FOI Oklahoma Faults State Criminal Justice Task Force Closed Meetings
“FOI Oklahoma strongly encourages Gov. Stitt and the Criminal Justice Reentry, Supervision, Treatment and Opportunity Reform (RESTORE) Task Force to open all meetings to the public in the future and provide detailed minutes about what transpired in the first meeting. The governor has consistently talked about the need for government transparency. This seems counter to what he has stood for. We encourage him to continue to stand strong for transparency at all levels, starting with this task force’s proceedings.”
Andy Moore, FOI executive director: Gov. Stitt has created a task force on criminal justice reform that will make recommendations to his office about possible reforms. They haven't been very clear about the specific duties of the task force, but they have stated that task force meetings are definitely not open to the public because they want members to be able to "talk openly" and furthermore, the Governor's office said that they do not believe the task force is subject to OMA at all.
Task forces are explicitly enumerated as public bodies in the Oklahoma Meeting Act<https://www.ok.gov/occy/documents/OpenMeeting.pdf>. And the task force is comprised of agency heads who are all subject to the Oklahoma Records Act.
Gov. Stitt's office: “The Open Meetings Act only applies to 'public bodies,' which is a term that is specifically defined. This is an executively created task force meant to advise the governor on a defined issue and it is not a statutory 'public body.' The governor looks forward to the robust debate and conversation that will take place around the task force’s recommendations in the future.”
Paul Monies, Oklahoma Watch investigative reporter & FOI Oklahoma board member: The governor's office cited 2002 OK AG 5 (http://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=365256) to me when I followed up with questions about this Friday. This was a surprise because I asked the governor’s office a couple of weeks ago if the RESTORE task force would be open and a spokeswoman assured me it would. She is now saying she misspoke earlier.
Gov. Stitt's spokeswoman: "I personally misspoke on this earlier. This an executively created task force meant to advise the governor on a defined issue and it is not a statutory public body. [Referenced above] is an Attorney General opinion on this matter. There was much deliberation on how to create this entity, and ultimately, we chose the model of the last successful criminal justice task force (created by ED 2016-24). The governor intentionally wanted their recommendations by December, so that it gave ample time for public debate and transparent deliberation through the Legislature on how to progress forward on this critical matter. The task force is also requesting contributions and ideas as well through a public e-mail address of email@example.com."
Mark Thomas, executive vice president, Oklahoma Press Association & FOI Oklahoma board member: I recall that then Attorney General Drew Edmondson felt compelled to issue that opinion [2002 OK AG 5] for that purpose. HOWEVER, records that are distributed to public officials in their individual capacity on the task force would be open, unless made confidential by another law or are exempted.
This doesn’t help at all with meeting attendance or agendas or any of that. But if this is the opinion they are using, there is a BIG difference in a “Governor’s Security and Preparedness Executive Panel” meeting in the aftermath of 9/11 to thwart terror attacks and a bunch of “passionate people” who want to “talk openly” about one of the major issues of our time.
Bill Crum, reporter, The Oklahoman & FOI Oklahoma board member: I do believe a task force such as this should meet, discuss, debate and vote in public. I would like to know how this task force differs from the recently empaneled homelessness task force in Oklahoma City, which is being staffed/managed out of the city manager’s office and, last I heard, is meeting in the open.
Brian Ted Jones, attorney in private practice & FOI Oklahoma board member: My first reaction is that the governor has high litigation risk here. He’s claiming a vaguely defined exception to a clear statutory mandate on, as Mark Thomas said, a question of high public interest. Also, the Commission on Judicial Reform necessarily involves the administration of public property (prisons) so I don’t think the fact that no one’s getting paid saves him.
One option could be for any Oklahoma media company to file an original action in the state Supreme Court seeking a writ of prohibition to prevent the task force from meeting or, alternatively, a writ of mandamus to compel compliance with Oklahoma Meeting Act/Oklahoma Records Act. This falls squarely within the state Supreme Court’s “publici juris” or “public question” jurisdiction, and involves a state officer.