Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Oklahoma weekly sees a rash of open-meeting violations, takes stand for open government

A free weekly newspaper in Oklahoma is holding local government leaders accountable for alleged violations of the state's open-meetings law. "Transparency and openness in government are key, which makes it that much more important to hold elected leaders’ feet to the fire so to say," writes William Swaim, the executive editor of the Broken Arrow Ledger. "And maybe even more importantly, for district attorneys or the attorney general to hold these officials accountable for their transgressions." Swaim and the newspaper allege the Manford Public School Board, the Broken Arrow Public School Board and Wagner County commissioners each recently violated the state Open Meeting Act.

When Manford board members closed their doors to talk about a specific employee, instead of identifying that employee they provided a list of all the school system's employees, saying any of them could be discussed. The Broken Arrow board says it only discussed administration organization at a recent closed meeting, not specific employees, and "provided a list of 43 titles on an organizational chart and discussed employees whose titles were listed on the chart," Swaim writes. Joey Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University, told the Ledger the Broken Arrow board was in violation of the law even if it did not discuss specific employees.

In addition to the two school-board meetings, Swaim says the Opening Meeting Act was violated when three Wagoner County commissioners recently met at least three times to discuss county business without providing proper notice of the meeting. "You might be saying to yourself, why so much concern over these violations?" Swaim writes. "The public deserves an open and transparent government, and one that is accountable to the public. It’s a matter of trust. Secrecy breeds mistrust." (Read more)

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