The Oklahoma City School Board this week denied applications from two charter schools. Why? That’s anyone’s guess.
The district’s legal counsel, Tammy Carter, gave board members a “confidential memorandum” spelling out problems with the charter school applications. She later rejected The Oklahoman’s open records request to see the memo.Carter contends that because the memo was from her to the board, the documents are shielded by attorney-client privilege.
According to the law, that privilege applies only if documents deal with pending litigation where disclosure “will seriously impair the ability of the public officer or agency to process the claim or conduct a pending investigation, litigation or proceeding in the public interest.”
How does that apply in this case? It doesn’t. As Oklahoma State University professor and open records expert Joey Senat put it: “The school district’s playing games with the Open Records Act.”
It’s just the latest in a long line of cases where public bodies in Oklahoma have skirted, often intentionally, the state’s open records and open meetings laws. Shameful.
The state won a rare legal victory in the area of reproductive services when a federal judge nixed Planned Parenthood’s attempt to keep its northeastern Oklahoma WIC contract in place.
The state Health Department had pulled the contract, citing legitimate concerns over cost and efficiency. Planned Parenthood said the whole thing was political — aimed at punishing an organization for its association with abortion.
Planned Parenthood doesn’t have an automatic right to contract for services under the Women, Infants and Children program. The state has an obligation to scrutinize groups with which it enters contracts. If anything, political correctness would dictate that the state not target Planned Parenthood because of national repercussions.
Case after case of the state defending laws restricting abortion has been lost. In this case, the state prevailed in preventing Planned Parenthood’s request to block the contract termination. If politics were involved in this case, it was more on the side of Planned Parenthood’s highly politicized agenda.
Can policy really motivate behavior? Absolutely.
Look at what happened following the Connecticut schoolhouse shooting last week. President Barack Obama announced his administration would be exploring changes in gun policy, and now firearms are flying off store shelves. Consumers want to buy now instead of waiting to see how access to some weapons might change.
Every year, consumers hold off on buying a new TV or school clothing and supplies, and instead wait for Black Friday or the August sales tax holiday. Raising taxes on tobacco drives down use; conversely, smokers have streamed to tribal smokeshops that due to tax policy enjoy a price advantage over nontribal retailers. Pending new year’s increases in the capital gains tax have prompted business owners across the country to try to sell their companies.
The federal wind production tax credit, which will expire Dec. 31 unless Congress acts, has the attention of developers. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, “It appears that wind developers are pushing to complete projects in 2012 to qualify for the PTC.”
The threat of a stiff penalty for text-messaging while driving might deter this dangerous practice. Oklahoma lawmakers in 2013 should consider that before, as they’ve done in the past, simply rejecting the idea.
We wrote in The Oklahoman this week about state Sen. Earl Garrison’s bill to give high school seniors a way around end-of-instruction exams. The bill would allow seniors to graduate if they make a composite score of 18 on the ACT.
A news release by Garrison, D-Muskogee, said he had spoken to several superintendents in his district and they want a composite ACT score of just 14 to be allowed to replace EOI tests.
“Garrison said he agrees with the superintendents and will share their concerns when the bill is considered in committee,” the news release said.
He agrees? A 14 on the ACT won’t get students into any of the state’s four-year colleges, and is well below the statewide average of 20.7. Garrison should have thanked the superintendents for their input, and then dismissed it.
If he truly agrees they’re on to something, it gives an idea of what his ultimate goal really is.
ABC News reporter Jake Tapper deserves credit for asking a tough but fair question to President Barack Obama this week. It came during the news conference where Obama announced that, in light of the Connecticut school massacre, he had named vice president Joe Biden to lead administration efforts to craft new gun policy.
Tapper said many observers felt Obama, for political reasons, didn’t talk about gun violence much during his first term or the 2012 election. “This is not the first incident of horrific gun violence of your four years,” Tapper said. “Where have you been?”
Obama shot back: “Here’s where I’ve been Jake. I’ve been president of the United States dealing with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, an auto industry on the verge of collapse, two wars. I don’t think I’ve been on vacation.”
