OKLAHOMA CITY – A nursing home safety advocate is raising important concerns about a lack of transparency within the Oklahoma governor’s office.
The Oklahoma Open Records Act is explicit: all communications within state agencies are open records.
Barring any special exception, all email communication to, from and inside a state agency is open to the public.
Wes Bledsoe is a tireless champion for the elderly in Oklahoma.
For 18 years, he’s been an outspoken critic of state agencies, including the governor’s office.
“We cannot trust the governor of the state of Oklahoma, her staff or these state agencies,” Bledsoe said.
In 2014, Bledsoe filed an Open Records Request for communication within the governor’s office about elderly care in Oklahoma.
18 months after he made the request, the Oklahoma ACLU stepped in to help.
After the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Bledsoe’s organization, a judge ordered the governor’s office to comply with the law.
Finally, last week – three years, nine months after Bledsoe’s request – the state answered his call for transparency with 14,000 pages of emails and memos.
“It took three years, nine months for us to uncover the incompetence, the corruption and the apathy in Governor Fallin’s office that’s directly responsible for deaths in nursing homes since she’s been in office,” Bledsoe said.
However, Bledsoe and the ALCU think there’s a lot missing.
They believe documents were accidentally or intentionally left out.
Also, the email communication shows a pattern of disparaging comments about Bledsoe and his non-profit group, A Perfect Cause.
In one message, the governor’s chief of staff responds to his request with “ugh.”
In another message, staffers stonewall Bledsoe by suggesting they “ignore” his requests for a meeting.
The chief of staff writes “just slow play him for now.”
“Slow play him for now?” Bledsoe said. “People are dying in these nursing homes…People are being injured. Slow play him for now. Are you kidding me?”
First Amendment attorney Bob Nelon is an expert in the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
He is also currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the governor’s office after his client waited three years for requested public documents.
“In my mind, this is not transparency,” Nelon said. “A public official could leave office before an open records request is even fulfilled.”
Oklahoma statute requires “prompt and reasonable access” to public records.
Fallin’s former chief of staff, Denise Northrup, is the one who emailed the remarks about Bledsoe.
Northrup was recently promoted.
She is now running the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES).
A spokesperson for Fallin sent the following statement regarding the delay of Bledsoe’s open records request:
“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.”