OSU SGA Senate mandates FOI training for SGA members, but Open Meeting Act compliance still a problem

All new OSU SGA senators, executive branch officials, and Supreme Court justices must undergo training in Oklahoma's open government laws or be removed from office, under legislation passed by the Student Government Association Senate on Wednesday. If signed by SGA President Matthew Chuning, the requirements would take effect in January and apply to candidates in the March elections for president, vice president and senators representing living groups.

The three amendments to the SGA bylaws are similar to Oklahoma statutory requirements for new school board members as well as first-time elected or appointed municipal officials.

The SGA legislation calls for a training workshop the first Wednesday of each semester. New officials unable to attend that workshop would be required to review the materials with a member of the SGA leadership within six weeks of being sworn in or be removed from office.

The training would be conducted by a member of the SGA leadership -- president, vice president, Senate chair and vice chair, and chief justice -- or a designee.

Unfortunately, a review of SGA Senate meeting agendas and rules, and SGA bylaws, reveals that training in the state's freedom of information laws is needed.

For example, the agenda for Wednesday's meeting -- the one at which senators agreed to the mandatory training in the Open Meeting Act -- wasn't listed on the SGA website more than 24 hours after the meeting was called to order. The agenda should have been posted 24 hours prior to the meeting, according to the state's Public Website statute and SGA bylaw amendments adopted in 2011.

Those amendments came after the student newspaper reported that SGA Senate officials hadn't sent meeting notices to the county clerk as required by the Open Meeting Act and didn’t post agendas for regularly scheduled meetings on its website as required by the Public Website law. That was just one instance in which SGA Senate officials were caught violating the Open Meeting Act over the years.

I had suggested several times that SGA officials be educated annually on Oklahoma's open government laws.

So, I sincerely commend the Senate's decision to require such training. I am also immensely proud that the legislation was written by Sen. Susan Occhipinti, a student in the School of Media and Strategic Communications.

Having the SGA comply with our open government laws is important for two reasons. First, as a 1997 attorney general opinion noted, SGA officials make decisions "from which no student may be exempted and also make decisions concerning the dispersement [sic] of funds collected."

Second, learning to respect open government laws is a lesson that I hope will be remembered by those SGA officials who go on to serve in governments affecting us all.


Joey Senat, Ph.D. Associate Professor OSU School of Media and 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.