Pat Key, who puts obstacles in the way of public access to public information, is tired of budget transparency talk

| | TrackBacks (0)

Tulsa County Clerk Pat Key says she is tired of Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel's annual push for budget transparency.

Yazel has repeatedly voted against the county's budget, saying it does not provide a complete accounting of all county revenues and expenditures. He made the same argument Monday, and again, other Budget Board members were not buying it.

"I, for one, am tired of revisiting this same issue over and over again," County Clerk Pat Key said. "I don't know how many more opinions or court cases that we have to give before we don't discuss this same thing over and over again."

While state law only requires the county budget to cover money that must be appropriated (principally property tax revenues that go into the county's general fund), Assessor Ken Yazel believes that taxpayers deserve a full accounting of every penny under the control of county officials, and he points to Oklahoma County as the example to follow.

Oklahoma County's total budget for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 covers $180.7 million: $132,019,665 in revenues, $48,712,216 in beginning fund balance, $149,331,246 in expenditures, and $31,400,635. Tulsa County's budget for the same year was $83.6 million. Why is Oklahoma County's budget twice as big as Tulsa County's budget? Because Oklahoma County budgets all funds, all sources of revenue, and all expenditures, even if they involve earmarked revenue sources.

Tulsa County's budget includes only the bare minimum required by law. Previous year surpluses in non-appropriated funds, some of them under the sole control of an elected official, can be kept off-budget and out of the budget book. (I would link to the newly adopted budget, but I can't find it online.)

State Rep. David Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow) filed a bill (HB1986) in the first session of this Legislature to raise the budget transparency standards for county governments. It's my understanding that Tulsa County elected officials (other than Yazel) successfully lobbied the legislature to keep the bill from coming to a vote.

One of the lovely features of Oklahoma County's budget book is that you can see when an elected official spends an unusually big pile of money from a designated fund under her control. Maybe it was for an important upgrade that will benefit taxpayers and other citizens. Or maybe the big expenditure was the result of poor judgment. If taxpayers can easily see all of the county's financial information where they expect to find it -- in the budget -- they can ask questions about these sorts of expenditures. Maybe that's why the non-Yazel elected officials at the Tulsa County Courthouse are fighting this idea.

Maybe it's because they've shown such poor judgment in other respects -- like appointing to the juvenile justice authority a woman who plotted to frame her ex-husband as a child porn collector and molester and then hiring that same person as the County Clerk's chief deputy -- there's some poor financial judgment that they'd like to make as inaccessible to the public as they are legally able.

Counties are required by law (19 O.S. 444) to publish an annual payroll report. Oklahoma County posts its report, as well as a monthly payroll report, on the county clerk's website, and the files are in Excel format -- easy to search and process.

I'm sure Tulsa County complies with the letter of the law, but I have been unable to find the required annual payroll report on any county website. In fact, when I used a search engine to look for it, I find Oklahoma County's report instead. Perhaps I need to go downtown to the courthouse and go through the metal detector to be able to look at the report.

Tulsa County Clerk Pat Key has done an impressive job of hindering public access to public records. If you want to look at a plat of your subdivision -- a drawing that shows the streets and lot lines and easements and sometimes also lists applicable covenants -- you have to drive downtown to the County Courthouse during office hours, pay for parking, and go through a metal detector. If you want to look at a title deed or a lien or some other legal document that has been filed with the County Clerk, it's the same routine -- office hours only, pay for parking, get magnetometered and have your wallet x-rayed. Just to see the metadata for deeds and other documents -- buyer, seller, date, parcel, document number, etc. -- you have to go to a public library during library hours and use a special computer. That's just so you can plan your trip to pay for parking and go through a metal detector to see a digital image of the actual document.

The Oklahoma County Clerk's office makes land records and UCC filings -- including images -- available online, any time day or night, from anywhere on the internet. It's my understanding that the Tulsa County Clerk's system is capable of that, from which I infer that Pat Key chooses not to make these public records available for convenient public review.

So no one should be surprised that Tulsa County Clerk Pat Key would oppose Assessor Ken Yazel's efforts to make complete county revenue and expenditure information readily available to the public in the budget.

By contrast to Pat Key's limited public website, Assessor Ken Yazel's website is well-organized and provides easy access to information on every parcel in Tulsa County, any time day or night, from anywhere on the Internet. You can search by name and address, and if you don't know the address you can click on a Google map.

Ms. Key, if you want to stop revisiting the issue of full budget transparency over and over again, do the right thing. Go above and beyond the letter of the law to provide the public with the information it ought to have. Instead of fighting with the one county elected official who has demonstrated a commitment to governmental transparency and fiscal conservatism, work with him. Follow Ken Yazel's excellent example instead of sniping at him.

MORE:

There is a way to get internet access, of a sort, to County Clerk records. It costs $30 a month, and the Board of County Commissioners has to vote in one of its regular meetings to approve your application for access. So to review: Oklahoma County offers free, anonymous access from anywhere to public land records. Tulsa County, under Pat Key's leadership, offers $30 a month, subscriber-only access and only to those subscribers approved by the County Commissioners.

One more thing: It seems like there was a time when you could access Tulsa County land records metadata at home and could see the images if you went to the library. Anyone else remember when that changed?

MORE on HB1986:

Here is the language that Rep. Brumbaugh's bill would have added to the County Budget Act, 19 O.S. 1408, 1411, 1412, 1414. This is the level of disclosure that Oklahoma County provides and that Assessor Yazel had hoped his fellow Tulsa County elected officials would support, even if the law doesn't require it. Strikethrough is deleted text, underline is added text:

Section 1408. The county budget board shall prepare for each budget year a budget for each fund whose activities require funding through appropriation from the budget board for which there is a reasonably anticipated fund balance or revenues. The county budget shall include each fund for which any department head or elected official has spending authority, irrespective of the fund type or whether or not the fund is, either by law or accredited budgeting standards, subject to appropriation.

Section 1411. A. On or before a date set by the county budget board, the county excise board shall provide a tentative estimate of anticipated revenues from all sources, classified by funds, for the succeeding fiscal year. For the purposes of this section, "all sources" means any reasonably anticipated revenue for any fund of any department or elected office within the county. For the purposes of the County Budget Act, fund balances shall be treated as revenue. The county excise board shall arrive at the tentative estimates independently. In furtherance of this requirement and the other requirements of the county excise board, the county excise board is authorized to hire appropriate staffing on either a permanent, full-time, part-time, temporary, or contract basis. The county budget board shall include in its annual budget sufficient funds for these purposes.

Section 1412. The county budget board shall hold a public hearing on the proposed budget no later than fifteen (15) days prior to the beginning of the budget year. Notice of the date, time and place of the hearing, together with the proposed budget summaries, shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county not less than five (5) days before the date of the hearing.... Budget summaries shall be grouped by department or elected office and shall include beginning fund balances for each department or elected office and for the county as a whole.

Section 1414. A. In addition to any other powers and duties granted to the county excise board in this act, the board shall act in an oversight capacity with respect to the county budget. The county excise board shall examine the county budgets.

0 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Pat Key, who puts obstacles in the way of public access to public information, is tired of budget transparency talk.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.batesline.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/7226

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 12, 2014 2:04 AM.

June 8, 1974: Tulsa's first big tornado disaster was the previous entry in this blog.

Ken Yazel for Tulsa County Assessor is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Contact

Feeds

Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
Atom
RSS
[What is this?]