OPEA’s 2010 Lobby Day started off with a bang as The Oklahoman chose to run a scathing editorial blasting the association, its executive director and state employees.
The newspaper has been embroiled in a heated battle with OPEA, demanding the birth dates of all state employees be made public. OPEA is determined to keep that information private.
“A person’s date of birth is the missing piece of the identity puzzle if someone wants to harm a state employee,” said Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “This is clearly an attempt to intimidate public servants into giving up their right to privacy.”
In today’s editorial, The Oklahoman delved into OPEA’s past to bring up issues that have long been resolved. It also led readers to question whether state employees were attending Lobby Day while still on the clock.
The birth date issue was the topic of conversation at the Capitol, as state employees rallied behind their association. Zearley addressed the crowd of state employees who braved the March wind on the south steps of the Capitol.
“I’m a ‘Sterling Example,’” Zearley laughed, as he referenced the headline in today’s Oklahoman.“I didn’t realize when you go to work for the state you’re immediately put into bondage. The Oklahoman continues to call us a ‘union,’ so today I’m going to refer to them as ‘The Daily Tabloid: Disappointing Oklahomans since 1907.”
After laughter and thunderous applause, Zearley introduced two friends of state employees, Senator Debbie Leftwich and Representative Randy Terrill.
“I was where you are for 16 years,” said Senator Debbie Leftwich, who sponsored SB 1753, also known as the Birth Date bill. “As a state administrator back in the ‘80s, we had a similar situation right here with employee’s social security numbers. There were those who thought because you are a public employee, everything about you is an open book. I am here to tell you today that’s not the case.
“It will take dedicated members like you to help pass this legislation, because it is controversial and we are getting hit pretty hard on it. A lot of people out there don’t understand how important it is. If you work for the state, yes they’re entitled to any information that has to do with your job: your salary, your job description, job title, the date of your employment. That’s all fine. But if it’s personal it’s always been my understanding and when I worked at the agency level we were always told never to give that information out. So why should you have to give that up?”
Leftwich, a democrat, was joined at the podium by republican Representative Randy Terrill, and together they proved the birth date bill is a non-partisan issue.
“Just because you become a public employee doesn’t mean your life history is a matter of open record,” Terrill said. “Senator Leftwich and I are not here to protect those people where there is a particular criminal charge brought against them where they have been engaged in corruption, wrong-doing or any sort of impropriety. But I want to be clear. The battle you saw erupt over the weekend was not about that. What the Oklahoman is talking about is a batch request for every single state employee’s personal information, including your date of birth.
“So we’re talking about a presumption on the part of those who want access to that information that every single one of you is a criminal or a potential criminal, and that you’ve probably done something wrong and they just haven’t figured it out yet. Right?
So I want to be clear about what’s at stake: we are not talking about individual allegations of wrong-doing against certain people. We are talking about a batch request for private information on everybody,” Terrill said.
Another long-time friend of state employees addressed the crowd, Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins.
“When you have former state employees like Randy Terrill and Debbie Leftwich working on your behalf in the state legislature, then you know the things you’re concerned about have a friendly ear. It’s a difficult year. Everyone here wants to talk about the budget, so sometimes that overshadows some of those other things you want to talk about as state employees, and which I have seen on OPEA’s website.
“I am grateful so many of you were able to take time off today to come to the state Capitol because many times members of the legislature don’t have an understanding of who all our state employees are. And that’s why OPEA has a Capitol Day so you can put a face on the issues that are of concern to you. I have been your friend for years. I look forward to the opportunity to let my door be open to you and to your leaders who have always kept me informed on what’s important to you. Communication is the key to success. I pledge to continue to give you the support I have always given you and to be a LOUD advocate on your behalf,” Askins said.
One of the final speakers of the day was state Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
“You are bringing a message to the halls of this building that needs to be heard,” Edmondson said, “and that is every time they pass a bill or promote a program, it relies upon public employees to carry it out. Every time they talk about children in the custody of the state, it requires public employees to make sure those children are adequately cared for. Every time they talk about building highways across the state of Oklahoma, it takes state employees to get it done. Every time they pass a bill sending people to the penitentiary it takes state employees to make sure the public is safe and that the prisons are secure. So I commend you for what you’re doing and I look forward to working with you on the day when we have sufficient revenues in this state through job creation and growth to provide for all of the needs of state government to make sure state employees earn a decent wage and to make sure your jobs are secure and that we can build a better future.
“I am proud to be here as a state employee, as the head of an agency, and a member of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association!” Edmondson said.