E911 Advisory Board discusses withholding information despite Oklahoma Open Records Act
Salesha Wilken Staff Writer
Discussions concerning the public’s access to 911 phone records and operational information for the new E911 center were treated with care by Commissioner Mike Helm and Assistant District Attorney David Iski, during a special meeting of the Rogers County E911 Advisory Board.
The meeting occurred at 10 a.m. Thursday in Claremore and the majority of board members were present for the event. As the meeting began Helm reminded the board that the information that was listed on the agenda was considered a security interest and that an executive session might be a better format for discussion.
“The security of the county might need to be discussed in executive session,” Helm said.
No executive session was listed on the agenda and the board did not move to enter executive session despite Helm’s comments.
Public bodies are legally required to post in its agenda that it will have an executive session and what the topic that is to be discussed.
Helm continued throughout the meeting to remind the board that the discussions might not be information for the public, referencing the news media that was present.
At one point, Helm and Iski left the meeting for a private discussion.
Only four items were listed on the agenda including possible vendor contracts for 911 equipment for the new center.
The other items were a proposal for standard operating procedures and a request to limit access to 911 phone call recordings to the public.
The board voted to table discussions regarding the purchase of a Motorola radio system.
The Intrado system for the dispatch center was approved at the anticipated cost of $26,000 monthly. The contract would be for five years. The county would essentially be leasing the program and equipment.
The budget for the E911 center is approximately $43,000 per month and the system will use the majority of that budget, according to E911 Director Janet Hamilton.
Currently, the county receives funding from both landlines and cellular phone lines. These funds are used to fund the center. The county is currently supplementing the staffing needs of the center through the county’s general fund. There will be other opportunities for the center to increase funding, according to Hamilton.
“We have had additional agencies approach us to join our center,” Hamilton said. “Washington County has approached us.”
The county can operate as is but can’t “stub their toe”, Hamilton said.
He remarks were made in response to the limited resources that would be left in the budget after approving the new dispatch system.
Hamilton continued to explain that if the county has additional agencies come in it is “icing on the cake.”
After Hamilton explained this to the board, Helm spoke up and explained that they did not want the public to know which counties are interested in the center because of current contracts that are in place.
Officials continued to explain that if additional counties or entities join the system then that would create more funding for the center.
The board listened to the proposal from Motorola as officials reminded them of the nature of the discussion.
“Once again this is security sensitive,” Hamilton said.
The county does have the right to protect some security issues of the county from public records, she said.
However, as the meeting progressed the discussion turned to public access to recorded 911 phone calls and the authority to prevent public access was questioned.
The question to the advisory board is to providing the logging recording to the public, Hamilton explained.
“How long are we to keep these records and are these recordings public record,” Hamilton said.
She then continued to explain that these recordings include the 911 phone calls and radio conversations.
“Please keep in mind, I have talked to internal legal counsel [David Iski] and there is nothing in black in white under statute that we could really find other than what applies to law enforcement,” Hamilton said.
An example of the public requesting recorded 911 calls is when a domestic call takes place then a neighbor has requested the record of the event.
The purpose of not wanting to release it is to protect the 911 caller, Hamilton said.
“We should take a stand to protect the identity of the 911 caller,” she said. “Naturally we could release this to law enforcement or who the powers that be decide, but the general public, I don’t think so.”
Commissioner Dan DeLozier asked Iski if there are laws that govern the issue.
Iski explained that the issue is already currently out there.
“The Open Records Act, again I am addressing my clients whom are the board of county commissioners, the open records acts does not specifically have a category for what this is 911, it has a category for law enforcement which is closest that I can think of,” Iski said.
Iski explained that he was advising the commissioners, yet Hamilton stated earlier that he had advised her on this issue prior to the meeting.
During the conversation, a number of board members raised concerns about the issue.
The board then voted unanimously to approve the item to follow industry standards that includes redacting caller information if it is to be released to the public. The item will also include getting a signed release from involved persons including the dispatch officers.
“The entire recording will not be released to the public unless a signed release has been received,” Hamilton said.
Throughout the discussions, no statute was presented to clarify the board’s authority for this decision. Iski could not provide any statutory reference to withholding the information from the public. Since the advisory board has no authority to put this policy in place and the issue will have to be brought before the county commissioners regarding the issue. All three commissioners were present and voted to support the agenda item during the advisory board meeting.
The concern for privacy continued as the board began to discuss the proposed standard operating procedures for the new center.
A copy of the proposed policy was requested by Claremore Daily Progress. Hamilton denied the request stating that the document was security sensitive and would not be released to the public.
To conclude the meeting new business was submitted by Helm.
He suggested that the advisory board consider hiring outside counsel and determine how to pay for those services at a future meeting.
Helm and Iski did not provide any reasons why an advisory board with no authority to enact policy for the county would need private legal council.
Neither did they explain who would be responsible for paying the private counsel.
The issue will be discussed at the upcom 911 Advisory Board meeting to be held 10 a.m. Sept. 18.