PICHER - After two Ottawa County judges recused themselves, a case involving allegations of Open Records Act violations against a Picher Housing Authority official was recently moved to Delaware County.
Gold Fields Mining filed the civil lawsuit in January, accusing John Sparkman, executive director of the PHA, of refusing repeated written requests for public documents from May 23, 2006, to date, court records show.
The mining company is seeking records relating to Sparkman's sideline job as a consultant creating a video production for the Speer Law Firm of Kansas City, Mo.
That video was created as evidence in federal cases where numerous Picher families, as well as the the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, have sued mining companies for health problems attributed to environmental contamination within the Tar Creek Superfund Site.
“Gold Fields has made numerous attempts at intimidating Mr. Sparkman, who has been and is still listed as a witness in the federal cases,” wrote Anthony Laizure, attorney for the housting authority.
Laizure went on to declare the local civil lawsuit an “abusive and improper action to circumvent” United States District Court Chief Administrative Judge Claire V. Eagan's Nov. 14, 2005, order limiting Gold Fields' access to Sparkman's testimony.
Gold Fields is also seeking any records relating to restrictions the Housing Urban Development or the authority might have on executive directors of local housing authorities. In the statement presented to the court, Gold Fields requested not only the division of time the executive director spent at each job, but also “any documents reflecting any investigation into any potential conflict of interest or breach of obligation to the housing authority by Mr. Sparkman arising from that relationship.”
In a sworn affidavit filed in the case, Sparkman contended that the housing authority was a federal entity, therefore he was only required to comply with requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
“The Picher Housing Authority does not report to any State of Oklahoma agency,” Sparkman wrote in his response. “In my capacity as executive director, I report directly to the HUD field offices in Oklahoma and to the Picher Housing Board of Commissioners and not to any State of Oklahoma agencies.”
The housing authority was created by the City of Picher, pursuant to the authority granted in the Oklahoma Housing Authority Act, Title 63 of the Oklahoma Statutes, Section 1051. Its governing board, the Picher Housing Board of Commissioners, is appointed by the mayor of Picher.
Sparkman refused to testify that the PHA was a federal agency, but rather, according to Gold Fields' complaint, cites federal grant funding as a guise to maintain that status.
“The business of many private corporations, for example oil companies, is governed by extensive federal regulations. Does that mean that those private oil companies are federal agencies? Of course not. Being ‘governed' by federal regulations does not transform an entity into a federal agency,” Gold Fields wrote.
If the Picher Housing Authority was a federal agency, Gold Fields concluded, it wouldn't need to receive aid money from the federal government.
But Lazaire contends in his written argument that, by sending the board-approved personnel handbook, Sparkman has complied with federal Freedom of Information Act requirements and, despite the federal court ruling, still maintains the executive director's employment with Speer Law Firm is personal in that a “record does not mean nongovernmental personal effects.”
The News-Record has requested that Sparkman provide it with a copy of his original employment contract signed in 1990. He verbally agreed to perform a records search for the document and comply with that request.
Gold Fields' lawsuit contends Sparkman provided “cute” responses and is stonewalling them for his contract agreements with the authority by, instead, sending copies of Internet Web site pages and a personnel policy that attorneys couldn't decipher if it was generic to all housing authorities or specific to the housing authority.
Sparkman's affidavit, and under sworn deposition, indicates that he was retained as a consultant by not only the Speer Law Firm but also Seeger Weiss attorneys.
The Tulsa-based attorneys for Gold Fields offered to pay reproduction costs as well as appear in person to inspect the documents, but received no response to that request either, attorney Robert J. Joyce wrote in his complaint.
Sparkman also invoked the attorney-client privilege defense, but Eagen concluded in November 2005 that was not the case and ordered the income made from Speers to be revealed.
“It was only after the lawsuit was filed that a few documents have been produced in responseŠ,” Joyce wrote.
Consequently, Gold Fields is requesting the court compel the PHA to produce an affidavit from its records custodian or other person with personal knowledge that a thorough search of the PHA records has been completed and that the documents produced are all of the responsive documents within its control.
“Requiring anything less would simply invite defendant (PHA) to further ignore the mandates of the Open Records Act,” Lazaire said.
Lazaire dubbed the Open Records Act lawsuit as “a frivolous motion that wastes the court's time as well as causes a federal agency charged with providing low-cost housing to those in need to incur unnecessary attorney fees and costs.”
Eddie Wyant, district attorney for Ottawa and Delaware counties, confirmed that Gold Fields has not filed a formal complaint with his office regarding the alleged Open Records Act violations.
Andrea Cutter, one of the attorneys representing Gold Fields, also confirmed that her client had not filed a complaint with the district attorney in the matter.
Associate Judge Barry Denney has scheduled a hearing for June 21 in the matter.