Friday, August 27, 2010

Tulsa City Council decides against closed-door mediation, votes for public meetings to hash out differences with mayor

The public's need to know prevailed in Tulsa on Thursday.

City councilors -- in a series of 7-2 votes -- decided against mediating their legal disputes with the mayor in a closed-door executive session, the Tulsa World reported.

Instead, the council invited Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. to participate in a series of public meetings to resolve their differences.

Bartlett indicated he would participate but warned that in public discussions "people have a tendency to posture."

On Wednesday, this blog argued against using that as an excuse for conducting the public's business behind closed doors. Certainly these elected officials can speak openly, honestly and candidly like adults in front of voters.

Councilor Roscoe Turner, who had signed FOI Oklahoma's Open Government Pledge during his 2009 campaign, voted against the closed mediation.

"Transparency is ultimate," he said. "We're not going to solve anything by doing it in secret."

Amen, brother.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media and Strategic Communication

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Closed-door mediation necessary for Tulsa City Council, mayor to be 'frank and open,' proposed mediator says

Mediation between the Tulsa City Council and Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. must take place behind closed doors for there to be "frank and open discussion," one of the proposed mediators told the Tulsa World this week.

“They need to feel that they can say something and it not be used against them legally, politically and socially,” said Daniel Boudreau, a former state Supreme Court justice.

“Honestly, people are not going to be (open) if journalists are sitting there reporting everything they say,” he said. “People would posture. They would not be candid.”

Well, I've heard the same argument put forth by other public bodies in Oklahoma and in other states. It was a heaping load of horse excrement elsewhere, too.

As Mark Thomas of the Oklahoma Press Association said about Tulsa officials' reluctance to resolve their problems publicly:
They're saying as elected officials, 'We don't want the public to know our true feelings. We want to say one thing behind closed doors and say something else at the coffee shop.'
Boudreau said he and the other proposed mediator, Sam Joyner, “can’t deny there’s a concern you could circumvent the spirit" of the Open Meeting Act.

“People have an absolute right to be informed about how government is working, and there ought to be transparency,” he said. “We are fully on board with that.

“You don’t want people using mediation to undercut the policy provisions of the act,” he said.

Of course, there was a "but."

Boudreau said only proposals would be discussed in the private mediation. “Any action you are going to take has to be explained, justified, argued and voted on for the record,” he said.

However, the pros and cons of those proposals won't be argued in plain view of the public. That will have taken place behind closed doors.

As a former Supreme Court justice, Boudreau is understandably comfortable with officials negotiating their differences of opinion behind closed doors. Granted, appellate courts issue their conclusions and reasoning in writing. But the public doesn't see the give-and-take, the exchange of ideas, that results in those decisions.

Our city councils, county commissions and other local public bodies don't operate with the same kind of secrecy as do courts.

Only an open deliberative process reveals which alternatives are rejected and why, both of which the public is entitled to know. (See 1982 OK AG 212, ¶ 5)

"The public is interested in how and why officials decide to act or not to act," said then-state Attorney General Jan Eric Cartwright in 1982. (Id. at ¶ 6)

The stated purpose of the Open Meeting Act is “to encourage and facilitate an informed citizenry’s understanding of the governmental processes and governmental problems.” (Okla. Stat. tit. 25, § 302)

That understanding is diminished when public bodies hash out proposed solutions in private.

Political cowardice on the part of elected officials is not an excuse for conducting a closed executive session.

If these elected officials are afraid to speak openly, honestly and candidly in front of the public, then Tulsa voters should hire replacements in the next election.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media and Strategic Communications

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tulsa city councilor's attorney agrees: Small group meetings cannot be used to mediate disputes with mayor, all votes must be public

Tulsa city councilors meeting in groups of less than a quorum to mediate disputes with the mayor would be a violation of the state Open Meeting Act, an attorney for one of the councilmen advised.

All council votes to settle the disagreements would have to be made in the public portion of its meeting, Ronald E. Durbin II also said in his Aug. 11 letter to the mayor's attorney.

On these two points, Durbin came to the same conclusions as those published by this blog on Aug. 9.

Some councilors believed they could meet with Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. in small groups or individually to avoid violating the Open Meeting Act.

