Monday, September 17, 2012

Woodward Industrial Foundation challenges DA opinion that it's a public body

A district judge is expected to rule by Friday on whether the Woodward Industrial Foundation must comply with the state Open Meeting Act.
The foundation is challenging Woodward County District Attorney Hollis Thorp's recent opinion that it is a public body subject to the Open Meeting Act.
Judge Paul K. Woodward heard arguments in the case last Monday. Attorneys for the foundation and Thorp were expected to submit their written legal arguments today. (Woodward Indust. Found. v. Oklahoma, CV-2012-00058 (Woodward Co. Sept. 10, 2012))
In a letter to the foundation on Aug. 28, Thorp provided no explanation for his conclusion.
WIF Board Chairman Alan Case II disagreed with Thorp, telling the Woodward News that the foundation receives public funding through "contracts with the City of Woodward to provide economic development and business recruitment services."
That would mean the foundation is not a public body under a 2002 attorney general opinion, which said, "Private organizations which contract with a governmental body and are reimbursed for identifiable goods or services are not public bodies under the Act." (2002 OK AG 37, ¶ 17)
"Receiving payment from public funds for performing specific services or providing goods pursuant to a contract is not the same as being 'supported' by public funds," the opinion agreed. (Id. ¶ 15)
In contrast, the opinion said, a private organization would be supported by public funds if
It did not submit itemized invoices for services rendered to receive public funds but instead received a direct allocation of public funds and
There was no direct relationship to the amount of services performed by the private entity and the funds it was allocated because the entity received funds regardless of whether it performed services. (Id. ¶ 18)
The question is whether the Woodward Industrial Foundation receives public funds to operate regardless of what it does or receives a payment for performing specific services. The former meaning it is subject to the Open Meeting and Open Records laws. The latter meaning it’s not.

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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