|NMU||OKLAHOMA||Freedom of Information||Aug 15, 2002|
Town council bans weekly newspaper editor from city hall
- When the editor of the Eldorado (Okla.) Courier complained about being denied access to public records, council members voted to keep her out of municipal offices.
The editor — and only employee — of the sole newspaper for Eldorado, Okla., has tried since this spring to obtain various municipal records from the city’s main offices. But the city’s five-member trustees board deemed Darlene Leese a “troublemaker” and voted to ban her from city hall. The board also said Leese was rude and used abuse and threatening language against city employees.
After calls and letters from the Oklahoma Press Association and articles in some of the state’s daily newspapers, the Oklahoma attorney general has promised to look into the matter.
Mark Thomas, executive director of the press association based in Oklahoma City, said he received notice today from state Attorney General Drew Edmondson that the state’s top attorney would respond to the matter by next week.
Leese “is not a bully, and she’s not asking for anything unusual,” Thomas said.
About two years ago, Leese took over the newspaper — circulation 489 — from its former owner who left to become a schoolteacher, Thomas said. In her research into city hiring matters, Leese requested documents detailing salaries, disbursements and other data.
But the town’s two clerks complained to the town attorney about the cumbersome workload resulting from Leese’s requests. The attorney then told Leese that to obtain the data, she would have to pay a 25-cents-per-page copying fee as well as the clerks’ hourly wages for searching.
While the state’s open records law does allow the copying fee, Thomas said that it prohibits search fees for media requests.
The law does not have a specific complaint procedure if requests are denied or if public officials violate regulations. But it does allow plaintiffs to collect attorneys fees if they choose to sue and win.
However, “Leese doesn’t want to dig into the taxpayers’ pockets,” said Thomas. “She just wants the information.”
After Leese was banned from city hall in an April 4 vote by the board, Thomas contacted the town attorney, the district attorney and the state attorney general’s office.
“I have never heard of a news reporter being banned from a city hall,” he said. “Never.”
© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press