FOI Oklahoma Inc. approves first grant to support an open government lawsuit
The FOI Oklahoma Inc. board of directors voted Sunday to give a $1,000 grant to two FOI Oklahoma members to help support their costs of an Open Meeting Act lawsuit against the Bartlesville Redevelopment Trust Authority.
Joel Rabin and Sharon Hurst filed the lawsuit in October, alleging that the BRTA 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.
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, BRTA Downtown Development Director Patrick Treadway 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.
No item of business was listed on the agenda under the executive session, an apparent violation of the Open Meeting Act, which states, "If a public body proposes to conduct an executive session, the agenda shall:
- Contain sufficient information for the public to ascertain that an executive session will be proposed;
- Identify the items of business and purposes of the executive session; and
- State specifically the provision of Section 307 of this title authorizing the executive session." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 311(B)(2)(a-c))
Rabin and Hurst are asking a Washington County judge to order the minutes and other documents from the executive session to be made public. But since filing the lawsuit, they have discovered that the BRTA does not keep minutes of its executive sessions. (See Deposition of Patrick Treadway at 21-25 (Dec. 8, 2010)).
Under the Open Meeting Act, written minutes of executive session discussions must be kept. (See Berry v. Bd. of Governors of Registered Dentists, 1980 OK 45, ¶ 12)
Public bodies not keeping minutes of executive sessions and not listing an item of business for an executive session are not uncommon in Oklahoma.
Through grants to plaintiffs and by initiating its own lawsuits, FOI Oklahoma Inc. hopes to discourage such "obvious and egregious" violations of the state's Open Meeting and Open Records laws.
The grant to Rabin and Hurst is the first awarded by FOI Oklahoma to help with the costs of an open government lawsuit. They are being represented by Doug Wilson, a Stillwater attorney and former member of the FOI Oklahoma Inc. board of directors.
A silent auction to raise money for the fund to defend open government will be held during FOI Oklahoma's fourth annual Sunshine Week conference on March 12 at The Oklahoman. Details regarding the conference will be posted here and on the website.
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications