Sunshine Week is an annual national initiative to promote open government and access to open records. Journalists use state and federal open records laws to help the public gain insight into how government works and the use of public money. These laws entitle everyone access to information about their government as part of a functioning democracy. 

In honor of Sunshine Week, The Frontier staff is taking a look back at some of the stories we reported over the past year with the help of Oklahoma’s open records and open meetings laws.

Frontier Reporter Ben Felder requested all Zoom recordings from the Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office and received dozens of hours of audio and video that helped him write a story about Gov. Kevin Stitt’s initial response to COVID-19. 

After Canadian County Sheriff Chris West launched a “posse” program in June 2020, Felder requested copies of all of the applications for the program West received, which revealed dozens of residents pointing to their combat skills for why they should be allowed to help the sheriff’s office. 

Frontier Editor-in-chief Dylan Goforth used court records to report how the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office used interns who were not authorized to practice law to prosecute dozens of misdemeanor cases. 

Goforth filed an Open Records Act request for video shot by a plainclothes Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office deputy that showed a pickup truck hauling a horse trailer that drove through a crowd of protesters in May 2020.

Frontier Managing Editor Brianna Bailey requested master menus and commissary lists from Oklahoma state prisons that revealed a diet laden with cheap, starchy foods and the ready availability of ice cream, potato chips and snack cakes to prisoners, but few fruits and vegetables. Oklahoma spends less than $1 per meal feeding prisoners. 

Bailey used state inspection reports as well as court records and police documents to report on an ongoing crisis inside the Oklahoma County Detention Center, which has been plagued by a series of deaths and maintenance problems. 

Frontier reporter Clifton Adcock looked at Payroll Protection Program data and found thousands of Oklahoma companies that received federal assistance to retain workers during the COVID-19 pandemic reported retaining no jobs or laid workers off after receiving the assistance.

Adcock, Goforth, and Frontier reporter Kassie McClung filed a record request this summer for purchasing records from the state related to personal protective equipment purchases made during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their story found that the state had dealt with a Florida company that federal investigators said was involved in international drug trafficking, and that the pandemic drove up prices for the state and forced leaders to get creative in the hunt to secure PPE.