the investigation gave the state a passing grade, 75 out of 100, for the rights guaranteed to the public in the law, but the lack of any practical enforcement and a cheap and quick appeals process dropped the grade to a 55 out of 100.
This ranks Oklahoma as 33rd in the nation, according to the study.
Another reason the state was marked down was a lack of an agency or official entity that monitors compliance with the open meeting and records laws. Though the law guarantees access to most public records and meetings, when agencies wrongfully deny access, the only way to appeal it is a lawsuit or to persuade a district attorney to file criminal charges.
Lawsuits can be cost prohibitive and district attorneys are often reticent to file charges against their fellow public officials. In some cases, it’s even the police and district attorneys violating the law.
The states that scored highest in the survey have a system in place for people to turn to when there are violations of open meeting and records laws.
Connecticut placed first in the survey with a score of 85. Connecticut has a freedom of information commission that monitors and hears appeals on open government matters through the state’s government  accountability office.

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