The Norman Transcript


April 15, 2013

Creating more transparency has snags

NORMAN — The Oklahoma State Legislature posts bill-tracking capability online and lawmaking sessions can be viewed via home computer.

Norman posts most city documents on its website and broadcasts city council meetings via television and internet so residents and other interested parties can watch meetings from the comfort of their homes.

Never have governments had more capability, enabled by technology, to be more open and transparent. And never have governments had more challenges to protecting basic open meetings and open records laws than in the current technological age.

Maintaining records for greater transparency: Three years ago, Norman city leaders became aware of the need to maintain electronic records as a means of satisfying open records requests allowed by state statute.

“Somebody came to me after they found out there was no policy on email,” City Council member Tom Kovach said. “Without a policy, everyone makes their own decisions.”

A person had made an email request under the open records law, but that request could not be fulfilled. Kovach learned that city staff were sometimes deleting emails daily — including emails that contained records of transactions, financials and other important exchanges.

The Norman City Council responded and, in July 2010, passed a resolution requiring the city to keep email transactions for one year.

“When I wrote the resolution, I did it based on policy of what state governmental agencies were doing in order to provide the same protection for electronic documents as we have for paper documents,” Kovach said.

That resolution resulted in the city saving everything, including junk mail. Now city email archives are filling up and the city council may be asked to authorize $16,000 to purchase cyber storage space.

Assistant City Attorney Rick Knighton and Kari Madden, of the city’s IT department, told members of the City Council Oversight Committee that culling out junk email is not possible under the current system.

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