Open records lawsuit results in released emails, but raises more questions

The Oklahoma State Capitol building (KOKH/File)

The governor's office is facing three separate lawsuits over failure to turn over public records in a timely fashion.

In one of the more recent cases filed by an advocacy group, the office says they turned over the complete record. However, the leader of the group that advocates for better care for nursing home residents says the few documents released are raising new questions.

The issues relating to the open records case date back nearly five years. Wes Bledsoe, the founder of “A Perfect Cause,” says he was trying to get a meeting with the governor or her staff regarding problems he identified with oversight of nursing homes.

“We had three major issues going on at the time that were representing systemic failures by agencies,” Bledsoe told FOX 25.

In 2014, he requested a meeting with the governor's office after calling for the resignations of state officials over the mishandling of state and federal laws related to nursing homes and investigations into complaints. In a recent release of internal emails, he found out how his request was treated.

“[Chief of Staff] Denise Northrup's response to one of her staff in her office ‘not happening…just slow play him for now."

Northrup was recently appointed to head up the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

“When I saw the contents of those records it made me sick to my stomach,” Bledsoe said.

In another email the office reacted to phone calls in support of a nursing home reform bill by blaming Bledsoe for asking people to call and voice their support to the Governor’s office.

Bledsoe says the tone of many emails was dismissive and troubling considering the issues he was trying to address.

“In that email we're talking about veterans and their spouses and other Oklahomans who are suffering and dying in nursing homes from preventable causes and we get an ‘Ugh’? Bledsoe said. “Are you kidding me?”

Also concerning to Bledoe is the volume of records released. The governor’s office 14,305 pages or emails and records in response to his request. In court filings and pleadings in the civil lawsuit being brought by the ACLU on behalf of Bledsoe and an independent newspaper, the office told a judge the two requests required a review of 800,000 pages of records.

Bledsoe told FOX 25 he is aware of records he provided to the governor’s office that were not included in release. He says the ACLU will continue to pursue the lawsuit to ensure all records are released.

The governor's spokesman, Michael McNutt sent FOX 25 the following statement in response to concerns raised by Bledsoe and the open records cases:

"Mr. Bledsoe has sent many emails to the governor’s office, often requesting meetings with key staff members on a subject he is passionate about. Key members of the governor’s staff met numerous times with Mr. Bledsoe, his board members and some of his clients to hear and discuss his concerns. Mr. Bledsoe during that time called for the resignation or termination of seven high-level officials.

Mr. Bledsoe later that year made a request for any and all communications with the governor and her staff that mentioned nursing homes, long-term care facilities, assisted living, group homes and several other related terms. That request was fulfilled and delivered to him.

Governor Fallin’s office has released more than 1.6 million (1,622,630) pages of records."

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