There is still speculation as to whether there was a violation of the Open Meetings Act after a “new business” item was discussed in executive session at the Aug. 7 Altus City Council meeting.
According to Council member Rick Henry, who brought up the item, it was only for Council information. The new business item was not listed on the meeting’s agenda. By virtue of its being new business, it was discovered after the agenda was printed.
Henry asked Mayor David Webb whether to introduce the item in new business or during the first executive session. Webb deferred to City Attorney Catherine Coke. Coke said to bring it up in new business and they’d have another executive session. Both Coke and Webb advised Henry to do just that. There was no action taken on the item.
When the violation or no violation of the Open Meetings Act issue came up, Webb called the Oklahoma Municipal League (OML) for an answer. After press time on Friday, Aug. 10, Webb called the Altus Times to say he’d received word from OML that “there was no violation.” Webb said that according to OML’s Legal department, “there has been no precedent set” for a new business item being considered in executive session and no Attorney General’s opinion rendered on such a situation.
However, information received by the Altus Times from Executive Vice President of the Oklahoma Press Association, Mark Thomas, the item to be discussed in the second executive session should have been announced to the public even if it was, by definition, too late for the printed agenda.
Thomas went on to say, “Theoretically (and very rarely) a public body can use the ‘new business’ heading to go into executive session. That has been stated by previous Attorneys General - and would be allowed - but they must announce the items of new business they intend to take up in executive session.”
In another statement regarding the information he received from OML, Mayor Webb said, “I actually visited with OML by phone and was advised that there was no violation. The lawyer that I spoke with advised that the notification requirements that apply to executive session items on a regularly scheduled meeting do not apply for new business items. She advised that the act does not specify down to that level. She went on to give the reasons for the notification requirements which deal with giving appropriate background of an item to the general public so that they can determine in advance if they wish to attend the meeting. If the item is addressed in new business, the prior notification is a moot point so the notice is not required. This is not a direct quote of the conversation, as we visited for some time, but the general point of the visit was that there is no violation as long as the item was appropriate for new business and the item was appropriate for executive session. I do believe that these requirements were met by the item discussed.”
Mayor Webb stated that if the item comes up again for consideration of the Council, it will be properly posted on the agenda.
*NOTE: The original story was in the Friday, Aug. 10 edition of the Altus Times, and can also be seen at www.altustimes.com