But Durbin warned -- just as this blog had done -- that such meetings would be "not only inadvisable but would also result in a clear violation of the OMA," explaining:
In this situation, it is obvious that any plan to use smaller numbers of Councilors would inevitably result in the need for those Councilors in attendance to share information and discuss settlement proposals with those Councilors not in attendance. This activity would be a clear violation of the OMA, and thus, only an executive session including a quorum of the Councilors should be utilized if any mediation session is to be closed to the public.
The Open Meeting Act defines a meeting as “the conducting of business of a public body by a majority of its members being personally together or . . . together pursuant to a videoconference." (Okla. Stat. tit. 25, § 304(2))

A 1981 state attorney general opinion prohibits serial meetings among the members of a public body.

“Permitting a single member of the governing body to obtain a consensus or vote of that body by privately meeting alone with each member, would be to condone decision-making by public bodies in secret, which is the very evil against which the Open Meeting Act is directed,” said then-Attorney General Jan Eric Cartwright. (1981 OK AG 69, ¶ 17)

In other words, members of a public body cannot meet secretly in smaller groups to decide public business.

The Open Meeting Act also requires that "any vote or action on any item of business considered in an executive session shall be taken in public meeting with the vote of each member publicly cast and recorded." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 307(E)(3))

Another provision of the statute requires that "[i]n all meetings of public bodies, the vote of each member must be publicly cast and recorded." (OKLA. STAT. 25, § 305)

As such, Durbin agreed, "Any decision by the City Council to affirm terms reached during the proposed mediation must be taken outside of the executive session."

Though not an issued addressed by Durbin, the public should expect the councilors to clearly explain the details what they are voting on. Just saying they are voting on what was decided behind closed doors would be an insult to the voters of Tulsa.

In his 11-page letter, Durbin explained why he believes the council is entitled to meet in executive session to mediate the various disagreements with Bartlett.

Durbin relied largely upon exemptions allowing a public body to meet in executive sessions to discuss individual salaried employees and to discuss investigations and pending litigations with its attorney. He noted that under the latter exemption, the council would have to "determine that 'disclosure will seriously impair' the body's ability to deal with the issues in the public interest."

Durbin also believes the council may invite into the executive session the several attorneys representing councilors individually, saying:
While in my personal opinion, as well as the opinion of my client, Councilor G.T. Bynum, that the purposes of mediation will best be served if the Councilors and the Mayor have frank and open communication with as few attorneys present as possible, I recognize the fact that it may become necessary for some attorneys to attend the proposed mediation.
Durbin relied upon a 1978 attorney general opinion deciding that a school board could have permitted a legislator to attend an executive session by "

exercising its judgment and discretion."

(1978 OK AG 144)

I've heard the current attorney general, Drew Edmondson, tell public officials that they may invite whomever they want into an executive session absent a specific statutory prohibition.

However, what the Tulsa City Council may do and should do are two different things in this situation.

The city attorney's office is representing the council against the lawsuit accusing councilors of violating the Open Meeting Act during an executive session in June. The other attorneys should be representing the councilors only as individuals should they be later prosecuted for violating the statute.

Those attorneys, including Durbin, have no more right than the rest of Tulsa to attend that closed door meeting. If the council is going to exclude the public, then those attorneys should have to wait outside as well.

* Durbin's letter can be found online as part of the Tulsa World's coverage: Mediation between Tulsa mayor, council could break law, by Brian Barber and P.J. Lassek.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media and Strategic Communications

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Question: Does a public body violate the Open Meeting Act by reconvening a meeting at a time different from the one announced?

Rogers County commissioners on Monday recessed their regular weekly meeting shortly before 11 a.m., announcing they would reconvene at 6 p.m. for a joint meeting with the Claremore City Council.

Instead, according to the meeting minutes, the meeting was reconvened at 3 p.m. with a single city council member to discuss locations for a new courthouse and E911 facility. (At the end of this posting is the relevant section from the meeting minutes.)

John M. Wylie II, publisher of The Oologah Lake Leader, said the newspaper was not notified of the time change for the reconvened meeting.

