It has been brought to the attention of the Altus Times that some are questioning what could be an inadvertent violation of the Open Meetings Act during the Tuesday, Aug. 7 City Council meeting. During the meeting, shortly before the Council exited for the executive session, member Rick Henry asked to be able to introduce a new business item and asked for advice on when to do that. A new business item had just been given to him the previous day and needed to be discussed in an executive session. Henry asked Mayor David Webb if the matter should it be introduced in the executive session or reintroduced in new business and then have another executive session. Webb deferred to City Attorney Catherine Coke, who said to introduce the item in new business and they’d hold a second executive session. Webb verbally agreed with Coke’s decision.
The item was introduced in new business and the second executive session was held. No action was taken when the Council returned to open session.
The question involving the Open Meetings Act regards the new item which generated the second executive session. Neither the executive session, nor the item were on the agenda.
According to the Open Meetings Act (Oklahoma State Statutes Title 25, Section 311, B.1.), all items are required to be listed on the agenda. But items that are in new business, by definition, cannot be on the agenda. As stated in Section 311, 9., “‘New business’, as used herein, shall mean any matter not known about or which could not have been reasonably foreseen prior to the time of posting.”
Mayor Webb said, on Wednesday morning (Aug. 8), he “put the Council on notice of a possible violation of the Open Meeting Act.” He said he notified Oklahoma Municipal League (OML) Legal of the situation and asked for a statement of law or remedy, and has not heard back from them (as of press time today). Webb said it was fortunate that no action was taken on the second executive session item. If the Open Meeting Act was violated, that action (taken in the second executive session) would be invalid.
Webb also said that if any action or discussion regarding that item is brought before Council in the future, it will be properly posted on the agenda.
An Attorney General’s Office Public Information Officer told the Altus Times that their officers are allowed to conduct business within parameters. Officers may read the written law to a caller, discuss the written law with the public, but officers, because they are not attorneys, cannot interpret it. Officers may refer people to a local District Attorney’s office for cases requiring prosecution. The Public Information Officers are also able to provide legal research sources.
Council member Rick Henry said the item introduced in the second executive session was for Council information only. “I’d received the information just the previous afternoon, so it could not be on the agenda. Before I introduced the item, I sought the opinion of Mayor David Webb, who then asked Catherine Coke. Both of them said to introduce the item in new business,” Henry explained. “No action was taken on the item,” he added.
*Note: Mayor Webb explained the second executive session should be viewed as a separate meeting. If a violation occurred, it would not invalidate the City Council meeting, nor the payroll or other sections that were approved therein.