State employees group files criminal complaint alleging Open Meeting Act violation by state mental health board

A state employees group has filed a criminal complaint accusing the state mental health board of violating the Open Meeting Act when it approved a plan to lay off 100 employees, close centers and eliminate state's mental health beds for children.

Those actions were not listed on the board's Nov. 13 agenda.

Instead, the plan to cut the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services budget by $7.3 million was included in a monthly financial report.

The agenda item read, "Discussion and possible action regarding monthly financial report.”

Officials later told The Oklahoman that the board, which oversees the department, had voted only to accept the financial report and weren't taking action with that vote.

That tortured logic aside, the Tulsa World reported the board had voted separately on the reduction plan.

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association on Thursday asked the Oklahoma County district attorney's office to investigate whether the board violated the Open Meeting Act. (See coverage by The Oklahoman and Tulsa World.)

A violation of the Open Meeting Act is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500 and/or up to one year in the county jail for each count. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 314)

The state attorney general's office has warned public bodies not to use "report" on an agenda as a way to hide what they will be doing in a meeting.

For a detailed explanation of why the state mental health board seems to have violated the Open Meeting Act, please read an earlier posting on the FOI Oklahoma Inc. blog.

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.