The U.S. Census Bureau today finished rolling out redistricting population totals from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. It had until April 1 to do so, meaning it finished a little ahead of schedule.
The Census also released some new information on where the population center of the United States is now. That’s the point where if the country were a flat sheet of paper, it would balance according to population. (That also assumes each person is the same weight.) Here’s their map of that new point, near Plato in southern Missouri, and how the population center has shifted over time.
The agency also released similar information for all the states. Oklahoma’s population center for 2010 is just outside the town of Sparks in Lincoln County.
I created a map using GeoCommons for all the state centers of population. You can view it by clicking on the image below or going here.
Re-posting today’s story:
By PAUL MONIES
A pending case before the Oklahoma Supreme Court about the disclosure of state employee birth dates has led to little enthusiasm at the Legislature to add employee exemptions to the Open Records Act.
Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, sponsored legislation for the second year in a row to exempt the birth dates and employee identification numbers of public employees from the Open Records Act. His latest measure, House Bill 2097, did not make it out of a House committee.
Terrill’s legislative assistant said Wednesday a limit on introduced bills this year meant HB 2097 was not one of the eight bills Terrill pursued. Terrill tried and failed several times last year to amend the Open Records Act to make similar changes.
Other groups involved in the fight last year are taking a wait-and-see attitude on legislation until the Supreme Court rules, including the Oklahoma Public Employees Association and the Oklahoma Press Association. They were on opposite sides of the issue.
A spokesman for House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said Steele had some transparency concerns about adding exemptions for public employee birth dates. Steele doesn’t expect other bills on the issue to come up this session, he said.
In February 2010, The Oklahoman made an open records request to the Office of Personnel Management for basic information, including name, salary, title, birth dates and employee identification numbers for all state employees.
- Related: One year later: Attorney General opinion on public employee DOBs still unresolved
- Related: Oklahoma County judge issues ruling in public employee DOB case
The newspaper made the request in an effort to check the backgrounds of public employees. Without a secondary identifier like a birth date, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between people with common names in court records or other public documents.
The request followed an opinion from former Attorney General Drew Edmondson that allowed public bodies to decide on a case-by-case basis if the disclosure of birth dates of public employees constituted a “clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
The newspaper’s open records request set off protests and lawsuits from some state employees and public employee groups, who feared the release of their birth dates would lead to identity theft. Some in public safety positions feared retaliation by convicted criminals.
The Open Records Act has several exemptions to protect public employee privacy, including limits on the disclosure of Social Security numbers, home addresses and home telephone numbers.
The birth dates and home addresses of 2 million registered voters in Oklahoma are available for a fee from the state Election Board.
Not all state employees are registered voters.
The state’s Open Books website also has limited payroll information for employees of state agencies and higher education.
In January, the Supreme Court extended an order by Oklahoma County District Judge Bryan C. Dixon that stops several state agencies from disclosing the birth dates and employee identification numbers of public employees. That order is in effect while the case is pending before the Supreme Court.
Mike Minnis, attorney for The Oklahoman, said the court may order oral arguments or issue an opinion on the case. The time frame for those outcomes is unclear.
The newspaper’s case attracted support from other media and government transparency groups, including Griffin Television, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and FOI Oklahoma Inc. The Tulsa World filed its own records request for similar state employee information and intervened in a lawsuit brought by several employee associations.
Last year, The Oklahoman used birth dates to check the backgrounds of many candidates in November’s elections. Tax liens, bankruptcies, lawsuits and criminal charges were among the information uncovered.
Full disclosure: I signed an affidavit in support of The Oklahoman‘s lawsuit and I’m a board member for FOI Oklahoma Inc.
P.S. My birth date is 6/27/75.
In the interests of public safety, there’s been legislation filed at the Capitol this year to ban texting while driving for commercial drivers. Whatever your personal feelings on that issue, the bill also makes some big changes to public records held by the Department of Public Safety.
The bill, HB 1797, includes the following language, with the changes to existing law underlined:
BE IT ENACTED BY THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA:
6 SECTION 1. AMENDATORY 47 O.S. 2001, Section 2-111,
as last amended by Section 3, Chapter 326, O.S.L. 2007 (47 O.S.
Supp. 2010, Section 2-111), is amended to read as follows:
Section 2-111. A. All records of the Department, other
than those declared by law to be confidential for the use of the
Department, shall be open to public inspection during office
hours; provided, no person shall be authorized to transcribe,
copy, photocopy, photograph, or otherwise duplicate any such
record upon inspection. The Commissioner shall provide any such
record to any authorized recipient upon request in accordance with
the Open Records Act and the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act,
Title 18 of the United States Code, Sections 2721 through 2725, if
applicable, and upon payment by the recipient of all required fees
associated with the record.
Essentially, those changes mean you could not go to the DPS and take notes from a record without buying a copy of it first. So much for the “try-before-you-buy” concept in sales. And what happens if you only want details from one page of a 200-page file? Will you be required to buy copies of all 200 pages before you write down a note or take a picture of a page on your smartphone about what’s in those public records? This strikes me as a terrible precedent to set, because public inspection of records should not be a profit center for government agencies.
The bill is on the calendar for consideration before the full House. It’s uncertain whether it will come up before Thursday’s deadline for bills getting out of the House or Senate. Still, similar language could appear in other bills later this session, so it’s worth watching.
UPDATE: HB 1797 passed the House late Wednesday by a vote of 95-3. You can watch Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, explain the bill here. She did not explain any of the changes to the DPS public records inspections contained in the bill. There was no debate or questions when it came up about 10:30 p.m.
Just in time for Sunshine Week, it looks like the U.S. Department of Justice has rolled out a new website with information on the federal Freedom of Information Act, commonly called FOIA.
It looks like a pretty slick and easy-to-use site. But all the pretty websites don’t make up for the decisions made by federal officials when it comes to government transparency and openness. The Associated Press reports on the Obama administration’s progress on that front, and the results are mixed:
AP’s analysis showed that the odds a government agency would search its filing cabinets and turn over copies of documents, e-mails, videos or other requested materials depended mostly on which agency produced them – and on a person’s patience. Willingness to wait – and then wait some more – was a virtue.
Also, don’t forget to check out our own special page for Sunshine Week. You’ll find our latest stories on open government and transparency efforts at the state and local level:
If you’re interested in government transparency, come out to the annual FOI Oklahoma Inc.** Sunshine Conference on Saturday, March 12. The event is from 8:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m. at The Oklahoman, 9000 Broadway Extension, Oklahoma City.
The conference will kick off Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote openness in government and empower the right to know among the people.
This year’s theme is “Putting Muscle Behind Oklahoma’s FOI Laws.” Registration is $35, but there are special rates for students and current FOI Oklahoma members. Check out a PDF of the schedule.
[Update: There also will be a silent auction, the proceeds of which will benefit FOI Oklahoma's Sunshine Fund. The organization used its first grant from that fund to help defray the costs of an Open Meetings Act lawsuit filed by citizen activists. Among the items up for bidding are an evening in an Oklahoma RedHawks suite at the Bricktown Ballpark; a one-night stay at the Colcord Hotel, among others. More items here. ]
The following is from Joey Senat, associate professor of journalism at Oklahoma State University and a former president of FOI Oklahoma:
The conference’s keynote speaker is a national Open Government Hall of Fame inductee, who will offer advice on creating a state agency that Oklahomans can go to for help when officials wrongly withhold records or restrict access to open meetings.
As executive director for the nation’s first-such state agency, Robert J. “Bob” Freeman is responsible for providing advice about New York’s open records and meeting laws to the public, state and local governments, and the media.
Freeman’s keynote address also will offer advice on making Oklahoma’s open government laws work for the public.
Other sessions include:
- A state representative [Rep. Jason Murphey] discussing bills requiring the Legislature to comply with Oklahoma’s Open Meeting and Records laws;
- A panel of local heroes who have gone to court seeking information under the Open Records Act and challenging the conduct of public bodies under the Open Meeting Act; and
- Experts explaining how to use the Open Records Act to request records and to spot the most-likely violations of the Open Meeting Act.
The luncheon will include a tribute to former Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala. Recipients of FOI Oklahoma Inc.’s annual Marian Opala First Amendment Award and three freedom-of-information awards will be recognized, as will the winners of its first FOI essay contest for college students.
Please support open government in Oklahoma by attending this conference. More people equal a bigger message to those in government who ignore our state’s Open Records and Open Meeting laws.
**Full disclosure: I am a board member of FOI Oklahoma Inc. I’ll also be speaking on one of the panels.
UPDATE: Here’s Sunday’s story, which is generating quite a bit of online comments.
My colleagues Megan Rolland and Tricia Pemberton will have more on this in Sunday’s edition of The Oklahoman, but you can check out the salaries and total compensation of school superintendents in your district online: (Click to use the database)
In case you missed it, I’m re-posting a version of my Sunday story about how state agencies have a combined $1.2 billion holed up in their revolving funds.
It looks like some lawmakers are already taking action, including Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, who announced on Twitter yesterday that he plans to amend House Bill 1086 to ask the Office of State Finance to post monthly revolving fund balances on the state’s new data.ok.gov site.
Then, the Associated Press reported yesterday that Republican legislative leaders were close to a deal to divert $5.2 million in a Corrections Department revolving fund to make up a shortfall in the current fiscal year. [UPDATE: Read the Tulsa World story on March 3 by Barbara Hoberock.]
If you go to our Revolving Fund balances, you’ll see on Page 6 the Corrections Department had about $7.15 million in their Corrections Industries revolving fund as of December 2010.
Here’s the part of the document that deals with the Corrections Department: (Click for a larger version)
The Corrections Industries fund grew from $1.8 million in 2008 to $5.56 million in 2009. I’m not sure what limitations are on that fund, but the Corrections Department seeks additional money each year to deal with prison overcrowding. Spokesman Jerry Massie said the Corrections Industries fund has a current balance of about $6 million. Lawmakers are meeting today to go over a possible agreement, he said.
Here’s Sunday’s story:
By PAUL MONIES
As Oklahoma lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin grapple with an estimated $500 million shortfall in the annual budget, state agencies have a combined $1.2 billion stashed away in their revolving funds.
