ENID, Oklahoma—Members of the Enid community were able to learn about two state laws regarding open meetings and records.
Julie Pittman, general counsel for the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, and Thomas Schneider, deputy general counsel for the OAG, visited Autry’s technology center on Monday to discuss the open assembly and open records laws of Oklahoma, with several education, law enforcement, city and county programs. and elected officials and employees present.
“Openness and transparency are really essential and vital to our democracy, so it was really nice to see a wide range of participants because these people are engaged and know their obligations to the Open Records and Open Meeting laws,” said said Pittman.
The AG office and the Oklahoma Press Association partnered to host the seminar in Enid. Schneider presented the Open Meeting Act and Pittman presented the Open Records Act, with the two answering questions from attendees after each. Four more seminars are planned across the state.
The public purpose of the Open Meeting Act, Schneider said, is “to encourage citizens to learn more about public agencies, government processes, and government issues.” This is achieved by placing meeting notices in advance, posting agendas and taking minutes.
A public body, Schneider said, designates the governing bodies of all Oklahoma municipalities; county commissioners’ commissions; public and higher education councils; and all boards, offices, commissioners, agencies, trustees, authorities, councils, committees and public trusts, and any committee or sub-committee of any public body.
The four types of meetings are regular meetings, special meetings, emergency meetings, and continuing or reconvened meetings, and public bodies must follow certain rules for each.
The primary goals for complying with the Open Meeting Act, Schneider said, are to hold meetings and put on the agenda anything to talk about; proceed as planned and do not deviate from the agendas; empowering stakeholders and oneself; and never make decisions out of public view.
Pittman said the purpose of the Open Records Act is to give Oklahomans the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government.
Records are all documents, including books, papers, photographs, microfilms, certain data files, computer tapes, disks, recordings, sound and film recordings, video recordings, e-mails and text messages.
What makes a document public, Pittman said, is “where,” the meaning created by, received by, under the authority of, or in the custody, control, or possession of; the “who”, ie public officials, public bodies or their representatives; and the “what”, which means that the record must relate to the transaction of public affairs, the expenditure of public funds or the administration of public property.
However, there are exemptions and exceptions that apply to protect records from disclosure. Exempt records include state evidentiary privilege, executive sessions, social security numbers, personal driver information, test materials for state licensing exams, and other state laws or federal data such as juvenile records.
Exceptions include certain personnel records, personal notes, litigation records and investigation reports, federal records, certain law enforcement records, and court-sealed records.
Open law enforcement records include arrestee descriptions or photos, arrest facts, incident reports, radio logs, conviction information, warrant disposition, crime summaries , prison records and booking information and body camera and dashboard audio and video recordings, although these may be redacted or obscured prior to release.
Court records, unless sealed, are open and fees may be charged for public records.
Anyone can request public documents, Pittman said, for inspection, copying or mechanical reproduction during normal business hours, and public entities are not required to create a document or produce in a format that does not exist. not.
Responses to any Open Records Act request must be prompt and reasonable, and there is no “first in, first out” method for responses.
Knowing about both the Open Meeting and Open Records laws, both of which have civil implications and criminal penalties for violations, is important, said OPA executive director Mark Thomas, for all Oklahomans, as as residents and members of public bodies or as the public. officials.
“I think those laws are important, and it’s a problem if you don’t follow them,” Thomas said. “Citizens have to think like officials, and officials have to think like citizens, and somewhere in the middle is something reasonable.”
To see the presentations, visit www.oag.ok.gov/transparency-state-government.