Open Government Pledge signer wins seat on McAlester City Council

Steve Harrison won a seat on the McAlester City Council, the McAlester News-Capital reported Tuesday night.

A former acting city treasurer, Harrison had signed FOI Oklahoma Inc.'s Open Government Pledge that McAlester city government would "comply with not only the letter but also the spirit of Oklahoma's Open Meeting and Open Records laws” if he were elected.

He also promised “to support at every opportunity the public policy of the State of Oklahoma that the people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government so that they can efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power.”

In December, the McAlester City Council was criticized for apparently violating the state Open Meeting Act.

The council had met behind closed doors to discuss unpaid furloughs for all 235 city employees and apparently other budget woes – all under the guise of discussing negotiations with employee labor unions.

Not all McAlester city employees are represented by labor unions. As the McAlester News-Capital pointed out, the furloughs covered city department heads, upper management and other employees who don’t belong to the police or fire unions. The furloughs were among several actions approved by the council following a nearly two-hour executive session on Dec. 1, the newspaper reported.

None of the actions was listed on the agenda for the special meeting – even though the newspaper had reported days earlier that the council was expected to discuss possible furloughs during the closed session.

In the election Tuesday, Harrison received 400 votes, or 59 percent of the votes cast, to replace incumbent Ward 2 Councilor Donnie Condit, who did not seek re-election.

Harrison was one of those who had criticized the council for its secrecy during the Dec. 1 meeting. In a column for the McAlester News-Capital, Harrison wrote:

Trust in government has been and continues to be a huge issue in McAlester. Misdeeds by past councils color the public’s perception of today’s council, like it or not.

My hope is that in the future the council will look for reasons to hold discussions “in full view of the governed” rather than looking for reasons to hide them. Perhaps then we can start to believe in transparency in government.

Here's to Harrison persuading his fellow councilors that an open government is always the best government.

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.