This change in meeting times seems a serious violation of the Open Meeting Act, which states:
In the event any meeting is to be continued or reconvened, public notice of such action, including date, time and place of the continued meeting, shall be given by announcement at the original meeting. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 311(A)(10))
The Legislature clearly intended for anyone attending the original meeting to know when and where the meeting would be reconvened. So it must have intended for the public body to actually meet at that time and location.

Otherwise, the Open Meeting Act's language is pointless because a public body could say it was going to reconvene at a certain time and then meet secretly at an earlier time.

Which, it seems, is exactly what happened in Rogers County on Monday. Commissioners met three hours earlier than they said they would.

If you have encountered this situation with a public body, please share it with me or Wylie.

Minutes of Rogers County Commission regular meeting on Aug. 16:
Chairman Thacker made a motion to recess the meeting until 6:00 P.M. tonight to attend the City of Claremore Council Meeting with Commissioner Helm seconding the motion.

Chairman Thacker called the recessed meeting back to order at 3:00 P.M. with Commissioner Dan DeLozier and Commissioner Mike Helm present and quorum established.

Chairman Thacker stated let the record show that City of Claremore councilman Don Myers is present at the meeting and would like to discuss Item 15 Agenda Items #3, “discussion with possible action regarding locations of new Courthouse and E911 Facility” –

Myers stated the City of Claremore is adamant about having a stand-alone E911 Center, that is how they helped sell it to the people for a vote; City of Claremore has no intentions of withdrawing at this time; soon as Board of County Commissioner’s make a decision, it will help the city; difficulty we’ve been having is lack of communication and understanding the Board of County Commissioners are making the decisions, not the courthouse committee; requested a joint city-county meeting on September 7, 2010, to further discuss and give an update on the E911 Center.

Chairman Thacker stated there needed to be better communications between both the city and county; would get a handle on the committee.

Commissioner Helm stated he would not be on the same page, if he needed to vote to put the E911 Center in the basement, he would vote to do so; do what is best all around.

Myers discussed possibility of city having some property to be looked at for building the new E911 Center; and maybe eliminate the cost of the land; new Fire Chief has expertise and could be beneficial with input on new E911 Center.

Discussion only, no action taken.

Chairman Thacker made a motion to adjourn the meeting with Commissioner DeLozier seconding the motion. Roll Call: Thacker-aye, DeLozier-aye, Helm-aye. Motion carried and meeting adjourned at 3:21 P.M.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media and Strategic Communication

GOP legislator prods House leadership for truly open legislative process

State Rep. Jason Murphey said he supports proposals to stop waiving the 24-hour rule before House votes in the last two days of the session and to force House conference committees to meet publicly before signing off on bills.

But the Republican said his party's leadership in the Legislature must do more to dismantle the closed legislative process that has "proven to be so conducive to corruption."

"Each year that goes by without a complete overhaul of the system makes it more likely that the new Republican majority will become co-opted by the process and become defenders of the status quo," wrote Murphey in a column published Tuesday in
The Edmond Sun.

Murphey represents House District 31, which encompasses Logan County and part of north Edmond.

Murphey said that when he took office in 2007, he realized the "new generation of Republican legislative leaders in the House had taken significant steps toward making the legislative process more open and transparent, but had in no way dismantled the closed system that had been in place for many years."

Though not included in his newspaper column, Murphey has said since March that he will introduce a bill next session to remove the Legislature's self-imposed exemption from the Open Records law.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media and Stratetgic Communication

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tulsa City Council likely to vote on proposal to mediate Open Meeting Act lawsuit, conflicts with mayor

Tulsa City Council Chairman Rick Westcott says he intends to call for a vote this week on whether the council will mediate its disputes with Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr., the Tulsa World reported this afternoon.

Westcott said he will likely call a special meeting for Thursday to discuss and vote on the proposal by former Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Daniel Boudreau and former federal magistrate Sam Joyner.

Joyner last week said the mediation could take place in an executive session of the council.

On Friday, this blog questioned whether the mediation could and should take place behind closed doors.

Among the issues suggested for mediation is the lawsuit filed by three Tulsans accusing the council of violating the Open Meeting Act during an executive session in June.

