Fallin defends 'executive decision' in withholding records
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Thursday, December 13, 2012
12/13/12 at 7:24 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday defended her decision to cite "executive privilege" in withholding certain documents from the press, even though such a privilege is not found in the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
Fallin said the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the privilege, which is granted to the president.
"It is not a new concept in the nation," she said.
But Joey Senat, an expert on openness in government, said that "no one disputes that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized it for presidents, but she is not the president."
Senat, an associate professor who teaches media law at Oklahoma State University and is past president of Freedom of Information Oklahoma Inc., said that if Fallin wants such an exemption, she should seek a vote of the people to give her that power by changing the state constitution.
"I doubt seriously they would do it," he said, noting that previous governors have not claimed such a privilege and functioned quite well.
Criticism of Fallin has been mounting in the wake of her refusal to produce certain records.
Fallin characterized the conflict as a difference of opinion between her legal counsel, Steve Mullins, and "other legal people."
"We are working toward trying to find a resolution so that we can all be able to function and do our job whether you are in the press or whether I am a public policy official trying to get good information from my staff in a candid way that won't be misconstrued or twisted around, frankly," Fallin said.
She said it needs to be made clear that her office is producing documents that the press requests. However, her office is screening what it releases.
Fallin's comments were made to reporters following a speech she gave to state, county and local officials urging greater use of compressed natural gas.
In response later Wednesday, Senat said: "For one, this isn't about the press. This is about keeping records from the public. She is trying to make this into 'we hate the press.' "
Fallin said state officials must be able to have an open discussion and give candid opinions without it becoming a headline in the paper the next day.
"We want it as open and transparent as humanly possible without being disruptive to people being able to candidly and openly express their opinion about an issue," Fallin said.
Senat said he assumes that those people are highly paid with taxpayer money, and he suggested that if they can't have candid conversations without the public knowing what they are saying, the state is hiring the wrong people.
Fallin told reporters that her office has been inundated with requests for information.
"Everybody is kind of piling on, wanting hundreds of thousands of documents," she said.
Producing them takes time and manpower to sort through to see if the information is relevant at a time when she is trying to produce a budget, is worried about the federal "fiscal cliff" and is preparing a legislative agenda.
Fallin said her office is trying to be as cooperative as possible.
Senat said the issue of an "executive privilege" comes down to "how we view the role of the public overseeing its government."
If Fallin pushes for this executive privilege and is successful, he said, her "legacy will be one of secrecy."
He noted that she signed a pledge to support openness at every opportunity.
Fallin is now asking for something a lot of public officials would like, he said. But then, "what happens to open government?"
Original Print Headline: Fallin defends 'executive privilege' claim
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465
Mary Fallin: Her refusal to release records draws criticism.