Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Three members of a Bartlesville committee that helps oversee downtown development have been accused in a police complaint of recently violating the state Open Meeting Act.
The agenda for the Design Review Committee's special meeting on Dec. 15 did not specify that action could be taken on two project applications.
In contrast, the agenda said the committee would "discuss and take possible actions to develop Residential Design Guidelines for the Downtown Redevelopment District."
The official mission of the five-member committee is "to ensure compatibility of future development within the Downtown Redevelopment District with the existing character of the area and to provide a framework for new construction and the renovation of buildings which already exist."
Or, as The Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise has explained, the committee "was created to help oversee development in downtown and make sure signage, building, redevelopment and renovation were done in a way that was consistent with the unique history and architecture of downtown."
According to a document provided on the city's Web site, "No project will be permitted to proceed without plan approval from the DRC." (DESIGN REVIEW An Applicant’s Guide.)
"All meetings of the DRC are subject to the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act, Title 25 OS 301-314," according to the document.
Members are appointed by the mayor and serve a three-year term limited to a continuous period of two terms or six years, according to the city's Web site.
Two items listed on the Dec. 15 agenda were:
"(Project # 2009-0011-3) An application from Rick Woodward, on behalf of H2O Church, Inc., for free standing signage on the NW corner of the property located at 200 N Dewey.
"(Project # 2009-0026) An application from Darin & Joan Dreisker on behalf of Dancing Bear Inc., for renovation of the façade of the building located at 510 Cherokee Avenue."
The three committee members at the meeting voted unanimously to approve both applications, said Joel Rabin, who filed the police complaint.
Rabin's wife, Sharon Hurst, previously served as chairwoman of the committee.
Rabin said the members who voted on Dec. 15 were Eric Randall, whose term expires January 2011; Erika Phillips, term expiring September 2012; and Dan Keleher Jr., whose second term ends in September 2012.
Rabin, an FOI Oklahoma Inc. member, said that during the public comment portion of the meeting, he told the committee members they had just violated the Open Meeting Act.
Under the statute, each agenda must “identify all items of business to be transacted” by the public body at the meeting. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 311(B)(1))
The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals has said agendas should be worded in “plain language, directly stating the purpose of the meeting, in order to give the public actual notice." (Haworth Bd. of Ed. of Independent School Dist. No. I-6, McCurtain County v. Havens, 1981 OK CIV APP 56, ¶ 8)
The purpose of the statute “to encourage and facilitate an informed citizenry’s understanding of the governmental processes and governmental problems . . . is defeated if the required notice is deceptively worded or materially obscures the stated purpose of the meeting,” the court said.
Any act or omission that "has the effect of actually deceiving or misleading the public regarding the scope of matters to be taken up at the meeting" would be a "willful" violation of the Open Meeting Act, the court said. That includes any action exceeding the scope of action defined by the agenda.
Anyone willfully violating the Open Meeting Act commits a misdemeanor and can be fined up to $500 and sentenced up to one year in the county jail. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 314)
Also, any action taken in “willful violation” of the Open Meeting Act is “invalid.” (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 313)
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
OSU School of Journalism
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Oklahoma City officials refuse to disclose DOBs of employees; newspaper criticizes DA for advice not to release county employees DOBs
This blog, too, criticized Prater's reasoning a week ago and pointed out that his letter was mute on the most-important point: Why the public's interest in learning about its employees was so outweighed by individual employee privacy that disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Okla. Co. DA: Disclosure of county employee DOBs would be clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy; Okla. AG releases employee birth dates
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater says disclosing the birth dates of all county employees would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of the employees' privacy, The Oklahoman reported today.
Under the statute, governments “may keep personnel records confidential … where disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy such as employee evaluations, payroll deductions, employment applications submitted by persons not hired by the public body, and transcripts from institutions of higher education maintained in the personnel files of certified public school employees.” (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.7(A)(2))
Employee evaluations and payroll deductions are not available in other public records. Birth dates are.
A federal appellate court, for example, said a right of privacy did not protect the name, age, and date of birth of registered sex offenders because the information was "already fully available to the public."
Monday, December 21, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Enid officials won't identify two police officers placed on administrative leave because of homicide investigation
Enid officials won't tell the public which two police officers are under investigation because of how a homicide investigation was handled, the Enid News & Eagle and The Oklahoman reported this week.
The two officers are on paid administrative leave, the newspapers reported.
The News & Eagle noted that the public statement it received from police officials said the officers were “suspended with pay.”
The public might never know the names of the officers.
A recent attorney general opinion said a public agency may keep secret the names of employees placed on paid administrative leave if, under the agency’s personnel policies, that action doesn’t constitute “a ‘final’ or ‘disciplinary’ action, nor a ‘final disciplinary action resulting in loss of pay, suspension, demotion, or termination.’” (2009 OK AG 33)
Attorney General Drew Edmondson said once the investigation is complete and a final disciplinary action occurs, “the record(s) indicating that action must be must be available for public inspection and copying."
The News & Eagle reported that Enid City Attorney Andrea Chism disavowed any connection to the press release and called the use of the word suspension unfortunate.
According to both newspapers, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation will conduct a criminal investigation into the officers' actions. An administrative investigation by the police department would follow.
“I’m not releasing the names until a decision is made on criminal actions or disciplinary action requiring the release of open records,” Enid Police Chief Rick West told the News & Eagle.
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
OSU School of Journalism
"The only exception ... would be if the agency makes a specific finding that the release of the record would constitute a 'clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,'" Edmondson said in a letter telling state agencies of his formal opinion on the subject.
Smith changed course on Tuesday, telling reporter Bryan Dean in an e-mail:
"Mr. Martin could claim that his date of birth is confidential, however, after much debate and consideration, the City has decided that Mr. Martin’s interest is outweighed by the public’s exercise of their political power.
"I trust that you and the Oklahoman will exercise the utmost care in deciding if you will publish this date of birth," Smith said.
The newspaper did not publish Martin's birth date.
Citing Edmondson's opinion, Smith also made a request of the newspaper.
"[T]o assist the City in the balancing test required by the revised opinion of the Attorney General, please advise me what you perceive to be the public’s interest in knowing each employee’s date of birth," he wrote.
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
OSU School of Journalism
Thursday, December 17, 2009
1. An arrestee description, including the name, date of birth, address, race, sex, physical description, and occupation of the arrestee;
2. Facts concerning the arrest, including the cause of arrest and the name of the arresting officer;
3. A chronological list of all incidents, including initial offense report information showing the offense, date, time, general location, officer, and a brief summary of what occurred;
8. Jail registers, including jail blotter data or jail booking information recorded on persons at the time of incarceration showing the name of each prisoner with the date and cause of commitment, the authority committing the prisoner, whether committed for a criminal offense, a description of the prisoner, and the date or manner of discharge or escape of the prisoner." (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 24A.8(A))