Tulsa Development Authority group likely to meet in public to redo screening process

A Tulsa Development Authority advisory committee will likely meet in public to hear all 10 proposals for a vacant fire station, the Tulsa World reported today.

The newspaper reported last week that the committee overseen by Tulsa City Councilor Maria Barnes had met secretly to winnow the field of 10 to three without hearing presentations from the other seven.

Today's story says Authority Executive Director O.C. Walker recommended in a memorandum sent Friday that the authority tell the advisory committee to hear presentations from all 10 bidders in an open meeting.

The issue is set for discussion at the authority's Dec. 2 meeting, the newspaper reported.

TDA attorney Jot Hartley told the Tulsa World that although the authority had done nothing wrong, redoing the process in an open meeting would provide full transparency.

Good thinking. But Barnes' committee, created by the TDA at her urging, seems to have violated the Open Meeting Act by meeting secretly.

An ad hoc committee or citizens advisory committee that "exercises actual or de facto decision-making authority" must comply with the Open Meeting Act, the state Supreme Court said in 1978. (Sanders v. Benton, 1978 OK 53, ¶ 16)

A 1984 attorney general opinion said, "[W]hen a subordinate entity reviews and eliminates bids for contracts from consideration by a parent entity then the subordinate entity is exercising actual or de facto decision making authority and is subject to the Open Meeting Law.” (1984 OK AG 53, ¶ 6)

That reasoning seems to apply to Barnes' advisory group.

Hartley said last week that the TDA was not bound by the recommendations of Barnes' committee. But if the TDA had considered only the three proposals ranked and forwarded by the committee, then that committee would have exercised decision-making authority.

Still, the good news is that Tulsans' need to know will be served if the TDA requires the advisory group to redo the process in the open.

But legislators should strengthen the public's right to know by declaring that all citizens advisory committees and ad hoc committees -- regardless of decision-making power -- are subject to the Open Meeting Act.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

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.