Leading the way is the Transportation Department’s revolving fund for county roads and bridges, which had more than $159 million. The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center had almost $63 million in its education and general revenue revolving fund. The boll weevil eradication revolving fund had a balance of $2 million.
At the other end of the scale, the minority business development revolving fund at the Commerce Department had just $1. The Agriculture Department’s junior livestock auction revolving fund totaled $43.
Those figures are from the Office of State Finance, which provided the December balances for the last three years for more than 500 revolving funds at state agencies. The information was collected via an open records request by The Oklahoman.
Revolving funds are not part of the annual appropriations from the general revenue fund and are usually funded by fees or other sources, said state Comptroller Brenda Bolander. Depending on how they were set up, some revolving funds have designated functions and can only spend money on certain activities.
Other revolving funds might collect fees for one purpose and divert a portion of those fees to the state’s general revenue fund, Bolander said. That’s how revolving funds work at some of the regulatory boards such as the accountancy board.
Lawmakers tap revolving funds
Still, spending from many revolving funds is at the discretion of each state agency. Lawmakers also tap revolving funds to make up shortfalls in other agencies. That can pave the way for some interesting accounting games during budget negotiations, said Jonathan Small, fiscal policy director at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank based in Oklahoma City.
“The revolving funds are where a lot of this discussion needs to be had,” said Small, a former budget analyst at the Office of State Finance. “That’s a whole lot of money for us to be hearing that oxygen masks are going to be taken off children and old people are going to be lying in the street.”
Many times, the revolving funds are an afterthought in budget discussions, Small said.
“In the budget hearings, most of the discussion is about what appropriations the agency needs and not necessarily their other funding sources,” Small said. “A lot of times the members don’t have a clue about what’s in an agency’s revolving fund. The agency knows way more about what’s in there and what’s spent than the legislator does.”
The money from the wire transmitter fee revolving fund at the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control was central to recent allegations of bribery against former Democratic state Sen. Debbe Leftwich and Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore.
Revolving fund allegations
Prosecutors allege Terrill won legislative approval last year to move money from the wire transfer fee fund to the state medical examiner’s office to pay for a new position that was offered to Leftwich as a bribe. In exchange, Leftwich would agree not to run for re-election to her Oklahoma City senate seat and clear the way for a Republican candidate backed by Terrill, prosecutors charged.
Both have denied wrongdoing.
That wire transfer fee revolving fund comes from a flat, $5 fee up to the first $500 wired from places such as Western Union, plus one percent of any amount above that. The fee is not charged for wiring money from banks.
The wire transmitter revolving fund, which was created in 2009, had a balance of $2.59 million at the end of December, according to the Office of State Finance.
Darrell Weaver, director of the narcotics bureau, said about 30 percent of his agency’s funding comes from annual appropriations by the Legislature. The rest comes from fees that go to his agency’s revolving funds.
“We need those funds to be able to operate,” Weaver said. “For me, it’s just trying to keep revenue sources to keep my agency going and be effective.”
By far, the largest chunk of money in revolving funds comes in the state Transportation Department. The department had 12 revolving funds with a combined balance of more than $253 million in December 2010.
Mike Patterson, deputy director of the Transportation Department, said that money goes to a variety of transportation projects. Among those are rural transit subsidies, machinery and equipment leased to counties, and general road and bridge construction.
Patterson said lawmakers haven’t recently tapped Transportation Department funds for other uses because there is broad support for improved roads and bridges. But last year, as part of the budget deal, $65 million from the department’s revolving funds was exchanged for extra authorization to sell $65 million in bonds.
“We traded cash for bonds then, and the governor’s budget for 2012 has a similar deal for $100 million,” Patterson said. “Both of those we can handle. We’ll have to make a few tough decisions in terms of some operations, but we have such a large amount of bondable activities that we can handle the $100 million.”
OU’s Health Sciences Center’s main revolving fund had more than $63 million as of December. Catherine Bishop, OU’s vice president for public affairs, said the fund is the main source of general operations for the Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. Money for that fund comes from a range of sources, including state appropriations, student tuition and fees, endowment revenue distributions and overhead reimbursements from grants and contracts, she said.
Joe Harris, director of the Oklahoma Boll Weevil Eradication Office, said his agency’s revolving fund was set up by state law for ongoing operations and to provide contingency funds if another boll weevil outbreak happens in the state. Boll weevils can devastate cotton crops.
“We’re self-funded by the cotton producers, so we’re not a drag on the state’s budget in any way,” Harris said. “We and other cotton-producing states that have eradication programs have contingency money set aside on the off chance that we do have an emergency. Hopefully we don’t have to ever use that emergency money.”
Harris said money for the revolving fund, which had a December balance of $2 million, comes from a $2-per-acre fee on cotton harvested and sold.
At more than 500 revolving funds, the number of revolving funds probably could be revisited, especially when some have low balances and little activity, Bolander said.
“We are usually pretty strict with the agencies,” Bolander said. “We will not give them a revolving fund unless they have legislation authorizing it. There are a few exceptions, but our general rule is: fewer funds are better.”