Tulsa City Council votes in executive session to kick mayor out of meeting

Tulsa city councilors voted in executive session Thursday to remove Mayor Dewey Bartlett from their meeting to discuss the results of an independent investigation into his chief of staff, the Tulsa World reported Thursday.

"I told them that I had the right to enter the room and be part of the meeting, and I told them they were in violation of state law because they took a vote while in executive session," Bartlett told the newspaper.

Under the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, "any vote or action on any item of business considered in an executive session shall be taken in public meeting with the vote of each member publicly cast and recorded." (OKLA. STAT. 25, § 307(D)(3))

Another provision of the statute also requires that "[i]n all meetings of public bodies, the vote of each member must be publicly cast and recorded." (OKLA. STAT. 25, § 305)

Bartlett said the Council voted unanimously to exclude him from the meeting. That vote occurred behind closed doors.

The Council also is limited to discussing in executive session only the topics listed on the agenda. Only nine topics are permissible for executive sessions. Excluding the mayor from the executive session was not on the agenda and is not one of the permissible topics. (OKLA. STAT. 25, § 307(B))

After the meeting, Council attorney Drew Rees said councilors had not violated the Open Meeting Act because the vote was purely a procedural matter on who should be involved in the meeting, reported the
Tulsa World.

But that vote was not "publicly cast" as required by the Open Meeting Act.

Perhaps Bartlett will file a complaint with police. Violating the Open Meeting Act is a misdemeanor punishable by up to the one year in the county jail and a $500 fine. (OKLA. STAT. 25, § 314)

Bartlett and four of the nine city councilors signed FOI Oklahoma's Open Government Pledge during their 2009 campaigns. The councilors are Roscoe Turner, D-Dist. 3; Jim Mautino, R-Dist. 6; Bill Christiansen, R-Dist. 8; and G.T. Bynum, R-Dist. 9.

To abide by that pledge and the Open Meeting Act, the Council on Thursday should have reconvened in the public meeting to discuss and vote on excluding the mayor. The public was entitled to observe the discussion and voting.

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.