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Summer 2012 in Enid, Oklahoma may go down as the hottest one ever. Not necessarily because of the above 100 degree temperatures but because of the dustup it caused. Enid has been dealing with a two year drought situation which reached a boiling point this summer as some residents and businesses put extra stress on the water supply.
Officials and well drillers have conceded that the water situation became critical due to the strain placed on the current water supply system rather than the actual water supply shortage. There was water to be found underground, the city well system was simply inadequate to pump the amount of water homeowners were requiring.
In June, the City of Enid obviously knew there was going to be a water problem because they approved a new Water Conservation Ordinance and posted it on 6/7/2012. It included different phases that would be imposed if Enid residents did not curb their water use during the hot summer days. Phase 1 was an odd/even water plan which coincided with your street address. Phase 2 of the ordinance prohibited any sprinklers or sprinkler systems and only hand watering for one hour per day. Violators were subject to a $100 per day fine.
On 7/2/2012 Phase 1 was put into effect, water rationing had begun. On 7/3/2012 the City ironically announced the opening of its second Splash Pad, a free recreational watering area for kids. On 8/1/2012 the City initiated Phase 2 which banned all sprinklers. On 8/3/2012 the City posted restricted hours for the Splash Pads but did not turn them off. The City of Enid also continued the sale of water to commercial businesses.
During Phase 2 it was noted that the City of Enid had not handed out one fine although many residents were not following the watering ordinance. There was no ban on watering lawns all together and no call for raising fines.
Phase 3 of the Water Conservation Ordinance began on 8/7/2012. Residents and businesses were allowed to water by hand every day of the week for up to one hour per day. However, new emergency water rates were put into effect. This additional structure automatically assessed punitive fees upon those failing to adhere to the restriction. In other words, the threat of a fine had not worked so the City of Enid was going to automatically fine those using more water.
This was seen by some as a fair proposal and many residents that could afford the higher rates opted to pay them to save the thousands of dollars they had invested in landscaping. During a city council meeting, city of Enid’s interim public information officer, said an estimated 180 users were consuming around 11.7 million gallons per month to constitute the top 1 percent of usage. City Manager Eric Benson stated that the City of Enid had this list of the top 1 percent of residential users and city commissioners were aware of this list and referenced it.
After this meeting the City received many inquiries about the release of the names and water usage of City of Enid utility customers. On August 3, 2012, an Open Records Request was submitted by the Enid News & Eagle for utility services information. Again on August 8, 2012, additional Open Records Requests were made by the Enid News & Eagle and the Route 60 Sentinel.
The Oklahoma Open Records Act requires that public bodies release information. The City of Enid could not choose to withhold the information unless there was an exception prohibited by law.
The City of Enid released the names and a one month water bill for these 180 residents to the Enid News and Eagle while Route 60 Sentinel was waiting on a response. The ENE chose to publish this list on the homepage of their website, enidnews.com. After all of the water issues the city was having, this is actually where the real dustup began.
Enid residents, most of which were not on the list, were furious that a list of this sort would be published online. Although many understood it was public record, the question wasn’t whether you could publish the list, the question became should you have published the list. Residents on the list also chimed in with explanations that they had water leaks and plumbing problems. Some top water users had been watering common areas for their neighborhoods to keep things looking nice.
This list was a one month snapshot of water usage before the higher rate proposal had been implemented. Meaning some residents may have curbed their usage after the higher water rate increase. Some residents may have had their plumbing problems repaired. So the list of names may not have even been valid by the time it was released.
This left many residents asking why the local newspaper had published the list. There was no explanation and no reason given as to the benefit of releasing the the names. Some felt it was meant to embarrass the top water users while others thought it was a rushed decision in an attempt to be the first to claim publication.
No matter what the reason, publishing the list did not help the situation or solve any of the problems. On August 21, 2012 the Enid News and Eagle printed an editorial on the subject of the list. They proclaimed that as a matter of city government transparency, readers had a right to know. They also admitted that they had learned a lot by posting this list online.
The ENE stated that they hadn’t intended to shame, bully or vilify anyone. That people were entitled to enjoy their lawns, gardens and other aquatic features. They simply provided the information that was public record. As of today we have not seen them publish the top 1% of trash users, electricity users or gas users.
And that was the dustup. No explanation as to what benefit was gained by publishing the list. Since the list was public record any resident feeling the need to see it could easily have requested it themselves. Some residents continue to call for an apology and others are still shaking their heads. In a city that has had its share of residential clashes and discord in the past, a nice cold shower might just clear the dust and reveal better solutions in the future.
Now that things have cooled down it is easier to look back and see the things that helped the situation and the things and added fuel to the fire. This article was not written to stir things up again, but to remind everyone that just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should. Digging up and publishing residents personal information comes with consequences and open record or not, some information should be left for individuals to look up for themselves.