Okla. Gov. Fallin orders Cabinet to find examples of govt. transparency
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
12/11/12 at 9:44 AM
Correction: A Tuesday Tulsa World story incorrectly reported the day of the week that Gov. Mary Fallin's cabinet is scheduled to meet. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday. This story has been corrected.
Read the emails Fallin’s deputy policy
director, Andrew Silvestri, sent to all of
her Cabinet members directing them
to bring examples of “transparency” to
Wednesday's Cabinet meeting.
OKLAHOMA CITY - As critics complain about her decisions to withhold public records, Gov. Mary Fallin has asked her 14 Cabinet members to bring "examples of transparency" to a meeting Wednesday, records show.
The email - sent Friday to Fallin's 14 Cabinet members by Deputy Policy Director Andrew Silvestri - is labeled "high importance."
"Dear Cabinet Secretaries," the email begins, "We have decided to put together and highlight a comprehensive list of all of the items Governor Fallin's Administration has done over the last two years to increase transparency in government."
The email goes on to state that Fallin's office will work with the newly organized Office of Management and Enterprise Services "to determine the volume of materials posted on ok.gov and Open Books, etc. and identify related legislation that the governor has signed that promote increased transparency.
"In addition, we are asking that you bring to the December 12 cabinet meeting any specific examples of transparency you have from your agency or the agencies that we can add to the list and highlight."
The Office of Management and Enterprise Services represents all of the state's information technology functions combined under one roof and is headed by Preston Doerflinger, secretary of finance and revenue.
The Tulsa World requested Silvestri's email and all responses to it Friday under the Open Records Act following weeks of focus on Fallin's stance regarding public records.
FOI Oklahoma Inc., a statewide openness in government watchdog, has criticized Fallin's "executive privilege" assertion.
FOI Oklahoma President Lindel Hutson and Joey Senat, associate professor of journalism at Oklahoma State University, have pointed to Fallin's signature on a "transparency pledge" she signed while running for governor. Fallin promised to obey not only the law's letter but its spirit, Hutson and Senate have noted.
She used the "executive privilege" reasoning last month in a letter to The Oklahoman. In that case, Fallin's general counsel, Steve Mullins, indicated that her office planned to withhold some emails detailing why she rejected federal money to create a state insurance exchange.
Schaad Titus, the World's attorney, and others said state law contains no executive privilege for the governor. The Oklahoman panned Fallin's decision in a front-page story Friday, in which former Secretary of State Glenn Coffee compared her plight to that of embattled former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
On Nov. 7, the World sought emails from Fallin to Secretary of Health and Human Services Terry Cline and Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones. Fallin reportedly held a meeting in September regarding how to implement the Justice Reinvestment Act but did not invite Cline or Jones.
The two would be key players in any prison reform measure. Records show that Cline and Jones were told that before sending records to the World, they must first send them to Fallin for review.
A Nov. 13 letter to World reporter Cary Aspinwall from DOC General Counsel Michael Oakley states: "The governor has asserted executive privilege over the documents you request in your November 6 letter. ... We suggest that you contact her General Counsel, Mr. Steve Mullins."
Attorneys for Cline and Jones provided some of the requested records but withheld others, citing Mullins' orders.
When the World contacted Mullins in November seeking a written denial of the release of those records, Mullins' secretary called, seeking a meeting with Aspinwall. The meeting to discuss the executive privilege denials was scheduled for Monday in Tulsa at the World's offices.
Mullins abruptly canceled the meeting Monday without explanation. He did not return calls from the World seeking comment.
"Governor Fallin believes the Open Records Act exists to provide public access to the vast majority of information and documents produced by Oklahoma's state government," states an email sent late Monday by her spokesman, Alex Weintz.
"She supports both the letter and spirit of that law, and has made internet access to more state information available than at any time in Oklahoma history," Weintz's email continues. "However, Governor Fallin does not believe the law is intended to allow access to conversations between executive branch employees working on draft documents, brainstorming on public policy ideas, offering advice and counsel to the governor, or otherwise acting in an advisory role."
Fallin rarely speaks to the media, except during ceremonial duties. When the World requested Fallin's email seeking examples of transparency Friday, Weintz responded: "Received. Why's this interesting to you guys."
