Saturday, June 18, 2011

DHS Commission Budget Committee makes decisions but meets secretly in apparent violation of Open Meeting Act; Full board voted on rate increase not listed on agenda

Seems like the Budget Committee for the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services is violating the Open Meeting Act, based on what one commissioner told the Tulsa World.

Steven Dow also said that when the commission approved the Department of Human Services budget Tuesday, it also increased co-payments made by clients who receive child-care benefits and reduced the income eligibility.

An important decision. But no mention of it was made on the meeting agenda Tuesday.

Chairman Richard L. DeVaughn told the newspaper in a release that the commission would add more detail to its agendas if told to by a court or state Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

In other words, until Pruitt or a court tells DeVaughn to be more transparent, the public can go to hell.

(DeVaughn, an Enid dentist, was appointed chairman by then-Gov. Brad Henry in December 2004. His nine-year term on the commission ends in August 2012.)

Dear Mr. Pruitt, please tell DeVaughn to add more details to the agendas so that the public can know in advance what the commission is up to. Better yet, tell them all to follow not only the letter but also the spirit of the Open Meeting Act.

The stated purpose of the Act is "to encourage and facilitate an informed citizenry's understanding of the governmental processes and governmental problems." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 302)

Therefore, then-Attorney General Drew Edmondson said in 2000, "a governmental body must operate with such openness that the citizenry is informed of its activities." (2000 OK AG 7, ¶ 30)

Because the Open Meeting Act was "enacted for the public's benefit," the Oklahoma Supreme Court said in 1981, the statute "is to be construed liberally in favor of the public." (Int’l Ass’n of Firefighters v. Thorpe, 1981 OK 95, ¶ 7)

The principle is "very simple," the state Court of Civil Appeals said that year: "When in doubt, the members of any board, agency, authority or commission should follow the open-meeting policy of the State." (Matter of Order Declaring Annexation, Etc., 1981 OK CIV APP 57, ¶ 18)

In contrast, the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services has a budget committee that meets in secret.

The commission purposefully places no more than four of its nine members on the Budget Committee in at attempt to avoid the requirements of the Open Meeting Act. That loophole only applies, however, if the committee has no actual or de facto decision-making power.

But the Budget Committee "has de facto decision-making authority," said Dow, executive director of the Community Action Project of Tulsa County.

"They did not decide to approve the overall budget, but it did decide the details of that budget," he said.


(Friday's posting explains the loopholes that the commission is trying to exploit.)

Nothing in the Open Meeting Act prevents the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services from posting agendas and keeping minutes of its Budget Committee meetings or from posting more details on its agenda.

Only a desire for secrecy is stopping it.

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

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. This is BS! As a single mom of 3 boys, working in the medical field, this is going 2 mess a lot of things up for me! The fact that everything is based on GROSS income is bad enough. Or the fact that you only look at different bills that are paid by us when deciding on childcare or foodstamps instead of all bills, or that there are numerous of dhs workers who will give certain ppl more or less foodstamps or Co pays just cause! Or that we have ONLY 10 days 2 report income change, and you all will cut off assistance before a persons first full check comes! Why not let us that are TRYING 2 get away from this screwed up system... have about 3 months 2 get on our feet b4 yanking the rug from under them!???! So much 4 my extra money going for clothes or any necessities for my boys! And u wonder why some ppl screw the system! Because y'all are steadily screwing us. it's not worth screwing y'all over 2 get the help I'm gettin just 2 lose it all! But the way you all work, is ridiculous, you fail 2 try and encourage ppl 2 get off assistant or 2 help those who actually need it. The requirements are unfair and most dhs employees seem not to have an higher education than 9th grade! I don't care who has what degree, common sense and ethics are obviously not something you care for in your employees. I can't stand the crap I've seen people go through! Workers fail so much on even the simple tasks of their jobs! Others and myself constantly getting cut off assistance because the workers "claim" they didn't get your paperwork. Which causes us to miss work cause of no daycare to fix what they screw up! That happns all the time. Seeing couples who are barely making it, but could use 200 a month in foodstamps, but get denied cause their GROSS income is 5 dollars 2 much. But I was getting 700 having 3 kids, not needing that much for small kids. I'm working now, so the drastically dropped ASAP after getting a good job. Anyways, let me be the one in charge of this commission! Someone who didn't graduate highschool! Don't judge, I just hated that school, but very intelligent, and understanding and open-minded! Someone who has actually been at the bottom and could appreciate the top and UNDERSTAND things from other views. I could bet my life I could cut costs by other means and reduce the amount off people on assistance! I highly doubt any or a majority of you all have known what it's like 2 live paycheck 2 paycheck, so I'm positive you all have very little EXPERIENCE on what is actually morally right! Ugh! But hey, do what u will in this life! I'm sure you all will be a bit more understanding and regretful in the next! You all literally make me sick. And 4 any1 who wants 2 gripe about how your tax money goes 2 the assistance of us. Well do some research on how much you actually contribute!! I work also, and so do a lot of people receiving assistance! we contribute the same as you. Ignorance should be the eighth deadly sin! It's pathetic on how much of it surrounds us! I love my kids 2 death, but hate that they have 2 grow up in this effed up, money hungry, lying, deceiving society! If my boys turn out as heartless as any of you, I have failed as a parent! A degree means little 2 being smart and a actual BENEFIT TO SOCIETY!


Differing interpretations of law and policy are welcome. Personal attacks and character assassinations will be rejected.