OKLAHOMA CITY —
Freedom of Information (FOI) Oklahoma, a group committed to improving openness in government, met in Oklahoma City this weekend for its annual Sunshine Conference and presented awards to both supporters and perceived enemies of open government.
For the second year in a row, Gov. Mary Fallin was presented with the group’s Black Hole Award for thwarting the free flow of information to the public. Fallin, who is facing three separate lawsuits for refusing to release documents, was criticized for her office’s new “first-come, first-served” policy on releasing open records that has resulted in months-long delays and backlogs of requests for public documents.
Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz maintains the governor already has turned over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, more than all other governors combined.
“The governor supports openness and transparency in government and is committed to that in her office,” Weintz said.
A Bartlesville couple, Joel Rabin and Sharon Hurst, were honored with the group’s Blackstock Award for successfully filing suit against the Bartlesville Redevelopment Trust Authority over an allegedly improper executive session. An appellate court sided with the couple and ruled Oklahomans may sue to enforce the Open Meeting Act, even if they weren’t individually injured.
Mark Thomas, who lobbies the Legislature for more openness on behalf of newspapers across the state, says open government meetings, notice of such meetings, and access to public documents are the three ways in which citizens interact with their government.
“Those three things are fundamental reasons why the country was founded in the first place,” Thomas said. “And if the citizens want to have a relationship with their government that is not tyranny ... those are the three things that are of primary importance.”
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