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December 15, 2017

Campaign Heats Up


Six candidates for seats on the Luther Board of Trustees have all signed a letter directed to the Town’s attorney. They are asking questions about the March 14 meeting. 

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Candidates Paxton Cavin, Ron Johnson, Herbert Keith, Trandy Langston, Jason Roach and Jenni White sent the letter Monday to Town Attorney Ray Vincent, respectfully asking for his input.

Mr. Ray Vincent Luther Town Attorney
March 20, 2017

Dear Mr. Vincent,

The recent meeting (3-14-17) of the Luther Town Trustees and the Luther Public Works Authority has raised some serious legal questions about the way that the Town of Luther is operating, and maybe has operated for some time.

As candidates seeking election as a Town Trustee, we believe it is vital to understand the legal ramifications of the current Board’s action to determine the potential liability for the Town. There are two items that we would like to inquire about. While the purpose of this letter is to get information about specific agenda items, it should not be interpreted that these are our only concerns.

Agenda Item 4: “Consideration, discussion, and possible action to make the Court Clerk position with a salary for that position to change to $15.00 an hour. Effective immediately.” Agenda Item 5: “Consideration, discussion, and possible action to make the Office Manager position with a salary for that position to change to $16.00 an hour. Effective immediately.” As was pointed out during public comment by citizens and during the meeting by a former mayor, trustee, and current Town Clerk/Treasurer; the agenda item clearly states that the position will earn a “salary” of “$15.00 an hour.” Ignoring the issue of a salary v. wage, the Board defeated a motion to set this amount. After the defeat of the motion, the Board made a new motion to set the salary at $14.00 an hour.

Our concern is that there was not an agenda item stating that the position would be paid $14.00 an hour. The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office has issued a guidance on the proper interpretation of the Open Meetings Act (https://www.oag.ok.gov/oagweb.nsf/0/9afabc8767512a97862572b400738e39/$FILE/Op en%20Meeting.pdf). On page 229 of this guide, it states “Aside from these general considerations, the best guide for writing a proper agenda item is to prepare it so that an ordinary citizen with no specialized knowledge of a particular board’s prior actions or deliberations will be able to understand from the agenda what the public body will be doing at the meeting. Public bodies often ignore this rule by preparing overly brief, topical agenda items such as “contracts,” “personnel actions,” or “warrants and claims.”

Although such agenda items may appear clear to a board member or staff person who has enough background information to know what particular contract, warrant or personnel matter is at issue, a citizen without any such background information will not be able to glean the precise nature of the proposed board action from reading such topical items.

More specific agenda items that focus on the particular actions contemplated by the board are required. (E.g., “Discussion and vote whether to approve employment contract for Teacher X,” “Discussion and vote whether to approve warrants 1-10,” “Discussion and vote whether to demote Mr. Y.”) (Emphasis added). The issue raised in the above quotation also raises serious questions about the hiring of the two individuals to fill the position of Court Clerk and Office Coordinator.

As noted, the Attorney General’s office recommends specificity when available, to the extent of putting a potential employee’s name on the agenda, if the Board has not devolved that authority to a current employee or position.

Additionally, it seems the Board has violated Town ordinances regarding the composition of the Town agenda. A specific order of business is prescribed under, §2-105(b), yet the report of the Treasurer and the Review of Claims are apparently coupled together in the consent agenda. Not only would this appear to violate the order of business but is directly contradictory to fiscal accountability and transparency.

The current board also mandates that public comments take place at the beginning of the meeting; however, the ordinances require that public comments take place later in the evening. Again, as candidates and potential Board members, we respectfully request your legal opinion to put some of these issues to rest. We look forward to receiving your response.

Respectfully,
Paxton Cavin
Trandy Langston
Ronald Johnson
Herbert Keith
Jason Roach
Jenni White

The March 14 meeting, broadcast on FB Live, is available for review on the Luther Register’s Facebook page. The election is April 4.

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