UPDATE: Westcott pushes vote back a week so Councilor Roscoe Turner can attend. Turner is out of town this week. Judge had hand in effort for council-mayor mediation

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media and Strategic Communication

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tulsa City Council considers mediating conflicts with mayor, Open Meeting lawsuit behind closed doors

Tulsa city councilors are considering an offer by two former judges to mediate what the Tulsa World today called "legal and relationship conflicts" between the council and mayor.

Former Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Daniel Boudreau and former federal magistrate Sam Joyner met with the council on Thursday to discuss their offer to mediate between the two sides.

Joyner said the mediation could be conducted behind closed doors in an executive session, the newspaper reported.

The state Open Meeting Act permits closed sessions on certain topics but doesn't require them, two Oklahoma Attorneys General have said. Then-Attorney General Susan Loving explained in 1992:
[T]he fact that a public body is authorized to conduct an executive session to consider a particular matter does not mean that the public body is required to hold an executive session.

[I]n any given instance in which an executive session may be held, a public body must determine whether an executive session is warranted. In making the determination, a public body should consider all the facts and circumstances surrounding the proposed executive session and
the general policy of openness that underlies the Open Meeting Act should be afforded great weight. (1992 OK AG 23, ¶ 7) (emphasis added) (See also 1997 OK AG 61, ¶ 4)
Among the issues Joyner and Boudreau offered to mediate would be the lawsuit filed by three Tulsans accusing the council of violating the Open Meeting Act during an executive session in June.

Councilor Chris Trail questioned how the lawsuit could be part of the mediation since it wasn't filed by the mayor.

Joyner said the plaintiffs' attorney, Paul DeMuro, and the attorneys representing the individual councilors privately would participate in the mediation. Presumably, that means the council would be meeting in a closed-door session to negotiate an end to the lawsuit.

The state Open Meeting Act permits public bodies to meet in executive session to discuss "confidential communications between a public body and its attorney concerning a pending investigation, claim, or action if the public body, with the advice of its attorney, determines that disclosure will seriously impair the ability of the public body to process the claim or conduct a pending investigation, litigation, or proceeding in the public interest." (Okla. Stat. tit. 25, § 307(B)(4))

Not every discussion between a public body and its attorney about a lawsuit is exempted from public scrutiny, state Attorney General Drew Edmondson said in 2005.
Rather, such issues may be discussed in executive session only if the public body and its attorney determine that disclosure will ‘seriously impair’ the body’s ability to deal with the issues in the public interest. This limitation on the basis for an executive session . . . means a public body may not close a meeting merely to get general legal advice from its attorney that does not meet the standard of serious impairment and injury to the public interest. (2005 OK AG 29, ¶ 11) (emphasis included)
In 1982, Attorney General Jan Eric Cartwright said, "Executive sessions between public bodies and their attorneys are allowed in order to further the public's interest in protecting public property and public rights involved in litigation.” (1982 OK AG 114, ¶ 12)

Given these opinions and the statutory language, the exemption seems intended to protect only the "confidential communications between a public body and its attorney."

Those attorneys representing the councilors individually are not representing the council as a public body. The council last week gave that job to the city attorney's office. So why would those private-interest attorneys be entitled to attend the meeting?

I don't know of another public body that has met in executive session not only with its attorney but also the plaintiff attorney to negotiate a settlement. If you do, please let me know, so I can share it on this blog.

Also among the other issues Joyner offered to mediate is the council's investigation into whether the mayor and his chief of staff lied to the council about a federal grant. As the Tulsa World noted, the case was sent to the state Attorney General's Office to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

City Councilor Jack Henderson questioned how a possible criminal case could be resolved through mediation. Joyner responded that some facets of the council's investigative report could be mediated.

Other conflicts suggested for mediation were "a threatened defamation lawsuit by [Mayor Dewey] Bartlett against councilors, an ethics complaint the council filed against the mayor for using a city-contracted attorney to represent him personally at no charge, and the claim by the mayor that the council attorney's position is not authorized under the City Charter."

If the council agrees to meet in executive session to mediate any conflicts, the topics of discussion must be listed on the agenda along with the statutory exemption(s) permitting the closed-door talks for those reasons.

The council cannot vote in executive session. So what would happen afterward? Would the council reconvene before the public and vote to settle the lawsuit and other issues without telling the public what's been decided?

