Tuesday, March 1, 2011

OSU Student Government Association violates Open Meeting Act, not posting agendas online

OSU's Student Government Association doesn't send meeting notices to the county clerk as required by the Open Meeting Act and doesn't post agendas for regularly scheduled meetings on its website as required by another state statute, The Daily O'Collegian reported Tuesday.

Most troubling, though, is that once again an SGA official was adamant that the public body doesn't have to comply with the Open Meeting Act.

And, according to the student newspaper, SGA's attorney didn't want to be quoted on whether the SGA must comply with the Open Meeting Act.

But OSU legal counsel Doug Price once again confirmed that it does.

Why SGA officials would think otherwise is a mystery.

A 1979 attorney general opinion specifically says that OSU's SGA and Residence Hall Association must comply with the Open Meeting Act.

Both organizations are sub-entities of a board of higher education and have actual or de facto decision-making authority, according to the opinion. (1979 OK AG 134)

"These two bodies have the authority to make decisions concerning the student population of the University from which no student may be exempted and also make decisions concerning the dispersement [sic] of funds collected," the Attorney General's Office reasoned. (Id. ¶ 2)

This attorney general opinion isn't difficult to understand. It's only four paragraphs long.

That SGA officials must comply with the Open Meeting Act shouldn't be news to them or their adviser given that The Daily O'Collegian has reported on three previous violations in the past nine years.

Almost two years ago to the day, Price told the newspaper that the SGA violated the law when senators went into an executive session not posted on its agenda.

In 2007, the SGA impeachment of its president was nullified -- at the urging of Price -- because senators had voted in an emergency meeting by secret ballot.

In 2002, the SGA conducted an executive session not specified on the agenda and for a topic not permitted under the Open Meeting Act.

And in January 2008, I spoke to the full SGA about why and how the Open Meeting Act applies to them.

But it just doesn't seem to sink in.

I've suggested several times that SGA senators receive annual training in the Open Meeting and Open Records laws. But that advice seems to go unheeded.

It's a crime to violate the Open Meeting Act. Actions taken in violation of the statute can be declared invalid by a court.

Will someone have to file a criminal complaint against these student politicians and ask a judge to nullify their decisions before they treat our open government laws with respect? Perhaps that would be a lesson remembered by those who go on to serve in governments affecting us all.

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

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