From Sunday’s paper:
BY JOHN ESTUS AND PAUL MONIES
(c) 2010 The Oklahoman
A state lawmaker last year quietly opened up confidential state employee information to a private labor organization that advocates for state workers.
The Oklahoma Public Employees Association can now send annual mailings to the home addresses of all state workers — addresses the Legislature closed off to the public years ago by exempting them from the state’s Open Records Act.
The special access to the information was made possible by Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, who is also an OPEA member.
Terrill has won the group’s support again this year because he is the House author of Senate Bill 1753, which would exempt dates of birth of public employees from the Open Records Act.
Since House Bill 2245 went into effect in June, a spreadsheet of all state workers’ home addresses has twice been e-mailed to direct mail companies hired by OPEA, according to Office of State Finance contracts and e-mails obtained by The Oklahoman.
The confidentiality agreements call for written confirmation that the mailing list has been destroyed within five days of the mailing. The Office of State Finance has no record of those written confirmations. Jim McGoodwin, deputy director, said he received verbal confirmation. A representative of the direct mail company said it was never asked to provide written confirmation.
The association has used the addresses for direct mail campaigns urging state employees to join OPEA, which has about 10,000 members out of 40,000 state employees.
For his work to provide the state employee mailing list to the association, OPEA named Terrill its “Legislator of the Year” for 2009.
“Representative Terrill has shown himself to be a friend of state employees and OPEA by passing HB 2245,” said Connie Stockton, the group’s president, in a news release announcing Terrill’s honor.
“That bill gives state employees a great tool for getting organized and growing our association. For the first time in our 34-year history, OPEA will be able to contact every state employee once per year and ask them to join with us in giving state employees a much stronger voice at the Capitol.”
OPEA Deputy Director Scott Barger said the mailing list access is just another tool used by the association for recruitment. The association has had a similar mailing list arrangement since 2004 to reach retired state employees from the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System.
Last year’s broader mailing list access was tacked on in the closing days of the legislative session to a bill outlining how state prisons should deal with illegal immigrant detainees. The bill was called the Oklahoma Criminal Illegal Alien Repatriation Act of 2009.
The mailing list section was added to HB 2245 in a conference committee report May 21. OPEA is the only organization that has used the new law to conduct mailings, according to Office of State Finance records. The group is not charged for the list.
The new law applies to organizations limited to state employee membership that include more than 2,000 state employees as members.
One such organization was unaware the new law applied to organizations other than OPEA.
“We’ve not ever used it,” said Amanda Ewing, executive director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, which represents more than 2,000 state corrections workers.
Ewing said her organization likely won’t use the new law for mailings because delivering home addresses of public employees to mailing companies seems risky.
“If I were a corrections officer, I’d like to have control over who knew where my home address was,” Ewing said.
OPEA sued the corrections group shortly after its formation in 2008. The lawsuit accuses OPEA’s former membership coordinator and others who left OPEA to form the corrections group of using OPEA’s membership list to recruit members for the corrections group. That lawsuit is pending.
This year, OPEA has been the chief supporter of Senate Bill 1753, which would exempt public employee birthdates from the Open Records Act.
Other employee groups have joined OPEA to support the bill, claiming dates of birth need to be private to protect employees from identity theft and safety concerns.
Freedom of information advocates oppose the bill because they say exempting dates of birth will diminish the ability of the public and media to serve as a watchdog over government. Dates of birth are a key component of accurately identifying people, particularly those with common names.
Senate Bill 1753 passed the Senate and is awaiting a House panel hearing.
The home addresses, telephone numbers and Social Security numbers of public employees are already exempt from the Open Records Act.
The U.S. Census Bureau released a slick map application this week that lets you track 2010 Census participation by city, county or zip code.
I have to admit, we got our Census forms last week, and I still haven’t filled them out yet. If you’re in the same position, be careful of a scam going around that we reported on today. You do not have to provide your Social Security number on any Census form. And the Census Bureau has not yet started their door-to-door canvassing of households who haven’t returned their forms via the mail.
The agency’s regional office put out a press release today on the issue:
It is important to remember that door to door follow-up Census operations with households will not begin until late spring. These follow up operations will be conducted by official Census takers. If you have any questions about Census operations in your area, you may call the Kansas City Regional Census Center at (816) 994-2000. Here are some tips on how you can identify an official Census taker.
An official 2010 Census taker:
–Must present an ID Badge containing a Department of Commerce watermark and expiration date.
