Injunction granted in city open records suit

Norman residents Casey Holcomb and Darcie Woodson have filed suit saying the city has not complied with open records requests on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015.

The city of Norman must turn over records requested by two residents who filed a joint suit against the city alleging a violation of Oklahoma's Open Records Act. District Judge Jeff Virgin granted a motion for a temporary injunction requested by Casey Holcomb and Darcie Woodson. The injunction requires the city to release email records between members of city staff, city council members and oil and gas industry groups and other oil stakeholders. 

“At today’s hearing, the judge required both Woodson and Holcomb to post a bond that would cover the cost of the research and review,” Assistant City Attorney Rick Knighton said. “The city attorney’s office is working on the request for the documents and plans to provide them once the review has been completed.”

Holcomb and Woodson were required to post a $100 bond to receive the records. The city had requested fees of several hundred dollars for printing costs to release records requested by Holcomb and Woodson in response to separate Open Records requests the pair had made.

“They were going to try to bury me in paper,” Holcomb said. “Our attorney was able to successfully argue that they should provide those records in digital format. By the end of the week, I should be getting those records from Rick Knighton.”

Holcomb said he will still have something like 16,000 records to sort through, but at least he can do so digitally.

“It was only a partial victory because we'd also asked the court to enjoin the city to prevent them charging what we contend are illegal, politically motivated applications of search fees intended to block access of public records,” Holcomb said. “The original fee I was quoted by (city clerk) Brenda Hall was like $500. The city is now saying it's less than that, but that was the original figure.”

Woodson and Holcomb filed requests asking for email communication from the city on two different issues. The request from Woodson required review of numerous emails between city staff and volunteer committee members, Knighton said.

“The City of Norman routinely complies with public information requests and only attempts to recover reasonable fees in those instances where the request involves multiple hours of staff time in reviewing and copying documents, as in the request which will result in more than 10,000 documents,” Knighton said. “The request from Holcomb was so broad, it will produce in excess of 10,000 pages of documents requiring  hours of review by city staff.  The City of Norman advised both individuals that there would be a reasonable fee charged, as allowed by Oklahoma law when a request disrupts the day to day functions of the city.”

Holcomb has argued that Stillwater replied promptly to the same open records request that he made to Norman. Stillwater charged no fees and sent digital records.

Knighton said that Stillwater is a smaller city organization and that the records they've seen from Stillwater involve department heads only rather than email from all city staff members as was requested in the Norman records request.

Holcomb said their attorney, Jack Craven, has appeared on the case and could potentially be reimbursed for about $30,000 worth of legal work.

“If we win the case, we're entitled to legal fees,” Holcomb said. “We haven't decided how to proceed but we're not giving up. We believe our constitutional rights have been violated.”

Joy Hampton


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