The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is planning on vast improvements in the coming six months on its ability to respond to Open Records requests.
It’s what Administrator Brandy Wreath informed commissioners Tuesday during their afternoon regular meeting. He explained the agency handled 353 open records requests in 2022 and 132 as of the end of May of 2023.
A new tracking system should be fully implemented by July 1 allowing an updating of requests made by the media, the public and industries.
The Commission also included $150,000 a year in its budget to acquire the Relativity software which will allow a faster handling of the search for documents sought under an Open Records request.
Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony asked for the update on Open Records requests and was curious about one request by Bloomberg News that was pending 3 months after it was made.
Wreath and Public Information Officer Matt Skinner explained the request focused on whether there had been any formal requests by the agency for an investigation into market manipulation that might have occurred during Winter Storm Uri in 2021.
Both said they spent several hours explaining to the reporter in question that the answer was ‘no’ but the request was still made for documents supporting their answer.
“We’re doing a lot of worth for nothing to be honest with you,” said Wreath. “We’re dealing with a whole lot of requests based on a whole lot of things we know didn’t happen because everybody said it didn’t happen.”
Wreath also pointed out to commissioners that public records requests are on the primary concern of agency employees, even those in the Public Information Office.
“If I’m gonna ask an employee to stop what they’re doing on an earthquake, or a purge or a flood, or a tar spill for something we’ve already talked to a reporter and made it clear that we’re not gonna be able to give you anything on that topic, I can’t pull someone off a critical staff and say ‘stop doing your duty.'”
In response to a question by Commissioner Kim David, Wreath said in some cases his employees have spent $10,000 on handling research. He also said the agency handles an estimated 200,000 documents a month handling Open Records requests.
Matt Skinner, the PIO, said most requests handled by his office come from various industries and not the media.
Commissioner David was told, under her questioning, that no public records requests were pending for her office.
Commission chairman Todd Hiett, who sat quiet during the presentation by Wreath and Skinner, interjected a different approach to the topic.
TH: Matt, can you confirm there are no open records requests pending in my office?
MS: Yes, none that I’m aware of.
TH: Thank you. Unfortunate we have to do that, but having been under attack under false pretenses for five years, we have to check those boxes.”
He didn’t elaborate and quickly adjourned the meeting.
Hiett might have been referring to claims made against him by Commissioner Anthony that he was delaying a response to an open records request made by Nick Singer of the Oklahoma Progress in August of 2022. Singer said Hiett had not responded to his Open Records request which also focused on natural gas prices during the February 2021 Winter Storm Uri. The issue was raised in a December 2022 meeting as OK Energy Today reported.
It wasn’t until March when Hiett reportedly answered Singer’s request.
Delays in open records requests have been leveled against the agency in the past as OK Energy Today explained in a Jan. 18, 2023 article.
The newspaper group, CNHI, reported it had problems seeking similar winter storm and natural gas pricing information.
“CNHI Oklahoma filed an open records request to find out which companies profited by raising natural gas prices in February, when utilities turned to rolling blackouts. Oklahoma Corporation Commission officials said those records had been sealed to the public and media, and did not provide any specific details responsive to the request. CNHI has appealed the denial,” reported the Joplin Globe.