–May also be carrying a bag with a 2010 Census logo.
–Will provide you with their supervisor’s contact information and/or the local census office phone number for verification, if asked.
–Will only ask you questions appearing on the official 2010 Census form. If you need assistance completing your Census form, you may call (866) 872-6868.
Census answers are confidential and protected by federal law. All U.S. Census Bureau employees have taken an oath and are subject to 5 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine if they disclose any information that could identify you or your household. Answers will only be used for statistical purposes. The 2010 Census will ask for name, gender, age, race, ethnicity, relationship, and whether the home is owned or rented and how many people live in the home. The 2010 Census also asks for your phone number. If question responses are not understood, the household will be called.
Also, Census takers will:
–NOT ask for your social security number, bank account number or credit card number.
–NOT ask any information about your taxes or income.
–NEVER solicit donations or contact you by e-mail.
–ONLY ask you the questions listed on the Census questionnaire.
We’re almost halfway finished with this year’s state legislative session, so here’s the latest on pending bills that concern open records and freedom of information:
DATES OF BIRTH
AT STAKE: Senate Bill 1753 exempts public employee dates of birth from the Open Records Act; dates of birth of public workers are now presumed open.
WHERE IT STANDS: Passed the Senate, 44-0.
WHAT’S NEXT: Awaiting hearing in House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
AUTHORS: Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore.
HIGHWAY PATROL VIDEOS
AT STAKE: House Bill 3382 makes audio and video recordings taken from Oklahoma Highway Patrol cruisers public records in certain situations.
WHERE IT STANDS: Passed the House, 96-0.
WHAT’S NEXT: Awaiting hearing in Senate Appropriations Committee.
AUTHORS: Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, and Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore.
AT STAKE: House Bill 3155 lets district attorneys decide whether autopsy reports should be made public; autopsy reports are now open records.
WHERE IT STANDS: Passed the House, 86-7.
WHAT’S NEXT: Awaiting hearing in Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
AUTHORS: Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle, and Sen. Ron Justice, R-Chickasha.
OPEN BOOKS 2.0
WHERE IT STANDS: Passed the House, 94-0.
WHAT’S NEXT: Awaiting hearing in Senate general government and transportation subcommittee.
AUTHORS: Rep. Ken Miller, R-Edmond, and Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond.
FILM, MUSIC RECORDS
WHERE IT STANDS: Passed the Senate, 41-3.
WHAT’S NEXT: Awaiting hearing in House International Relations and Tourism Committee.
AUTHORS: Rep. Dale DeWitt, R-Braman, and Sen. David Myers, R-Ponca City.
AT STAKE: Senate Bill 2200 expunges nonviolent felonies from a person’s criminal record if the person does not commit a crime for 10 years.
WHERE IT STANDS: Passed the Senate, 25-20.
WHAT’S NEXT: Awaiting hearing in House Judiciary Committee.
AUTHORS: Sen. Joe Sweeden, D-Pawhuska, and Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa.
MUNICIPAL COURT RECORDS
AT STAKE: House Bill 2541 exempts Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and bank account numbers from public municipal court records.
WHERE IT STANDS: Passed the House, 95-1.
WHAT’S NEXT: Awaiting hearing in Senate Judiciary Committee.
AUTHORS: Rep. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond, and Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond.
HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
AT STAKE: Senate Bill 1729 would make the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association subject to the Open Records Act.
WHERE IT STANDS: Passed the Senate, 41-0.
WHAT’S NEXT: Awaiting hearing in House General Government Committee.
AUTHORS: Sen. Charlie Laster, D-Shawnee, and Rep. Shane Jett, R-Tecumseh.
SCHOOL DISTRICT TRANSPARENCY
AT STAKE: House Bill 3253 opens school district spending data for inclusion on a public Web site administered by the state Department of Education.
WHERE IT STANDS: Passed the House, 96-0.
WHAT’S NEXT: Awaiting action in Senate Appropriations Committee.
AUTHORS: Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell, and Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso.
–COMPILED BY STAFF WRITERS JOHN ESTUS AND PAUL MONIES
My story today took a look at some of the issues surrounding state agencies using social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkIn to reach out to the community.
On a related note, here’s an Associated Press story about how the FBI is also on Facebook and Twitter, although they don’t necessarily want to be your best friend:
U.S. law enforcement agents are following the rest of the Internet world into popular social-networking services, going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information, according to an internal Justice Department document that offers a tantalizing glimpse of issues related to privacy and crime-fighting.
