State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd spoke last week at a training seminar on governmental open records requests while being sued for her failure to comply with an open records request made against her office. It would be humorous if not so sad and, potentially, unlawful in Oklahoma.
Byrd has refused to fully comply with an open records request made back in 2020 that asked for any documentation or communication between her and Andrew Speno, a State Auditor employee who has also worked as her campaign consultant.
In the legal filing (click here to read file on OSCN) plaintiff Alexander M. Hall through counsel, notes that Byrd’s response was incomplete. Under the Oklahoma Records Act, Hall requested all communications, but received only selected attachments omitting both draft and final versions of various documents. A second attempt by Hall to remediate a lack of full compliance by Byrd was also frustrated when she provided, again, less than the request specified.
Tulsa Today and inquiring minds are left to consider what exactly is Byrd hiding? Why fight this request now for almost two years?
Auditors and investigators from Byrd’s office dig for detail in every audit. They know what it’s like to be stonewalled when seeking information. How, short of hypocrisy, can Byrd justify such a legitimate lawful official inquiry into the operation of her office. Could it be the dual role of Speno consulting for Byrd as both employee and campaign operative?
We know that the Auditor and Inspector’s Office employees Byrd directs are aggressive in the pursuit of information no matter how hard audit targets may try to hide true facts. However, we have also received unconfirmed reports from different Oklahoma Counties that they are subject to different treatment on audit particulars depending on their relationship with Byrd. Maybe that criticism of unequal treatment is unfair and, again, these are not confirmed but reports persist.
It’s especially troubling when Byrd is quoted just days ago, “When citizens can’t get the information they want, the first place they’re going to come is to my office.”
Byrd fully understands why the Open Records Act is so vital to transparency in government. She even touts a recent example of how $1.8 million in stolen Oklahoma tax dollars happened due to the lack of transparency.
It begs the question: Knowing that lack of transparency in government leads to criminality, why is Byrd vigorously fighting a records request to her own office? Further, why is Byrd is spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in legal expenses fighting this request? People with nothing to hide don’t usually work this hard to hide anything.
It could be a power thing. Some call it the “deep state” defined as a bureaucracy so powerful it is immune to outside management. Tulsa Today has written of these centers of power as “fiefdoms” and they exist at the national, state, and local level. In the name of good government, we pray that is not the case in the Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector’s Office, but we are beginning to wonder who audits the auditors?
Quoting Auditor and Inspector Byrd about other open records requests, “Oklahoma taxpayers paid for it. They should get to see it.” Amen and courts willing we will.
We’ll keep you updated.