A few years ago a city council member opened his council packet to review the materials slated for discussion in the upcoming city council meeting.

Dale was the only veteran on the council at that time as the other four council members, including the mayor, were all recently elected to the council.

To Dale’s surprise, there was an agenda item on the council’s agenda for “discussion and possible action on dismissal of the city’s attorney.”

After some research, Dale could not find anything in previous packets nor in past council meeting minutes dealing with the city attorney and any complaints against him.

It was a well known fact the new council members had a grudge with the city attorney due to some legal advise he had given the previous group of council members. Now it seemed they were ready to act on that grudge.

When the council came to the agenda item at their next meeting, Dale objected to the item, asking the pointed questions, “When did we discuss this? At what meeting did we discuss any concern over the city attorney and the fact we might want to fire him?”

The mayor quickly responded with, “You should have been at the OML meeting!”

The OML meeting was a recent Oklahoma Municipal League workshop where all new council members from all over the state met to learn about city government and the Open Meetings and Records Act.

The mayor’s statement was a clear admission that the other council members had discussed the city attorney’s job performance and dismissing him while at the OML conference, which was a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act.

Realizing his blunder, the mayor and the other council members quickly denied they had “met in secret” at the OML meeting.

The evidence proved different.

The local newspaper began an investigation into the matter. Through interviews with others who attended the OML meeting and some of the speakers at the meeting it was discovered the other four council members had asked specific questions about dismissing the city attorney to other council members from other cities, questioned speakers on the subject and were seen passing notes concerning the subject to each other during the meeting.

How did the newspaper discover the content of the notes? Since the OML required city council members attending the conference to sit apart from each other, they had to pass notes to each other by passing the notes to other council members from other cities.

One of the first notes that was passed around wasn’t folded, revealing the content of the note. When the newspaper received a seating assignment chart for the conference the reporter began calling some of the other council members at the conference.

One council member stated to the newspaper when the note was given to him to pass on he glanced at the note, thinking it was for him. The note was from one of the council members in question to another, instructing him to ask the speaker a specific question on how to go about dismissing a city employee.

Other evidence uncovered by the newspaper revealed the four council members’ intent. The city manager’s secretary was the person responsible for creating the council’s agenda for each meeting.

The city manager or a council member would advise her of various items they would like to have on the agenda and she would add those items on the agenda per their instructions.

Fortunately, she was known for being meticulous about keeping notes given to her by the city manager or council members. The newspaper took a gamble and placed an Open Records request for all documents pertaining to the creation of that particular agenda where the city attorney’s job was to be discussed.

It was discovered that when she sent the preliminary agenda to the council and city manager, the mayor e-mailed her back stating he had another item to add to the agenda but wouldn’t finalize the item until “after the OML meeting.”

After the OML meeting, the mayor e-mailed her again requesting the city attorney item be added to the agenda.

Public bodies are required by law to discuss all items of business in open session, except for those items that should be discussed in executive session. They can’t meet at the local coffee shop, poll each other or conduct any business outside the realms of an open meeting.

To read the entire Open Meetings Act go to the Daily Democrat’s web site and click on the Open Meeting Act link.

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