BRTA misled public about purpose of executive session, violated Open Meeting Act, lawsuit alleges
The Bartlesville Redevelopment Trust Authority purposefully misled the public about the purpose of its Aug. 11 executive session, the real subject of which was not permitted in an executive session, according to a lawsuit filed last week against the BRTA.
The agenda for the meeting said the closed-door session would be to “Discuss Pending and/or Impending Investigations, Claims or Actions Affecting the BRTA.”
But in an e-mail sent a day earlier, a BRTA official told the seven members of the authority:
You will note that the first item on the agenda is an Executive Session which seems to indicate an investigation. There is not an investigation. This is on the agenda to allow Dan to give you information which he believes you need to have for future projects. Dan purposefully provided the language for this agenda item.
Dan is BRTA attorney Dan McMahan of Oklahoma City.
BRTA Downtown Development Director Patrick Treadway’s e-mail to the trustees is included in the lawsuit filed Thursday accusing BRTA members of violating the state Open Meeting Act.
Plaintiffs Joel Rabin and Sharon Hurst want a Washington County judge to order the minutes and other documents from the executive session to be made public.
Rabin and Hurst also filed a lawsuit earlier this month seeking information packets and other documents given to the BRTA board members for regular and special meetings.
The latest lawsuit notes the statutory exemption cited on the BRTA meeting agenda allows executive sessions for
Confidential communications between a public body and its attorney concerning a pending investigation, claim, or action if the public body, with the advice of its attorney, determines that disclosure will seriously impair the ability of the public body to process the claim or conduct a pending investigation, litigation, or proceeding in the public interest. (OKLA. STAT. tit 25, § 307(B)(4))
The lawsuit accuses the BRTA board of entering into the executive session “without first determining that disclosure will seriously impair the ability of the public body to process the claim or conduct a pending investigation, litigation, or proceeding in the public interest.”
The BRTA members voted to go into the closed-door session even though they knew or reasonably should have known that the purpose was not to discuss pending and/or impending investigations, claims or actions affecting the BRTA “but rather to allow Dan McMahan to convey – through an illegal and misleadingly-noticed executive session – information he believed would be needed for future projects,” according to the lawsuit.
The BRTA board members are Walter Allison, Jon Baccus, Randy Bluhm, Sherri Musselman Cox, City Councilman Tom Gorman, David Oakley Jr and Donna Skelly.
Rabin and Hurst are FOI Oklahoma members. They are being represented by Doug Wilson, a Stillwater attorney and FOI Oklahoma Inc. board member.
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications