I’ll have more on this later, but Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson recently ruled that e-mail and texts regarding public business using the private phones or computers of officials are open records in Oklahoma.
Here’s the question asked in the ruling:
Are e-mails, text messages, and other electronic communications made in connection with the transaction of public business, the expenditure of public funds or the administration of public property, subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act and the Records Management Act when they are created, received, transmitted, or maintained by public officials on privately owned equipment and communication devices?
Here’s the brief answer, before four more pages of background:
The answer is yes, unless some provision of law makes the information confidential. Electronic communications that qualify as “records” are subject to the Open Records Act and Records Management Act. Moreover, to conclude otherwise would allow public officials and employees to circumvent the open records laws simply by using privately owned personal electronic communication devices to conduct public business. (boldface mine)
Earlier this year, while his office was formulating the opinion, Edmondson made a good analogy about the question under review. He likened those texts and e-mails to documents in a briefcase. Essentially, if those paper documents in a privately owned briefcase were open records, then e-mails and texts about government business on privately owned computers and cell phones should be open records, too.
Our friends at the Tulsa World have an interesting story about the recent disciplining of the city manager in Bixby. Apparently, city council members weren’t happy with him raising questions about the council’s actions during the executive sessions of recent council meetings. The alleged violations also alarmed the city attorney, who sent council members a letter (PDF link) outlining his concerns:
In a letter following the April 27 executive session, (City Attorney Phil) Frazier warned the council about protocol for executive sessions and attached a copy of the state’s Open Meeting Act.
Frazier wrote that he had been “somewhat lax in letting the conversation in executive session go beyond the (designated) subject matter. I ask your understanding and patience as I become more concerned about wandering from the agenda items.”
Despite the open meetings violations alleged by both the city manager and city attorney in Bixby, Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris doesn’t plan to investigate, the World reported.
On the FOI-Oklahoma listserv, Oklahoma State University associate professor of journalism Joey Senat hoped Harris would reconsider:
How many times does the Open Meeting Act have to be explained to our elected officials before they will abide by it? I am asking our media members in the Tulsa area to raise this issue. Too many elected officials don’t take our open government laws seriously because they don’t fear prosecution for violations. But those prosecutions won’t happen unless we pressure DA’s to take these crimes seriously.
With yesterday’s first confirmed case of the H1N1/swine flu in Oklahoma, that takes to 41 the number of states affected by the worldwide outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A number of maps tracking the H1NI flu outbreak are already widely available, but the New York Times had an interesting story about how several universities are using data models to predict future infections.
You can see some of the maps by Northwestern University here. (Caution: these are from the “worst-case” scenario.) Researchers there compiled data using several sources, including one that approximates human interactions from the circulation of dollar bills across the country.
Here’s one of their maps:
Meanwhile, researchers at Indiana University came up with many of the same conclusions when they predicted the course of flu infections.
Here’s one of the IU maps:
While we’ve all heard the calls for basic hygiene (vigilant hand-washing; covering your mouth with a tissue when coughing and sneezing) to help curtail the outbreak, this was an important point from one of the professors interviewed in the New York Times article:
But one thing remains true: “People have a very weird perception of large numbers,” (Dirk Brockmann) said. “If you have 2,000 cases of flu in a country of 300 million, most people think they’re going to be one of the 2,000, not one of the 299,998,000.”
(Don’t forget to check out our in-depth Know-It page on the flu.)