He forgot to mention campaigning, which he did nonstop during his first term, blaming his predecessor for all the ills he recounted to Tapper. But George W. Bush is no help to him on this issue.
A free and open press. What a pain in the neck that can be.
Just ask officials at Oklahoma State University, who are hacked off that newspapers are wondering why the school didn’t notify Stillwater police after students reported they had been assaulted by another student. OSU says a federal privacy law prohibits the release of names or information about victims and witnesses in the case, and that university officials encouraged the alleged victims to contact police.
“The press has tried to indicate we tried to hide something,” said Gary Clark, OSU’s general counsel. “It’s not our place to try to force them to do something they don’t want to do in this regard.”
OSU could have given the identity of the suspect to police after wrapping up student conduct hearings involving the alleged perpetrator, but Clark said officials didn’t think that would have been useful. “What would the police be able to do with that information? Nothing, as far as I can tell,” he said.
Stillwater police Capt. Randy Dickerson said he wished his office had been contacted sooner because delays can hurt investigations. The first assault allegedly occurred Nov. 3. Police didn’t learn of it until last week — after being asked about it by a reporter with OSU’s student newspaper.
And now OSU President Burns Hargis has requested an inquiry into the handling of this case.
That danged media, always stirring up trouble.
Having seen fit — finally — to confirm attorney John Dowdell to the federal court in Tulsa, perhaps now the U.S. Senate can get around to placing Robert Bacharach on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
Both men had the backing of Oklahoma’s U.S. senators, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, but the nominations got gummed up by Senate gamesmanship. Republicans held up many nominations made by President Obama, hoping Mitt Romney would win the presidency and submit his own nominations for those posts.
But Obama won. So this week the Senate voted 95-0 to place Dowdell on the federal bench.
Now Inhofe and Coburn need to push for Bacharach’s immediate confirmation. After all, he’s in line for a seat on the Denver court that’s been vacant nearly 2 1/2 years.
We like the approach being taken by Marc Dreyer, chairman of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, on the issue of inmates being considered for early parole.
The board’s previous practice of not clearly indicating on its agendas which inmates were being considered for early parole or commutation resulted in a criminal investigation by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.
Last month, the board discussed changing its procedures. This week, Dreyer said the board wouldn’t make any changes for several months, in order to allow folks plenty of time to register their thoughts. That’s a smart move.
Citizens can take Dreyer up on his offer by emailing comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailing them to Tracy George, General Counsel, Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, First National Center, 120 N Robinson Ave. Suite 900W, Oklahoma City, 73102.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s staff is looking for reasons not to disclose how Fallin made the decision to return a $54 million federal grant last year after originally accepting it. Right or wrong, such maneuvering leaves the impression she has something to hide.
The Oklahoman sought emails from the governor’s office through an open records request. Fallin’s legal counsel rejected the request, citing executive privilege and attorney-client privilege. He said releasing such emails would hinder the ability of policymakers to have productive internal discussions.
But an expert in Oklahoma’s open records laws says once a personal note or memo becomes a recorded conversation or directive, it isn’t personal anymore. And executive privilege isn’t an exemption under Oklahoma law.
A 2009 opinion from the Oklahoma attorney general’s office was clear: “Emails, text messages, and other electronic communications made or received in connection with the transaction of public business, the expenditure of public funds or the administration of public property, are subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act.”
Fallin and legislative leaders accepted the $54 million grant to establish a federal health care exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act. Only after getting blowback from fellow Republicans did Fallin do an about-face.
The taxpayers who paid for the grant and who would have used the exchange deserve to know more about what went down.
The Court Appointed Special Advocates of Oklahoma County are banking on a little holiday cheer to help the children CASA serves.
On Giving Tuesday, which arrives Nov. 27, one of CASA’s board members will match any gift made to the organization through its website (www.okcountycasa.org/light-of-hope) or by phone (405) 713-6612. This is the first year for Giving Tuesday, a national event that seeks to use the momentum around the holidays and direct it toward giving.
“We have Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, so why not Giving Tuesday?” says CASA’s development coordinator, Emily Mapes.
All proceeds will go toward serving the abused and neglected children CASA represents in court. This organization does great work, and this effort merits support.