Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fox 25 reporter files complaint against Washington Town Board

Fox 25 News reporter Phil Cross filed a complaint with the McClain County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday, accusing Washington's mayor of violating the state's Town Meeting Act the previous night.

Cross also said that when he and videographer Billy Dry arrived at the meeting, Mayor Paul Ratliff "attempted to have our camera removed from the meeting saying we could not record video of the meeting and if we insisted they would simply not have the meeting."

Cross said they were allowed to videotape the public meeting only after showing Ratliff the Open Meeting Act provision that permits anyone to record such a meeting by "videotape, audiotape or by any other method" as long as the recording does "not interfere with the conduct of the meeting." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 312(C))

Washington, about 30 miles south of Oklahoma City, has just over 600 residents, according to the 2010 census.

Ratliff was the sole Washington trustee going into the Monday night meeting because one died in June and another resigned in August.

The Oklahoma City television station aired a story Monday night in which Cross explained why he believes Ratliff likely violated state law by appointing replacements to the town's two vacant trustee positions.

State law required a special town meeting to fill the positions, Cross said.

Oklahoma's Town Meeting Act requires that officials elected at town meetings "be nominated and elected at large by the registered voters present from nominations taken from the floor."
Prior to accepting any nominations the presiding officer shall state the number of governing body offices to be elected for four-year terms and the number of governing body offices to be elected to fill unexpired terms, if any. There shall be separate nominations and balloting for each designated term." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 11, § 16-306)
But, Cross said in his complaint: "There was no nomination, in fact members of the public were expressly forbidden to speak during the meeting. There was no vote. There was simply an appointment."

In Cross' complaint, he also noted that under the state Town Meeting Act:
If the governing body fails or refuses to hold a biennial or special town meeting for the purpose of electing officers, the board of county commissioners of the county in which the municipality is located shall call a town meeting for the purpose of electing officers. The sheriff, or his deputy, of the county in which the municipality is located shall attend any town meeting called by the board of county commissioners, and if the municipal officers fail to conduct the meeting, shall moderate the meeting. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 11, § 16-305(B))
Cross said he was told the sheriff's office would begin to investigate his complaint but also might send it to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Earlier this month, John D. Montgomery, editor/publisher of The Purcell Register, called for an outside audit of Washington's finances to "put an end to disruptive chatter."

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.

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