State can't or won't find records that could detail budget decisions

The Oklahoma Capitol, in the early morning, on the last day of the regular legislative session on May 26, 2017 (Phil Cross KOKH)

Records that could reveal important details about how the unconstitutional budget was approved by the governor now missing or intentionally withheld.

More than once during the often dueling press conferences after tense budget negotiations, Democratic Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, referenced text messages sent to him about the budget from the governor's chief negotiator, Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger.

Inman read them again for FOX 25 during a recent interview and said in the end Doerflinger acknowledged the flaws in the budget that would be passed.

“What they ended up doing is instead of getting something done they would rather play the blame game and that ended up costing us and sending us into special session,” Inman said.

FOX 25 wanted to see what else was texted about in the process to craft the state’s budget. We requested text messages from Doerflinger through the open records act.

The Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which houses Doerflinger’s office initially responded by asking us to define a text message. The office then said they couldn’t find any records that matched our request. FOX 25 made a new request, which expanded on the definition of text messages to include any and all messages exchanged between Doerflinger and Inman.

” OMES has no recoverable instant messages that meet your request,” was the reply from the media contact for OMES Shelley Zumwalt, whose official title is the Director of Public Affairs for the Office of Governor Mary Fallin and OMES.

“If public officials or government officials are texting and it deals with the transaction of public business expenditure of public funds, administering public property that's public record,” said Joey Senat, a professor of Communications at Oklahoma State University who has literally written the book on open records and communications law in Oklahoma. “They [state officials] are supposed to find it [text messages and other requested records] and provide it to the agency when a request is made for it.”

“Our law says they [agencies] have to keep them and make them available,” Senat said, “So when they're not, I’d like to hear a good explanation as to why they're thumbing their nose at the law and the public.”

We did ask for an explanation. FOX 25 asked if OMES had proof the text messages were not sent as Inman had said or if they were deleted or otherwise destroyed. We also wanted to know if the agency had set up its systems to preserve text messages similar to the way emails are captures and retained in accordance to state records retention policy.

“OMES has a process to retain state data according to the state Records Retention Schedule; however OMES did not find any recoverable instant messages that met your request,” Zumwalt replied without addressing our specific question about text message retention.

OMES also had no answer to our question as to whether the agency searched Doerflinger’s personal mobile device. Senat said the law and attorney general opinions have addressed this topic years ago making it clear that government officials cannot hide their actions regarding state business on personal accounts or private devices.

“The A.G. opinion answers both for the open records act and for the state record retention act,” Senat told FOX 25, “It says they [records] are to be retained in the same manner as any paper document would be so while the technology allows them to be deleted that is not what they are supposed to be doing that is no different than taking a piece of paper a paper document and shredding it.”

OMES refused multiple requests for an interview with Secretary Doerflinger regarding what we’ve found in this and other open records requests. The agency said Doerflinger was too busy working on the planned special session to do any media interviews. Doerflinger participated in other media interviews after this statement was made.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off