It’s a recipe for the conspiracy-minded, but it’s also a useful caution that not everything is as it seems online.
The California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation found out about the federal law enforcement methods after filing a lawsuit over a Freedom of Information request. They have more details on their blog, including a copy of the training guide used by IRS agents:
The IRS should be commended for its detailed training that clearly prohibits employees from using deception or fake social networking accounts to obtain information. Its policies generally limit employees to using publicly available information. The good example set by the IRS is in stark contrast to the U.S. Marshalls and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Neither organization found any documents on social networking sites in response to EFF’s request suggesting they do not have any written policies or restrictions upon the use of these websites.
Here in Oklahoma, we had a cautionary story about social media sites in 2008. Officials from the Oklahoma Tax Commission sent a $320,000 tax bill to a group of students throwing parties. The Tax Commission found out about the parties on MySpace. The case was eventually settled for much less.
Mapping and GIS professionals will be at the Capitol on Wednesday, March 10. More than 47 agencies, cities and vendors who deal with geographic information systems in their jobs will in the Capitol Rotunda from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will show off how they use GIS for analysis in everything from water quality and health to energy and zoning.
GIS Day is free and open to the public.
“GAO is always considering new ways to make its findings and products accessible to a wide range of audiences through various media,” said Gene L. Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. “Podcasting enhances the service GAO provides to Congress and the public by offering an alternative means for people to learn about significant issues and new GAO reports and testimonies.”
If you’d rather read the transcripts of each podcast, they’re also available if you click on the associated report that accompanies the podcast. For example, here’s the transcript for the stimulus podcast.
In the next few months, airplanes will be taking pictures of Oklahoma County for some updated imagery for the Oklahoma County Assessor’s Web site.
The new aerial maps will be at a much higher resolution than the images currently available on the assessor’s Web site. The county is sharing the cost with several other cities and the Association of Central Oklahoma Government, according to our story today:
The resolution on most of the photos will be about twice as good as previous versions. [Assessor Leonard] Sullivan said Edmond chipped in additional money for slightly higher resolution photos than other parts of the county.
“This made a really good partnership that saved everyone some money,” Sullivan said.
James Mallory, GIS director in Sullivan’s office, said the company taking the aerial images has their flight crew in town and will be flying over the county as the weather improves. He said the new images should be up on the assessor’s Web site by May or June.
Space was a little tight in Sunday’s paper, so a few details were cut from the paper version of my story on film incentives in Oklahoma. Below the links to other background information is an expanded version of the story:
–View a presentation (5.5 MB) by the Oklahoma Film and Music Office on the state’s film rebate program.
Tax Commission Letters
(Note: The Tax Commission redacts the name and address of all recipients of private letter rulings. So far, Indion is the only company with permission to use the rural small business venture capital credit for film production.)
Tax credit to attract movie, TV production may hit cutting room floor
State film incentive faces cut
BY PAUL MONIES
A controversial tax credit used to produce films in Oklahoma like “The Killer Inside Me” faces an uncertain future as lawmakers take aim at state incentive programs.
Just one company, Tulsa’s Indion Entertainment Group, has qualified to take advantage of the rural small business venture capital tax credit for film production.
Indion’s owner, Chad Burris, said six films, including “The Killer Inside Me,” have used the tax credits to provide financing. Another four films are expected to begin shooting by late summer.
But the films in the pipeline face an uncertain future after Gov. Brad Henry’s budget proposal recommended elimination of that tax credit. The budget projected additional revenue of $37.4 million if the tax credit is eliminated.
Burris said he is notifying investors and producers about the possible elimination of the tax credit, which provides cash financing of 12 percent of a production budget.
“There are a few big movies that have been working for many months prepping to bring large productions here to this state, founded in large part on the belief that Indion will be investing,” Burris said in an e-mail. “Producers will not risk taking a movie somewhere if the incentive may go away once they arrive.”
Indion’s tax credit is separate from the state’s film rebate program. Lawmakers last year increased the film rebate to 35 percent, up from 15 percent. Producers can get an additional 2 percent rebate if they use Oklahoma music in their films. The state put a cap on the film rebate at $5 million per year.
There are no barriers against producers using both the tax credits and cash rebates to finance films made in the state. The combination of those incentives can help defray up to 49 percent of the qualified expenses of movies and TV shows shot in Oklahoma.
