Tulsa City Council's attorney says executive session starts when 'door is closed'; Experts disagree

The Tulsa City Council's attorney says executive sessions don't start until the "door is closed and the chairman says, 'We are now in executive session,'" the Tulsa World reported today.

That same attorney, Drew Rees, had advised council members Thursday that they could vote in executive session to exclude Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett from the meeting.

His reasoning at the time was that the vote was procedural and, therefore, didn't violate the state Open Meeting Act.

(For why that reasoning doesn't hold up, read,

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

But Friday, Rees told the
Tulsa World that the Council was not in executive session when the vote occurred.

Rees conceded that the Council had taken a public roll-call vote to enter into executive session but said such sessions don't start until the "door is closed and the chairman says, 'We are now in executive session.'"

That's creative -- but nonsense still the same.

Attorney General spokesman Charlie Price noted that the Open Meeting Act doesn't say an executive session begins when the public body is behind closed doors and someone declares the meeting has started.

Under the statute, "The executive session is authorized by a majority vote of a quorum of the members present and the vote is a recorded vote." (OKLA. STAT. 25, ยง 307(E))

As Mark Thomas of the Oklahoma Press Association explained to the Tulsa World:

"Once they publicly utter the words 'aye' or 'yes' to the motion and the vote is recorded, that's all that is required by law. It doesn't matter whether the door is opened or closed, the lights are on or off, or a gavel is banged on the table โ€” surprise, surprise, you're in executive session."

Bartlett says he is considering filing a criminal complaint against the Council.

Rees, btw, is a Republican candidate for the Tulsa County Commission District 3 seat.

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.