(Story updated at 8:46 a.m. Sat., March 14)
Until Friday, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s office had not released records requested in the previous 11 months by members of the news media and other groups, according to her office’s catalog of Open Records Act requests (see below).
However, in the wake of Oklahoma Watch inquiries this week, Fallin’s office said it would begin releasing numerous documents soon. The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety on Friday gave the Tulsa World thousands of pages of records related to the controversial execution of Clayton Lockett last year. The World and the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press had sued Fallin and DPS officials seeking Lockett documents.
The World, Oklahoma Watch and other news outlets have also asked for emails and other communications to and from Fallin’s office regarding the execution. It isn’t clear when those will be provided.
“We are expecting a release of about 60,000 pages of docs sometime very soon, probably early next week,” Alex Weintz, communications director for Fallin, told Oklahoma Watch in an email.
The records log, which was released by Fallin’s office to Oklahoma Watch on request, show 30 requests pending since early April 2014 for which no records were provided by the governor. Those included nine requests for documents related to Lockett’s botched execution on April 29, 2014, which were referred to DPS, whose commissioner is appointed by the governor. DPS investigated the execution and issued its findings in September, including at least some documents requested from the governor’s office earlier.
Other requested records had not been released before Friday, according to the catalog.
The earliest request dates to April 7, made by Amy Atwood, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity in Oregon seeking records related to legislation about endangered or threatened species.
“I haven’t received anything other than the attached letter of April 9, 2014, which acknowledges receipt,” Atwood wrote to Oklahoma Watch in an email. “Looks like we have some following up to do.”
Michael McNutt, a spokesman for Fallin, cited the number of requests and a lack of personnel to process them as reasons for the delay. Also, some requests need review by others on the legal team in case redactions are in order, he said.
“There are so many requests, and we’re taking them in chronological order,” McNutt said. He added that only one person, a paralegal, was processing requests.
The groups or people making records requests include the environmental group, a politician, a funeral services provider, the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, an attorney and media such as Oklahoma Watch, the Tulsa World, The Oklahoman, StateImpact, Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, the Oklahoma Gazette and Fox25.
StateImpact reporter Joe Wertz said Thursday that the records shutdown was “frustrating.”
“It seems like you get caught up in legal review phase,” Wertz said. “It’s super frustrating obviously. It will be a year, April, for three of mine.”
On Friday night, Wertz received an email saying nearly 60,000 pages of records he had requested were ready and he needed to arrange to pick them up.
The state’s Open Records Act requires that government officials “must provide prompt, reasonable access to its records but may establish reasonable procedures which protect the integrity and organization of its records and to prevent excessive disruptions of its essential functions.”
Gov. Mary Fallin’s Log for Open Records Act Requests, 2014-2015