The Edmond Sun

Opinion

August 28, 2012

When the government refuses to follow the law

EDMOND — Imagine the challenge faced by the citizen who feels the call to become civically involved and hold government accountable only to be denied access to transparency records to which he is legally entitled. Or put yourself in the place of the conscientious journalist who has been trained to do the necessary research to present a story in its full context only to hit a stone wall when asking for necessary and legally public government documents. Unfortunately, these scenarios occur many times each year in Oklahoma.

There are hundreds of government entities all across the state that must comply with Oklahoma open meetings and open records law. The large number of government groups has seemingly enticed certain legal firms to create a niche industry out of providing nuanced legal advice, allowing the governing boards to claim they don’t have to comply with even the most basic of transparency laws.

This was most recently brought to light when a member of the Sperry school board resigned. In his resignation he exposed the relationship between one of these legal firms and the district’s administration. Shockingly, the board had justified their failure to provide in a timely manner the board members’ packets to the public based on advice from the law firm of Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold. In fact, the packets were not provided to the public until after the meeting of the board — when it was too late for the public to express their opinion because votes already had been taken. Ironically, the school district superintendent also appears to have claimed he didn’t need to release the legal bills paid to that law firm.

This story brought back some rather painful memories of a nearly identical scenario that took place in Logan County just a few years ago. For years the local hospital government board constituted as a beneficiary of local county government had operated at a deficit, consuming about 2 million taxpayer dollars each year. Understandably, local officials started to question why the operation was not profitable in light of the fact that Logan County was one of the fastest growing counties in the state. Even with the rapidly growing consumer base, the hospital was still running a large deficit.

County Commissioner Mark Sharpton sent the hospital governing board a very basic request asking to know who was on the payroll and how much they were being paid. This type of open records request is the most basic and fundamental way of keeping the government accountable to those who are footing the bill. If the public cannot see who is on the payroll, all manner of impropriety can take place with taxpayer dollars, such as the retention of ghost employees, for instance.

Not only did the board refuse to honor the law and the request, they spent thousands more taxpayer dollars paying for high power attorneys to fight the request. Sharpton never received the documentation. If he couldn’t get it, even though he was on the board of the beneficiary, imagine how hard it would have been for a local citizen or reporter to fight their way through the maze of attorneys to get this very basic information.

The State Integrity Investigation recently released a report grading the transparency laws in the 50 states. Unfortunately, they gave Oklahoma an F. This grade was due in part to the fact that there is no single state official charged with enforcing open meetings and open records laws. When someone has been denied their legal rights, whether they are civic-minded citizens, journalists or county commissioners, they do not have a transparency expert within state government to whom they can turn.

This must change! During the next legislative session we must advance the proposal to rectify this failure in policy and ensure Oklahoma’s transparency laws are properly enforced. Citizens should never again be denied their legal right to transparency simply because a governing board has the audacity to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars to hire high power attorneys to get out of following the law.

REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at jason.murphey@okhouse.gov, on Facebook at facebook.com/JasonMurphey and Twitter.com/JWMurphey.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • Sheltons travel for better life for family

    Some time around 1865 a mixed-race African American couple, William and Mary Shelton, made their way from Mississippi to east Texas. Nothing is known for certain of their origins in he Magnolia state, or the circumstances under which they began their new lives in Texas.

    July 29, 2014

  • Film critic Turan produces book

    Kenneth Turan, who is the film critic for National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” has written a book “Not to be Missed, Fifty-Four Favorites from a Life Time of Film.” His list of movies span the gamut from the beginnings of filmmaking through the present day.
    There are some surprising omissions on his list. While he includes two films, “A Touch of Evil” and Chimes at Midnight” made by Orson Welles, and one, “The Third Man,” that Welles starred in but did not direct. He did not however, include “Citizen Kane,” that was the first movie Welles made, that is  often cited by both film critics and historians as a favorite film.

    July 28, 2014

  • Logan County’s disputed zone

    Watchers of “Star Trek” may recall the episode from the original series entitled, “Day of the Dove.” In this episode, Captain Kirk and his crew are forced by a series of circumstances into a confrontation with the Klingons. The conflict eventually resolves after Kirk realizes that the circumstances have been intentionally designed by an alien force which feeds off negative emotions, especially fear and anger. Kirk and his crew communicate this fact to the Klingons and the conflict subsides. No longer feeding upon confrontation, the alien force is weakened and successfully driven away.

    July 28, 2014

  • Russell leads in Sun poll

    Polling results of an unscientific poll at www.edmondsun.com show that Steve Russell, GOP candidate for the 5th District congressional seat, is in the lead with 57 percent of the vote ahead of the Aug. 26 runoff election. Thirty readers participated in the online poll.

    July 28, 2014

  • Healthier and Wealthier? Not in Oklahoma

    Increased copays, decreased coverage, diminished health care access, reduced provider budgets and increased frustration are all the outcomes of the Legislature’s 2014 health care funding decisions. Unlike some years in the past when a languishing state economy forced legislators into making cuts, the undesirable outcomes this year could easily have been avoided.

    July 26, 2014

  • Medicaid reform a necessity

    Historically, education spending by the state of Oklahoma has been the largest budget item. This is no longer the case. In recent years, the state of Oklahoma spends more on Medicaid (operated by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority) than common education and higher education combined, according to the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

    July 25, 2014

  • Remembering lessons from 1974

    This week marks the 40th anniversary of an important milestone in America’s constitutional history. On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court voted 8-0 to order the Nixon White House to turn over audiotapes that would prove the president and his close aides were guilty of criminal violations. This ruling established with crystal clarity that the executive branch could not hide behind the shield of executive privilege to protect itself from the consequences of illegal behavior. It was a triumph for the continued vitality of our constitutional form of government.

    July 25, 2014

  • RedBlueAmerica: Is parenting being criminalized in America?

    Debra Harrell was arrested recently after the McDonald’s employee let her daughter spend the day playing in a nearby park while she worked her shift. The South Carolina woman says her daughter had a cell phone in case of danger, and critics say that children once were given the independence to spend a few unsupervised hours in a park.
    Is it a crime to parent “free-range” kids? Does Harrell deserve her problems? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.

    July 24, 2014

  • Technology that will stimulate journalism’s future is now here

    To say technology has changed the newspaper media industry is understating the obvious. While much discussion focuses on how we read the news, technology is changing the way we report the news. The image of a reporter showing up to a scene with a pen and a pad is iconic but lost to the vestiges of time.
    I am asked frequently about the future of newspapers and, in particular, what does a successful future look like. For journalists, to be successful is to command multiple technologies and share news with readers in new and exciting ways.

    July 23, 2014

  • New Orleans features its own “Running of the Bulls”

    On July12, the streets of the Warehouse District of New Orleans were filled with thousands of young men who were seeking to avoid being hit with plastic bats wielded by women on roller skates as part of the annual “Running of the Bulls” that takes place in New Orleans.
    The event is based on the “Running of the Bulls” that occurs in Pamplona, Spain, that is  part of an annual occurrence in which a group of bulls rampage through the streets of Pamplona while men run from them to avoid being gored by their sharp horns. That event was introduced to the English-speaking world by Ernest Hemingway, who included scenes from it in his critically acclaimed 1926 novel “The Sun also Rises.”

    July 22, 2014

Poll

The runoff race for the 5th District congressional seat is set for Aug. 26. If the voting were today, which candidate would you support?

Al McAffrey
Tom Guild
Undecided
     View Results