I applaud the council members for not resorting to meeting in small groups in an attempt to avoid the Open Meeting Act. But before they meet behind closed doors, they should remember these are the public's issues, not (just) their personnel grudges.

As then-Attorney General Jan Eric Carwright reminded public bodies in 1982:
Executive sessions are not permitted under the law because the matters to be taken up are in the private domain of public officials. Such matters are the business of the public. (1982 OK AG 114, ¶ 12)

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media and Strategic Communication

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

State Reps. Terrill, Christian say House should comply with Open Records Act as part of legislative reform

Two state representatives being investigated for possible corruption say the House should be subject to the state Open Records Act as part of reforming the legislative process, according to a news release issued Wednesday.

"For the public to have confidence in our body, it is vital that House administration be transparent," said Rep. Randy Terrill, R- Moore. "Accordingly, the Open Records Act should apply to the House to the greatest extent possible, just like it applies to every other branch of government."

Terrill and fellow Republican Rep. Mike Christian of Oklahoma City added this caveat: "While maintaining respect for the privacy of constituent communications."

The press release doesn't explain which information they would exempt from "constituent communications."

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is investigating whether Terrill conspired with Sen. Debbe Leftwich to give up her Oklahoma City seat so Christian could run for it and Leftwich would get a high-paying job at the state Medical Examiner's Office in exchange.

Reporters have been denied access to notes, e-mails and other information that might shed light on who in the last days of the session added legislative language creating that high-paying job.

Terrill spent last legislative session trying to revoke public access to government workers' birth dates in personnel files and to autopsy reports.

His political maneuvering included adding language to a conference committee report and a last-minute change to legislation.

But Terrill and Christian said Wednesday they want to do away with conference committees and require "all bills or resolutions headed to conference be returned to their standing committee of origin."

"When sitting as a conference committee, those standing committees would continue to be subject to public notice, meeting, staffing and voting requirements," said Terrill.

Christian added:
There is no legitimate justification for the specially appointed conference committee. The current practice invites gamesmanship because it takes the bill away from those with subject matter expertise and gives it to a group whose membership is determined solely by their allegiance to the bill’s author or House leadership.
House Speaker-Designate Kris Steele of Shawnee has already announced changes to the House conference committee process that he said would "make the procedure more transparent and open to the public."

Included is a "hard 24-hour rule that will require a House conference committee report to be filed and posted online for a full day before it can be considered on the House floor." Steele said that means even during the session's last two days, when the rule has been waived.

Touting transparency in government seems to have become fashionable among legislators.

Last week, for example, a news release by Rep. Ken Miller on the House website told how at a recent national legislative conference in California he had "shared some of Oklahoma’s successes with making state government more transparent, open and accountable to the taxpayers."

"Taxpayers not only deserve to know where their money is being spent, they need to know so they can demand greater efficiency" said Miller, an Edmond Republican. "Openness and transparency makes government accountable to the people who fund its operations and that translates into more responsible spending."

Miller, his party's candidate for state treasurer, is chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

Democrats and Republicans complained about being left out of the budget planning last session. Secret budget negotiations aren't transparent.

Miller also voted to cut off access to public employees' DOBs when Senate Bill 1753 passed the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

So I am skeptical when legislators such as Miller, Christian and Terrill talk of making Oklahoma government more open to the public.

But who am I to complain if they've seen the light and want the sun to shine on their legislative practices.

We'll just have to see if they can walk the walk when the time comes.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media and Strategic Communication

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tulsa City Council using small group meetings in attempt to avoid Open Meeting Act

Two weeks ago, six of the nine Tulsa city councilors jointly filed a response to a lawsuit accusing them of violating the Open Meeting Act in June. (See Tulsa city councilors: Public can't sue to enforce Open Meeting Act)

How could they come to that decision without violating the Open Meeting Act?

The Open Meeting Act defines a meeting as “the conducting of business of a public body by a majority of its members being personally together or . . . together pursuant to a videoconference." (Okla. Stat. tit. 25, § 304(2))

Attorney Clark O. Brewster of Brewster & DeAngelis is representing Tulsa city councilors Bill Christiansen, Maria Barnes, Jack Henderson, Chris Trail, Roscoe Turner and Rick Westcott. Brewster is working pro bono.

