• January Editorial Winner

    Adhering to the Open Meeting Act
    By Mike McCormick, Tri-County Herald

    Openness should be the standard not the exception when it comes to meetings and records of public bodies.

    We see and hear of boards, councils, other public bodies that either ignore or attempt to skirt the Open Meeting and Records Acts. Non-profits are subject to the law when they receive any kind of public funding.

    It’s frustrating to see. It happens because either the organization or public body is not as knowledgeable as it should be about the Open Meeting and Open Records Acts, or it just isn’t interested enough to abide by it.

    We had an educator the other night make a comment that caught our attention. He said he couldn’t believe how many either break the law or try to skirt around it with their agendas.

    There are some attorneys throughout this area who do a credible job of ensuring those public bodies or organizations they represent strictly adhere to the law, especially the new business provision on agendas.

    But agenda items pertaining to personnel issues are those we’ve seen abused most frequently.

    What those who sit on councils, school boards, commissions should remember is they are allowed to hold and go into executive session to discuss certain personnel matters. Nowhere in the statutes does it mandate and say they must go into executive session.

    In an Attorney General’s Opinion issued in 1998, it states a public body that goes into executive session must identify by name or by position the person being discussed.

    We seriously question an agenda item that states “Discussion of Superintendent’s recommendation of new personnel” meets this requirement.

    This is just one example we often see.

    State Sen. Ron Sharp is an ardent supporter of the Open Records and Open Meeting laws. He says Oklahoma ranks among the weakest in the nation when responding to Open Records and Freedom of Information Act requests.

    With that, he’s filed two bills for the Legislature to consider when it begins its session on Feb. 3. His intent is to strengthen the application of these laws and bring them up to standard.

    SB 1154 would require Open Records requests to be fulfilled within 30 days. If that’s not possible, those expected to provide the information could be granted an additional 30 days. The requestor, though, would receive a written notice from the record provider.

    Currently, there is no deadline for responding to these requests.

    One of the purposes of the legislation is to establish confidence that the state is transparent and being accountable to the public, the Senator says.

    Another measure, SB 1137, would require the Attorney General to respond with an opinion in writing to any request by the Legislature, a state officer, board, commission or department within 90 days of the request.

    The Legislature should pass the Senator’s bills that will strengthen requirements of Open Records and Open Meeting Acts.

     District Attorneys and the Attorney General should be visiting with attorneys or public bodies themselves to ensure stricter compliance of these laws.

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