Jones resident sues Oklahoma town for allegedly violating Open Records Act

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JONES, Okla. (KFOR) – The town of Jones is now facing a lawsuit for allegedly violating the Open Records Act.

This comes after a resident filed an open records request that allegedly went unanswered.

This story was first reported by The Jones Journal, also saying a new town resolution now charges $85 per hour for any request that requires legal support– including open records requests.

“Where government runs into problems is when they forget that those records belong to the public. They’re simply the custodians of them at the moment,” said Joey Senat, OSU Associate Professor of Mass Communication and Multimedia Journalism.

According to the lawsuit, Jones resident Christopher Templeton made an open records request on Nov. 18, 2021, demanding a response from the town of Jones by Dec. 10, but allegedly that never happened.

The Jones Journal says Templeton, “has been battling the town for several months over flooding issues near his home.”

He even filed a petition with change.org.

KFOR tried to reach Templeton, but no one was home.

In July of this year, the town passed a resolution to now charge $85 per hour for any request that requires legal support.

But according to the Jones Journal, the town clerk, town treasurer, and town attorney confirmed all open records requests are no longer reviewed by staff and are now sent directly to the town’s attorney for review.

News 4 stopped by city hall on Thursday. They were closed for the holiday.

We were able to reach the mayor by phone. He declined to comment but said he would pass along our request to the attorney.

The Jones Journal tells KFOR the city attorney hasn’t actually charged anyone the $85 fee.

“What he described was that every request goes to the department head, whichever department had the record, and also to the city attorney for review and authorization as he put it. That’s a violation of the Open Records Act,” Senat said.

Senat, an Oklahoma State University professor, specializes in Freedom of Information laws, including the Open Records Act.

He says the law does not specify a time limit for responses to requests, but–

“It also requires prompt and reasonable access to the records,” Senat said. “The public is entitled to look at them, in fact, they have a right to look at them. It’s an important right. It’s how they know what their government’s doing in their names.“

So far, we have yet to hear from the city attorney.

On Dec. 24, the city attorney’s office released the following statement:

“The lawsuit filed against the Town of Jones City alleging a violation of the Open Records Act is both without merit and frivolous. The Open Records Act is clear that no deadline is required for the production of records, and as such, a demand for any deadline is invalid. The City is in compliance with the Open Records Act. The written request made to the City, which Mr. Templeton referenced as “Exhibit 1” but conveniently did not attach to his petition, which is available for public review, is both vague and overbroad. Mr. Templeton did not provide any dates related to the records requested and as such we interpret that request to mean all records regardless of date. Not only does the Act allow for the City to deny the request for being vague or overbroad, it allows for a reasonable amount of time to respond to such a request. Since the City retains a significant number of years of records, we do our absolute best to search for all records relevant to the request and to produce them as soon as reasonably practicable.

The fees adopted by the City in July of 2021 regarding open records requests have never been assessed and were adopted pursuant to the Open Records Act. The fees referred to for legal support would only be assessed if legal support is required to complete a request, for example, when confidential records are requested and legal review and support is required to remain compliant with the Act. A City Attorney’s review and authorization of an open records request is not a violation of the Open Records Act and as such we will continue to utilize this process in order to protect the City from any legitimate liability concerns.

Garrett Eller

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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