A Tulsa reporter was told that Brewster spoke to some of the six council members individually and some in groups of three. In other words, they purposefully met in groups smaller than a majority with the intent of not triggering the Open Meeting Act.

But a 1981 state attorney general opinion prohibits serial meetings among the members of a public body.

“Permitting a single member of the governing body to obtain a consensus or vote of that body by privately meeting alone with each member, would be to condone decision-making by public bodies in secret, which is the very evil against which the Open Meeting Act is directed,” said then-Attorney General Jan Eric Cartwright. (1981 OK AG 69, ¶ 17)

In other words, members of a public body cannot meet secretly in smaller groups to decide public business.

The six councilors must have thought they were conducting public business if they thought it necessary to avoid meeting as one group.

They certainly made a decision by accepting Brewster’s services to defend them against the lawsuit alleging a violation of the Open Meeting Act.

Agreeing to a legal strategy to defend a majority of the City Council against an Open Meeting Act lawsuit strikes me as a decision made in the course of transacting public business.

The councilors are being sued in their official capacity as members of the Tulsa City Council, said Doug Wilson, a Stillwater attorney and FOI Oklahoma board member.

He explained:
Although the Petition (lawsuit) is poorly drafted by stating in its caption that each person is being sued individually and in his or her official capacity as a Tulsa City Councilor, a review of the entire Petition shows that there is no relief sought against any individual save and except in his or her capacity as a Tulsa City Councilor. Accordingly, I would disagree that they are being sued as individuals.

The people violating the law need to be defendants because any sort of mandamus or injunctive relief must bind the acts of human beings (as opposed to some legal fiction such as the Tulsa City Council), but the acts sought to be enjoined are only those acts which the individuals take in their official capacity as Tulsa City Councilors.
At Thursday's council meeting, councilors "voted to accept as a donation free legal services for individual representation for seven of the councilors in the lawsuit," the Tulsa World reported.

(Attorney Gary Richardson is representing Councilor John Eagleton for free.)

The council also voted to pay for separate attorneys for councilors G.T. Bynum and Jim Mautino.

"I was working as a city councilor," Bynum had told the Tulsa World. "This is standard procedure when a city employee is sued when working within the scope of their duties."

The newspaper said Mautino agreed with Bynum's reasoning. "It's only right" for the city to cover his legal bills, Mautino told the Tulsa World.

But the council also voted to have City Attorney Deirdre Dexter appoint legal representation to the council, the newspaper said.

The Tulsa World also said councilors might again use small meetings as an attempt to avoid the requirements of the Open Meeting Act. The newspaper reported:
During an afternoon special meeting, some councilors said they would like to meet informally with the mayor — without their attorneys — to hash out their differences rather than enter into formal mediation, as has been suggested.

"We need to do this face-to-face and man-to-man, giving it one last, honest shot to resolve our issues," Christiansen said.
Such meetings would have to take place in small groups of councilors or individually so as not to violate the Open Meeting Act, he said.
Resolving issues and hashing out differences over how to run the city of Tulsa are the same as coming to a consensus on how to conduct the public’s business. As such, there should be no “informal” meetings in secret.

Christiansen and fellow councilors Bynum, Mautino and Turner signed FOI Oklahoma's Open Government Pledge during their 2009 campaigns.

In doing so, they endorsed the purpose of the Open Meeting law “to ensure and facilitate the public’s understanding of governmental processes and problems.”

They pledged to “support at every opportunity” the inherent right of Oklahomans to “know and be fully informed about their government so that they can efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power.”

They also promised that they and the Tulsa City Council would “comply with not only the letter but also the spirit” of the state Open Meeting law.

Christiansen and the others sincerely seem to want to live up to that pledge. But that requires more than just finding ways to avoid violating the Open Meeting law.

They should keep in mind this admonition from then-Attorney General Jan Eric Cartwright:

“The Open Meeting Act should be liberally construed in order to effectuate its purpose ... [and] should be interpreted in such a way as to avoid establishing potential evasion loopholes.” (1982 OK AG 212, ¶ 13)

That means not secretly meeting in groups of four or less to discuss - much less decide - the public’s business.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media and Strategic Communication