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July 22, 2017

Transparency in Local Government


“The invisible government,” wrote Walter Lippman, “is malign.”

“What is dangerous about it is that we do not see it, cannot use it, and are compelled to submit to it.” Walter Lippman, A Preface to Politics (1914). That critique of invisible government underlies Oklahoma’s Open Meeting Act, a series of statutes enacted “to encourage and facilitate an informed citizenry’s understanding of the governmental processes and governmental problems.” 25 O.S.2011, § 302.

If you google “Oklahoma Open Meetings,” the first hit leads to this document from the Oklahoma Attorney General. The 100-year-old quote from the Pulitzer Prize Winner leads the description of the state law that oversees meetings of Oklahoma’s public bodies from the legislature to a school board, and in the case of the current search, municipal government.

Why the search? I have a list. The most burning question is why The Luther Register, or any member of the public, was refused a copy of the board packet for Tuesday night’s meeting? For the most part, the materials include minutes, payroll and claims. There’s also a treasurer’s report, fire chief’s report and police chief’s report. It’s information, once given to the board, that becomes public, according to law.

None of that information on Tuesday night was made available to the media or public while the town board took nearly ten minutes to silently peruse, then summarily approve the information without comment.

After the meeting, Mayor Cecelia Taft said the Oklahoma Municipal League advised the town against making the packets available and anyone would be welcome to request a packet from the town office Wednesday morning, after the meeting.

From FOI Oklahoma, a watchdog organization posted  this article from 2012 in which a newspaper filed a complaint with the district attorney’s office over a similar took a school board to court to get the meeting information, and won. The most interesting part of the article was the court directive to post all of the meeting information ONLINE. It’s a move incidentally that saves paper, disseminates information and helps office holders to be better prepared to conduct their business meetings. In the spirit of transparency, some government entities are moving toward publishing everything online.

From the FOI Oklahoma article from 2012:

Sperry school district officials will start posting agenda packets online prior to board meetings, the Skiatook Journal reported Friday afternoon.

Superintendent Brian D. Beagles had refused to make the packets available until the day after school board meetings.

The district didn’t have the time or necessary staff to ensure that the materials given to school board members could be reviewed and confidential material redacted before meetings, Beagles had told the newspaper and Cindy Wilson, a former school board member requesting the packets.

The newspaper filed a complaint with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.

On Tuesday, the DA’s Office told the newspaper that the school board materials will be posted to the district’s website by 1 p.m. on meeting days.

Shout out to the Luther School Board. By and large, their entire agenda with encumbrances, minutes and other information, is posted online a full day before it legally has to be.

The Town Board meeting was broadcast on Periscope and is available for replay.

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Mayor Taft administers the oath of office to Andy McDaniels

In other meeting news:

Andy McDaniels took the oath of office Tuesday night, the same oath his fellow elected and appointed town board members took to uphold the US Constitution and the Oklahoma Constitution. He was appointed to the board during a special meeting in July to fill the seat left when former Mayor Lea Ann Jackson resigned from the board. Four Town Board member seats will be open during the Spring 2017 municipal election.

  • The board had to backtrack from a decision last month when they voted to raise town business license fees from $50 to $125. Turns out the Board didn’t follow the law because the actual agenda item proposed doubling the fee to $100, not bumping it to $125. So there was a new motion to reflect that. Business fees are $100.
  • The board will let Police Chief Marcus Thurman get a hotel room in Tulsa while he attends an OSBI training about writing criminal reports. Maximum expenditure, $100.
  • Approval to spend $13,610 to refit a 3,000 gallon tanker for the fire department’s main truck.
  • Table & Table. McDaniel suggested that until they had more information or had the town attorney present, the panel should delay decisions on two items, whether to have a parks and recreation committee or clarifying the parameters of who gets charged $100 under a town vendor fee.
  • Josh Smith, a local radio personality, was appointed to the LEDA Board but not before a hearty discussion about the purpose and performance of LEDA, the Luther Economic Development Authority.

 

IMG_6854The Town also sold some of its downtown property, 112 S Main. It’s the building next to the police department.

The Town bought the building from Karl and Beverly White in 2011 for $34,000 and sold it to LPWA for $21,500, according to Oklahoma County records.

Back in December 2015, the board voted to sell the building by listing it with a realtor.

With no other official action, nine months later Mayor Taft opened a bid received for the building’s purchase.

Pam and Jesse Simmons of Luther submitted the bid for $20,000. Pam Simmons said she intends to put in an antique, home decor and clothing store that will also have some booth space for other sellers.

The board approved the bid.  The Simmons say they’ve only been through the building two times but have high hopes to be able to open by year’s end.

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5 Responses “Transparency in Local Government”

  1. Sandra Walls
    August 10, 2016 at 9:51 am

    This doesn’t sound like a town that I would want to live in…transparency?? – maybe/maybe not.

  2. Lela Carter
    August 10, 2016 at 10:23 am

    I agree, the agenda and supporting documentation is public information and should be made available to anyone attending the meeting. Anyone not attending should request material, and be provided, any time after the meeting. Anyone can call the Oklahoma Municipal League and double check the Board. It is the “right” of the public to police your Board.

    On another matter, not knowing, was there a request for bid on the street, to purchase the building. If so, where was it publicized? One sealed bid was opened at the meeting?

  3. P
    August 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

    f the town council acts on the advise of the Oklahoma Municipal League, why do they retain an attorney?

    • A
      August 10, 2016 at 3:55 pm

      Because they don’t always act on the advice. Many times in the past the only one who even took the time to reach out to the OML was Lea Ann Jackson. When she would mention that the OML advised for or against something she was met with the phrase “this is how we have always done it”. When she would bring up that she contacted the OML she was met with sarcasm. Usually the rest of the board was just annoyed.

  4. August 10, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    I have contacted OML before on city council issues from Choctaw. Once they realized I was pursuing an actual issue they dropped all email contact with me and stopped helping me in any way. I am not sure what their actual function is, but I get the distinct impression it is to help run the “Mayoral club” and not to render aide to actual citizens. You can read thru OML minutes and see the items they approve to lobby for or against. Some of them are very telling. For what it’s worth, OML has no say in how actual towns are governed. They can issue all the opinions they want. They don’t set policy.

Have a thought? Please share. And thanks.

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