Jill Simpson, director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Office, said producers for “The Killer Inside Me” planned to shoot in New Mexico and Texas.
“At first blush, they were going to take everything to New Mexico except for a couple of locations,” Simpson said. “We just kept after them and kept after them. What we had to offer was customer service, so if they ask for one location, we gave them 10 options.”
That effort paid off for Oklahoma, Simpson said. The production spent almost $3 million in the state last summer on hotels, labor, equipment and other expenses. In return, producers of “The Killer Inside Me” stand to get a rebate payment of more than $440,000 in July.
Other projects that have qualified for the rebate include “Pearl” and the reality TV show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” which has shot two episodes in Oklahoma this year.
Incentives for film production have become increasingly competitive in the last decade. In 2002, Oklahoma was among just a handful of states that had some type of incentive to attract Hollywood productions and spur local filmmaking. That number has now grown to 44 states, according to a recent report by the Tax Foundation in Washington.
But incentives are being targeted nationwide as state legislatures deal with budget shortfalls and look for additional sources of revenue. New Mexico, which offers one of the country’s most generous film incentives, is contemplating an annual cap after granting film tax credits worth $82 million in fiscal year 2009. Iowa’s program was briefly suspended after an investigation showed a few producers were keeping Mercedes-Benz and Range Rover vehicles bought with that state’s film rebate money.
“Will they get rid of these things? I don’t know,” said Tony Popp, an economist at New Mexico State University who has studied film production incentives across the country. “Everybody’s taken with the glamour of it all.”
Even with New Mexico’s aggressive incentives, much of the post-production work on movies that shoot in the state is done back in Hollywood, Popp said. Effective incentive programs should also focus on growing filmmaking infrastructure like training programs, permanent production offices and soundstages, he said.
Private investors in New Mexico spent more than $74 million to build Albuquerque Studios, which opened in 2007. The cable TV drama “Breaking Bad” and the Denzel Washington movie “The Book of Eli” are among the productions shot at Albuquerque Studios.
In Oklahoma, the Film Office has held preliminary discussions with several Indian tribes about building a film studio, Simpson said. The state already has soundstages at Oklahoma City Community College, Tulsa and Broken Arrow.
“If we could get a TV series, with that kind of sustained production and on-the-job training, that is our dream scenario,” Simpson said. “When you start having sustained production, you start attracting permanent companies.”
Gray Frederickson, an Oscar-winning producer who is now Artist in Residence at Oklahoma City Community College, said Oklahomans aren’t yet jaded by film productions like they are in other states.
“That’s the great thing about Oklahoma,” Frederickson said. “The whole state is like a wonderful big back lot right now; the state bends over backwards to help you. We’re getting some good filmmakers in who can get some savings from the rebates.”
Simpson said she’s proud of the safeguards built into Oklahoma’s film rebate program. It has an annual cap of $5 million and audit requirements for producers. The Film Office also established rules to make sure producers meet deadlines for financing and production. Producers whose projects fail to secure financing in time are dropped from the program and can’t reapply until the next year.
“We want this program to be around for the long haul,” Simpson said. “We care about the taxpayers’ dollars. That’s our first priority, and I tell producers that when they come in.”
Tightening up tax credits?
Burris received approval from the Oklahoma Tax Commission to use the rural small business venture capital credit for film production in 2006. Burris and Simpson said the tax credits helped attract film production to Oklahoma while the state’s film rebate was at 15 percent and other states were offering more generous packages.
“The Indion investment made Oklahoma viable as a production state because it gave us just enough of a financial nudge to be considered along with New Mexico and Louisiana,” Burris said in an e-mail.
State Treasurer Scott Meacham said lawmakers have tried twice to tighten up the legislation that governs the small business and rural small business venture capital tax credits. He said those tax credits have been used for some good projects, such as hospitals. But they’ve also been subject to abuse because they lack defined cost-benefit analyses.
“Are we paying for some economic activity that would be going on anyway in our state?” Meacham asked. “We need to get back to the drawing board on these and put some mechanisms in place. But until we can get that done, we need to close the barn door.”
Meacham said the rural small business venture capital tax credit wasn’t really intended for temporary film production.
“This credit was really intended for permanent job production in the state of Oklahoma,” he said.
The Oklahoman’s Watchdog Team: Looking out for you. Visit http://www.newsok.com/watchdog.