Tulsa Library Commission violates Open Meeting Act

In an updated Tulsa World story, the Tulsa City-County Library Commission chairwoman says the panel conducted public business by voting in an executive session, which is a violation of the Open Meeting Act.

Tulsa World: Commission Chairwoman La Verne Ford Wimberly told the Tulsa World today a vote was taken in executive session to review the use of employee flexible time and no vote was taken to return to a public meeting.

"It was an error for not going back into open session, and we are trying to re-schedule a meeting on Tuesday to correct that," Wimberly said. "I didn't expect the meeting to last that long, and in my haste to leave, I made a mistake and now I am going back to clean it up."

Violation No. 1: The use of employee flexible time is not one of the nine topics that may be discussed in executive session. (See OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 307)

Violation No. 2: The Library Commission cannot vote in executive session. No motion for a vote should have been made until after the panel resumed its meeting in public.

County Commissioner Karen Keith, a member of the panel, told the newspaper that a motion was made and seconded during the executive session but no action was taken because the library commission became side tracked on other business.

What other business? Discussions are limited to the agenda item, and only certain topics may be discussed in executive session. As an
earlier posting noted, the posted agenda item of "staff employment issues" was not a permissible topic.

Redoing the meeting won't excuse the criminal violation of the Open Meeting Act’s executive session provision. (Read this
earlier posting for an explanation.)

Keith told the Tulsa World that no one had willfully intended to violate the law.

But “willfulness does not require a showing of bad faith, malice, or wantonness, but rather, encompasses conscious, purposeful violations of the law or blatant or deliberate disregard of the law by those who know, or should know the requirements of the Act," the state Supreme Court said in 1984.

When drivers are pulled over for speeding, they don't get a refresher course on the speeding limit. They most likely get a ticket because they're expected to know the speed limit.

The same is true for public bodies. The library commissioners -- especially Mayor Kathy Taylor and Keith -- and the commission's attorney should know what's required for conducting an executive session before the agenda is posted.

It's a crime to violate the Open Meeting Act. Perhaps someone in Tulsa will take the matter to the police.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

OSU School of Journalism

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.