records not vital
The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Individuals are not entitled to receive public records, even routine police reports, by email under Oklahoma's Open Records Act, according to an appeals court ruling.
State law requires public officials to "do nothing more" than to make records available, Judge E. Bay Mitchell with the Court of Civil Appeals wrote in an opinion issued April 30, The Oklahoman reported Sunday.
The court ruling stems from a request Custer County Sheriff Kenneth Tidwell had received from students of a Wisconsin journalism professor for copies of New Year's holiday incident reports.
Tidwell said the students could have the reports as long as they came to Arapaho, a 1,900-mile round trip, to pick them up.
In an email to Professor A. Jay Wagner, Tidwell said nothing in the law "requires me to mail or email records or documents." Tidwell worried that doing so would open the door to voluminous and burdensome requests.
In his opinion, Mitchell wrote the sheriff's only obligation was to make the records available for inspection or copying, and that access must only be "prompt" and "reasonable."
"Although an agency is entirely free to embrace requests by email, it is not required to do so," he wrote.
Wagner, an assistant professor of journalism and media studies at Marquette University in Milwaukee, said the appeals court's ruling would undermine the Open Records Act "in its entirety."
Records show the sheriff has responded by email to previous requests and in the past three years his office has received fewer than 10 public records requests, dispelling the notion there would be a flood of such requests, Wagner said.
A legislative fix on the issue could be in the works.
Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, said his organization would work to pass legislation next year to address this issue.