OKLAHOMA CITY – New information on the fight to get Governor Mary Fallin to release documents that, by law, should be open to the public.
Those documents revolve around Governor Fallin’s decision to accept, then reject $54 million in federal money that would have gone to create a health care exchange program as part of the Affordable Care Act.
For months, the Governor’s office has refused to release those documents.
Then Friday came what some are calling a document dump. Her office released more than 51,000 pages of emails, memos and letters.
Now, it’s what she didn’t release and is still refusing to hand over that has some Oklahomans angry.
The documents are finally in the public’s hands after the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in to try to force Governor Fallin’s office to abide by state law and honor open records requests.
Reporters asked for specific documents dealing with her decision on expanding Medicaid. What was given in the small amount of the 51,000 pages News Channel Four has been able to review so far does includes some information on Medicaid. However, we were also given 54 presidential speeches, items on gun control and even rattle snake roundups.
“That’s something sometimes public officials will do is bury the public or reporters in a flood of papers that don’t say or mean or mean anything that don’t get to the subject,” said Joey Senate, Ph.D.
Dr. Senat specializes in Mass Communication Law at Oklahoma State University.
He says the real focus now becomes the 100 pages that the governor is refusing to turn over, claiming executive privilege.
Fallin says the pages include advice from her top staff.
“That’s probably what people really want to know. What was the real advice they gave her on this, the back and forth, the alternatives considered, when something was changed, rejected?” said Dr. Senat.
However, the ACLU isn’t necessarily concerned with what the 100 pages contain, but it says the governor should not keep that information from Oklahomans.
“Our interest here is about open government, transparent government. It’s about a citizen’s right to know,” said Brady Henderson withe ACLU. “We want to make sure no state agency, even the Governor’s office, is in a position to deny the public that access.”
Governor Fallin’s office claims the State Constitution gives them the right to withhold documents under Article 4, section 1 which states:
“The powers of the government of the state of Oklahoma shall be divided into three separate departments: the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial; and except as provided in this constitution, the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial departments of government shall be separate and distinct, and neither shall exercise the powers properly belonging to either of the others.”
Dr. Senat says that does not give the governor the right to withhold documents.
“She’s actually adding another layer of secrecy to the Governor’s office that didn’t exist before.”
The ACLU says the next step could be to sue the Governor’s office for not complying with the law.
Governor Fallin declined to take any questions about the documents.