Open records and meetings foster better government

by Gunter Drummond, Oklahoma Attorney General

As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, I have made it a top priority to aggressively enforce the Open Records and Open Meetings Acts across State government. That is why I am excited to highlight the importance of Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of access to public information and open government.

All citizens have a right to the public records that belong to them. These records include how your tax dollars are spent, why a decision that impacts your family has been made, and more. It does not matter whether the requested documents are about potholes or politics. It does not matter whether the requester is a news reporter or a concerned resident. You are entitled to inspect most public records as promptly as possible. That’s not just my opinion; it’s the law.

Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen individuals resorting to lawsuits to get records after government bureaucrats refused to release them. No one should have to litigate to obtain a public record. While there are times when specific circumstances may reasonably restrict some documentation – such as information that is part of an ongoing investigation – the standard for conducting public business must be one of openness and transparency. As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, I am committed to ensuring those who request such records do not have to pursue legal action or navigate other burdensome obstacles simply to get what they lawfully have a right to receive.

I believe in leading by example. When I was sworn in Jan. 9, my office had a backlog of 66 Open Records requests dating back years. I made it a priority to honor these requests, and my team quickly went to work. I am pleased to report that the backlog at the Office of Attorney General has been eliminated, and we have fulfilled 34 additional Open Records requests since I took office.

A bill making its way through this year’s legislative session would establish a public access counselor in the Office of Attorney General to help ensure public bodies comply with the Open Records Act. I support this effort. Openness and transparency are crucial to our nation and its government created of the people, by the people and for the people. A transparent government begets a better government, as it exposes bad actors while attracting public officials who act with honesty and integrity.

I look forward this week, and throughout the year, to working with other elected officials, civic groups, the news media and members of the public to cast a light on meetings and records lawfully required to be open. I am honored to help lead the fight for a state government that conducts itself openly and honestly, and to encourage all public officials to be accountable to the people of Oklahoma.