Thursday, October 6, 2011

Question: Does Open Meeting Act require that votes be recorded in meeting minutes?

Minutes of the OU Undergraduate Student Congress meeting Sept. 27 failed to include how each member voted, which members were present or absent, and whether two emergency allocations to student organizations were passed, The Oklahoma Daily reported today.

The Open Meeting Act requires written minutes that are an "official summary of the proceedings showing clearly those members present and absent, all matters considered by the public body, and all actions taken by such public body." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 312(A))

So the Undergraduate Student Congress minutes apparently violate the statute by not including the roll call, all the matters considered and all the actions taken.

But are the minutes required to include each member's vote on agenda items?

In a provision separate from the minutes requirement, the Open Meeting Act says, "In all meetings of public bodies, the vote of each member must be publicly cast and recorded." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 305)

The OU Undergraduate Student Congress keeps its voting record as a separate document under the "resources" tab of its website.

That's not the most intuitive location for such important information. The voting record also is only for the most recent session for which minutes have been approved. In contrast, minutes are available for meetings since April.

So the voting record is not provided online in a way that most effectively helps students hold their individual student representatives accountable.

But does keeping a voting record separate from the meeting minutes satisfy the Open Meeting Act's requirement?

In 1975, the state Supreme Court emphasized that public bodies have to use a roll call vote and record the vote for each member. (Oldham v. Drummond Bd. of Educ., 1975 OK 147, ¶ 7)

The court was interpreting the 1971 predecessor to the current Open Meeting Act, but the statutory language was essentially the same. The previous version required that "any vote or action thereon must be taken in public meeting with the vote of each member publicly cast and recorded."

The "language is clear," the court said. "The vote of each member must be recorded."

The court rejected a school board's practice of voting "by a show of hands unless a roll call was asked." The votes of each member were not recorded.

The court pointed out that no record of the each member's vote was included in the minutes. But it didn't say the votes must be recorded in the minutes -- only that votes must be recorded.

For practical purposes, it would make sense to include the votes in the minutes. For the public to make the most of the minutes, the votes should be included.

The Open Meeting Act requires that minutes be an "official summary of the proceedings." And 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)

Does that mean votes must be recorded in the minutes? Or would a separate record of votes be sufficient under the statute?

Seems like another gray area that state legislators should address.

But if you have the answer, please tell me. I'd be happy to pass it along here.

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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