Increase in requests causes Tulsa to review open records policy
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
10/16/12 at 7:34 AM
Read the city’s open records policy.
The city of Tulsa is responding to an "exponential increase" in open records requests from the public by reviewing its open records policy, last updated in 1995, Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett said.
The city created a records manager position in the city's Finance Department in April and has been looking to other cities for input, Bartlett said.
City spokeswoman Michelle Allen said the effort is ongoing and the city has no current timeline for when the policy will be updated.
Emails have become a dominant means of communication since the city's last records policy update in 1995, but the policy fails to address modern changes to open records.
In late December, the Tulsa World requested emails regarding a Tulsa Police Department project to replace the computer system in police vehicles, resulting in about 8,000 emails provided to the World.
The emails were selected through a keyword search and then given to the city's Legal Department for review, city officials said during the review. The records were provided to the World in April.
In an emailed response to the World's request for a discussion about the policy, Bartlett did not address issues involving excessive reviews of records before they are released.
In the World's request for emails, Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan and several other city staff members said they reviewed the entirety of the request in addition to a city legal review before the emails were provided to the World.
City policy does not address legal reviews, nor does it address reviews of the records in their entirety by more city officials than is necessary.
In Bartlett's statement, he said city personnel spent hundreds of hours responding to the single request that included working nights and weekends. Bartlett did not respond to the World's question asking if he believed reviews by personnel in addition to a legal review were a waste.
In a summer project by Tulsa World interns, a request for a single day's worth of emails to-and-from Bartlett took six weeks to provide 43 emails.
The project surveyed several city and county governments to compare their responses to open records requests.
Once pulled from the city email system, the records went through the Tulsa's Legal Department for a review and were released the next day, Allen said.
A request for emails regarding recent TPD promotional exams took about six weeks before about 250 emails were provided to the World recently.
"We are updating the executive order that addresses how we process such requests to ensure we are as efficient as possible," Bartlett said.
"We are mindful that open records requests must be filled within a reasonable amount of time," Bartlett said. "However, records custodians are not separate positions whose sole task it is to respond to open records requests. Rather, each has a full workload in their respective department and must work-in the responses to open records requests as time allows while still meeting their primary work responsibilities."
The state Open Records Act requires all public agencies to have a records custodian present at all times during normal business hours.
Further, it states all public bodies must provide "prompt, reasonable access to its records but may establish reasonable procedures which protect the integrity and organization of its records and to prevent excessive disruptions of its essential functions."
"The city works hard to promptly respond to open records requests, but the actual time necessary to answer is dependent upon the nature of each request, as well as the volume of requests pending at that particular time from a number of media outlets, citizens and commercial ventures," Bartlett said.
The city's records manager, in addition to coordinating records requests, has been working with records custodians in each department to train them and review the city's policies, Allen said.
"Transparency in government is of the utmost importance to the city of Tulsa and to my administration," Bartlett said. "The city of Tulsa remains committed to appropriately responding to all requests for open records under the Oklahoma Open Records Act in a balanced manner that safeguards our ability to meet our primary obligation to provide essential services to the citizens we serve."
Original Print Headline: Open records requests spur city review
Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367