New director of McAlester's economic development board suggests secret meeting so members' thoughts aren't publicized

The McAlester Economic Development Service's new director suggested Tuesday that the publicly funded board exclude the public from a meeting to discuss the group's plans, the McAlester News-Capital reported today.

“Sometimes you don’t need to have every thought publicized,” Shari Cooper told the board.

It was her first official meeting with the full board since being hired, according to the newspaper.

She's not off to a good start.

The MEDS board reportedly receives more than 90 percent of its funding from the city of McAlester.

A publicly funded group such as the MEDS may meet in closed executive sessions under the Open Meeting Act only for specific topics spelled out by the state Legislature. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 307)

As the newspaper's senior editor, James Beaty, pointed out today, "Protecting board members from having their statements publicized is not one of them."

Beaty said several board members "appeared visibly shocked" at Cooper's suggestion.

One board member is the newspaper's publisher, Amy Johns. She sits on the board by virtue of a by-laws requirement that a seat on the board be reserved for the local newspaper's publisher.

"You would think those board members at the time might have done that because they believe in transparency," Johns wrote in a Nov. 24 column about the board and the need for a strategic plan for the city.

Doesn't seem likely Johns would agree to the kind of closed meeting suggested by Cooper.

Just last week, the McAlester City Council was criticized by this blog and others for misusing an exemption under the Open Meeting Act and for voting on items not listed on the meeting agenda.

Let's hope a commitment to the public's right -- and need -- to know prevails on the MEDS board.

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.