Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Boynton trustees charged with Open Meeting Act violation

Boynton's three town trustees were charged Tuesday with violating the state Open Meeting Act when they voted to appoint a town manager at a Sept. 27 special meeting even though the item was not listed on the agenda.

Under way is an OSBI investigation into whether trustees violated the Open Meeting Act by prohibiting the recording of public meetings by audience members and by locking residents out of public meetings.

Trustee Elmer Claiborne Lang, 51, was arrested at his home Tuesday and then bonded out of jail. Mayor Susie Marie Wilson, 54, and Trustee Sheila Younger, 50, surrendered themselves this morning and were making arrangements to pay their $2,500 bonds, The Muskogee Phoenix reported today.

Violating the Open Meeting Act is a misdemeanor that can be punished by up to one year in the county jail and a fine of up to $500. Also, any action taken in “willful violation” of the Open Meeting Act is “invalid.” (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 313)

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.

The Open Meeting permits "any person attending a public meeting" to record the proceedings has long as it doesn't "interfere with the conduct of the meeting." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25,  § 312(c))

News coverage:

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

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