Monday, August 27, 2012

Q: Did state legislator have a right under the Open Meeting Act to sit in on state board's executive session?

Rep. Mike Reynolds sat in on the state Board of Juvenile Affairs' closed-door interviews of executive director candidates Friday, The Oklahoman reported.
The executive session was delayed about 45 minutes after Reynolds asked to attend the interviews. Board members voted to allow him in after discussing it with attorneys.
Reynolds had cited a provision in the Open Meeting Act that allows any legislator to attend the executive sessions of any state agency, board or commission when the jurisdiction of the lawmaker’s assigned legislative committee "includes the actions of the public body involved." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 310)
But did that provision entitle the Republican from Oklahoma City to be in the executive session?
A 1978 attorney general opinion said a legislative education committee member was not entitled under the provision to attend executive sessions in which local school boards discussed the employment of individuals. (1978 OK AG 144)
The key was not that school boards are not "state" boards. Instead, the attorney general focused on whether the legislative committee "possesses such jurisdiction as would include the actions of the public body incident to the subject executive session." (Id. ¶ 6)
The attorney general noted that individual employment matters are "exclusively within the jurisdiction, judgment and discretion" of local school boards. (Id. ¶ 9)
"We are unaware of any existing legislative committee which possesses comparable jurisdiction," the attorney general stated. (Id.)
The Oklahoman noted that Reynolds is a member of the House of Representatives Administrative Rules and Government Oversight Committee, which reviews rules of all state agencies.
But by state statute, the Board of Juvenile Affairs -- not the Legislature -- hires and sets the salary for the executive director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 10a, § 2-7-101(H)(2))
So it seems as though Reynolds was not entitled by the Open Meeting Act to sit in on an executive session in which the board interviewed candidates for executive director.
The board, however, was entitled to permit Reynolds into the closed-door session. The 1978 attorney general opinion said public bodies generally have the discretion to select whom they allow into executive sessions. (1978 OK AG 144, ¶ 4)
According to The Oklahoman, Reynolds encourages other lawmakers to attend executive sessions of agencies that their committees oversee. Not necessarily a bad idea.
But that right to attend seems limited to whether the subject of the executive session is within the jurisdiction of the legislator's committee. The Open Meeting Act doesn't seem to give legislators carte blanche to attend the closed sessions of state boards.

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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