Three of Okemah’s five City Council members are accused of violating the state Open Meeting Act by privately discussing public business among themselves after a June meeting, the Okemah News Leader has reported.
They are scheduled to appear before Associate District Judge David Martin on Dec. 15.
Violating the Open Meeting Act is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and one year in the county jail. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 25, § 314)
Under the statute, a quorum of a public body may not discuss public business outside of a posted meeting. (OKLA. STAT tit. 25, §, 304(2))
The newspaper reported that according to the probable cause affidavit, Bacon, Massey and Raimer discussed city business with other people in the back of the council chambers following adjournment of the council’s June 22 meeting.
An OSBI investigation into the allegation was requested by Okfuskee County District Attorney Max Cook.
The newspaper reported that Raimer had no comment following the arrest while Massey and Bacon denied any wrongdoing. Bacon told the newspaper that the charges are politically motivated.
“How it was stated [in the report] is not how it occurred. I did not willfully break the law,” he told the newspaper.
In prosecuting a violation of the Open Meeting Act, the district attorney need only prove a willful failure to comply. Criminal intent need not be proved because the conduct is illegal by virtue of the statute, the Court of Criminal Appeals has said. (Hillary v. State, 1981 OK CR 78, ¶ 5)
In other words, a crime exists because the statute deemed the conduct to be wrong.
The Act also does not require prosecutors to prove injury “to establish a prima facie case of a violation,” the court said. (Id. ¶ 8)
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has said that under the Open Meeting Act, “Willfulness does not require a showing of bad faith, malice, or wantonness, but rather, encompasses conscious, purposeful violations of the law or blatant or deliberate disregard of the law by those who know, or should know the requirements of the Act.” (Rogers v. Excise Bd. of Greer County, 1984 OK 95, ¶ 14)
Nearly four years ago, the Okemah City Council was criticized for appointing a new member in an apparent violation of the Open Meeting Act because the action wasn’t listed on the meeting agenda. After questions were raised about the appointment, that councilman resigned and the council sought applications for a replacement.
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, its board of directors or the commentator’s employer. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.