Tuesday, March 16, 2021
Celebrating and Supporting Your Right To Know
Happy Sunshine Week!
At Oklahoma Watch, we are marking the annual celebration of open government with a series of stories focused on how Oklahomans can use freedoms granted under the Oklahoma Open Records Act and Oklahoma Open Meetings Act to access information.
- Oklahoma’s system for grading public schools was suspended this year due to the pandemic. On Wednesday, Oklahoma Watch investigative reporter Jennifer Palmer will show how parents and others can use open records and data to make their own assessments.
- On Thursday, Keaton Ross will provide tips on how to see into the state Pardon and Parole Board’s process for considering new evidence or facts unavailable at the time of trial, and whether an inmate’s sentence is excessive under state law. The Julius Jones case has cast a national spotlight on that process.
- On Friday, Paul Monies highlights how non-journalists have made use of the Open Records Act in the past year, with varying degrees of success. Among them: an Oklahoma City resident who wanted more information from the Health Department and a university researcher in Wisconsin seeking reports from the Custer County Sheriffs Department — and now has a case that could head to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Already posted on oklahomawatch.org are two other Sunshine Week stories. Trevor Brown examines the absence of public comment on bills at the Oklahoma Legislature. Whitney Bryen walks us through what we can and cannot learn about state nursing homes using inspection reports. (Her video tutorial is especially handy).
The state’s open records law provided the backbone for several important Oklahoma Watch investigations in the last 12 months.
- Police reports, available by law to all who request them, revealed how mental health emergencies in Oklahoma City surpass police trained to handle them.
- A state auditor’s work papers, released under the open records law, showed state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister did not want to know details of a federal investigation into Epic Charter Schools because of Epic founders’ financial support of her campaign.
- The public is entitled to review state agency contracts. The state epidemiologist’s contract revealed key details for this story of how a critical public health official’s role had been diminished as the pandemic widened.
- Twenty years after Oklahoma passed a law explicitly banning racial profiling by law enforcement agencies, open records showed that every complaint received by the attorney general’s office the last 12 years was dismissed.
Your right to know is important to us. This year, Oklahoma Watch executive director Ted Streuli is serving as president of FOI Oklahoma, which promotes open and transparent government in the state, and Paul Monies is on the board of directors. So it’s worth repeating: Open records laws apply to us all, not just journalists. (Here’s a sample FOIA request form to get you started. Please contact Ted, Paul or any Oklahoma Watch staff member if you need assistance.)
— Mike Sherman, Executive Editor
Oklahoma is one of just 12 states that don’t at least give the public an official way to speak or send written testimony remotely. And it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon. [Read more…]
What Oklahomans can and can’t find out about nursing homes using state inspection data. [Read more…]
Around the web
- Rural Oklahomans have died of COVID-19 at rates disproportionate to the state’s urban residents, according to data from Oklahoma State’s Center for Rural Health. Public health officials also are troubled by polling data on vaccine hesitancy. Three in 10 rural Americans said they will either “definitely not” get vaccinated or will “only do so if required,” according to Kaiser Family Foundation polling. [The Oklahoman]
- An Associated Press open records request reveals the kind of feedback Gov. Kevin Stitt received as the pandemic swept across Oklahoma. One filmmaker wrote: “We look forward to shooting the Reagan film in your state. Our start date is May 11 but I’d like to talk to you about what measures can be taken to assure that we don’t experience any delays because of the coronavirus.” The film production was eventually delayed by multiple positive COVID-19 tests on the set. [KOCO.com]
- “It’s a huge opportunity for Indian Country to have someone that’s clearly going to be supportive of those things that can improve the lives of Native people.” — Josh Holuby, owner of the New Fire Native Design Group in Oklahoma City and a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, on the confirmation Monday of U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior. Haaland is the first Native American confirmed as secretary of a Cabinet agency in U.S. history. [The Washington Post]
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During times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, Oklahoma needs high-quality investigative journalism. That is our mission at Oklahoma Watch. We produce stories that hold government and public officials accountable and that make transparent what some prefer to keep secret. We depend on financial support from readers like you to sustain our coverage. Help us make a difference.