As of late Monday, Fallin's office provided the World with responses from Rita Aragon, secretary of veterans affairs, and Secretary of Science and Technology Stephen McKeever. Weintz said responses had not been received from the remaining 12 Cabinet members.
Aragon's response said legislation was being introduced to give Fallin authority to appoint the Department of Veterans Affairs director and to change the number of "war commissioners" from nine to seven. The nine-member war commission appoints, supervises and can fire the veterans affairs secretary.
"With regard to transparency we have hired a new Public Affairs Officer effective 19 November," states an email from John McReynolds to Aragon on Friday. "He has already researched the web sites of all 50 states and selected Wisconsin as the model for us to follow. By the way he is a Veteran. He was introduced to the State Veterans Council today and was well received."
McReynolds was named interim director of the agency in August following the sudden retirement of its former director. The Veterans Affairs agency oversees seven nursing homes that provide care to aging veterans statewide.
Lawmakers and citizens criticized the agency after two patients at the Claremore center died, allegedly due to neglect, earlier this year.
Veterans' Affairs officials refused to provide the World with copies of inspection reports, saying the newspaper would need to drive to each center to retrieve the records.
McKeever replied that he had no examples of transparency involving his agency.
"Apart from the fact that all of the S&T Council meetings and UAS Council meetings have been open to the public and the agendas posted, I have no particular transparency items that my office have (has) worked on."
The controversy over Fallin's handling of open records dates to August, after Mullins denied a request by the World.
That request sought emails between Fallin and Michael Thompson, secretary for safety and security and head of the Department of Public Safety, regarding the hiring of Thompson's friend, Scott Barger.
The World reported in February that Thompson had created a high-ranking job for Barger, whom he described as a longtime friend.
Barger had been fired by the Department of Corrections following a federal civil rights lawsuit by 10 black inmates. The suit claims that Barger organized a group of guards to beat the inmates as they stood defenseless in a locked cell.
At the time of the prison incident, Barger was a captain and assistant commander of the team that conducted a shakedown search of cells on Oct. 6, 1994. A prison guard testified that he saw Barger beating an inmate and that Barger later threatened him to keep him from discussing the incident, records show.
In 1996, the state settled the inmates' lawsuit against Barger and other DOC employees. Barger told the World he was dismissed from the suit, but records show that he remained a defendant at the time it was settled.
Thompson said he wasn't aware of Barger's firing from DOC when he hired him last year as assistant director of the Department of Public Safety's Office of Highway Safety. He said he and Barger attended Purcell High School together, were co-workers at the Lexington prison and later attended National Guard Officer Candidate School together.
Barger was an unclassified employee and a friend, so an in-depth background check wasn't conducted, Thompson said.
Mullins' email, dated Aug. 24, denied the World's request for emails regarding Barger's hiring based on "executive privilege."
Mullins served as a federal prosecutor in various roles for nearly 30 years before joining Fallin's staff in February.
"The executive privilege is both a constitutional and common law privilege recognized by the United States Supreme Court," states Mullins' email.
"The Supreme Court ruled on the ground that such revelations would hamper effective governmental operations, procedures and/or decision-making. In order to do their job, high officials of the executive branch need candid advice and discussion," his email continues.
"I believe it is appropriate for counsel for DPS to state that communications between a cabinet secretary and the governor are subject to the application of this privilege."
Key Fallin staff members
Name: Steve Mullins
Title: Gov. Fallin's general counsel
Hired: Feb. 9 (according to a news release)
Education: University of Oklahoma, B.S. in physical sciences education, 1975; University of Oklahoma, J.D., 1982
Past experience: Assistant U.S. attorney, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma; senior legal adviser to the Department of Justice, Kabul, Afghanistan; U.S. attorney, district of South Dakota; general counsel, Executive Office of United States Attorneys; special assistant United States attorney, Southern District of Florida; first assistant U.S. attorney, Western District of Oklahoma
Name: Andrew Silvestri
Title: Deputy policy director
Hired: August 2010
Education: Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, master's in public policy, political and economic development; B.S., Oklahoma Christian University, government and legal studies
Past experience: Political action coordinator, Chesapeake Energy
Source: Gov. Mary Fallin's office
Original Print Headline: Fallin seeks to highlight examples of openness
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306
Gov. Mary Fallin