Friday, February 17, 2012

Okemah councilman appointed in 'emergency action' resigns; applicants sought for council seat

An Okemah councilman stepped down this week from the seat to which he had been appointed in an "emergency action" last month, the local newspaper reported.

Ken Lee had not taken the oath of office since his appointment by the City Council in late January, the Okemah News Leader said.

The newspaper and this blog criticized the appointment as a violation of the Open Meeting Act because such an action wasn't on the agenda.

City Attorney Bruce Coker had told the councilmen that they could declare an "emergency" based on the possibility of not having a quorum to conduct business at their next meeting if one was absent, the newspaper reported.

However, the Open Meeting Act requires that each agenda "identify all items of business to be transacted" by the public body at the meeting. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 311(B)(1))

The only exception is for "new business." The council agenda didn't have an item allowing for "new business" to be discussed. And even if it had, the appointment didn't meet the statutory definition of "new business." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 311(A)(9))

The council could have called an "emergency meeting" once it adjourned the regular meeting. But the appointment wasn't an emergency, which the Open Meeting Act defines as:
A situation involving injury to persons or injury and damage to public or personal property or immediate financial loss when the time requirements for public notice of a special meeting would make such procedure impractical and increase the likelihood of injury or damage or immediate financial loss. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 304(5))
The council should have called a special meeting for 48 hours later if it wanted to appoint Lee.

On Monday night, council members voted to accept Lee's resignation. An agenda item gave them the opportunity to simply reappoint him. Instead, they chose to declare a vacancy and call for applications.

The council will interview applicants during its regular meeting on Feb. 27.

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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