Okemah City Council members plead ‘not guilty’ to Open Meeting Act charges

UPDATE: June 13, 2017. News courtesy of Okemah News Leader: Lincoln County District Attorney Richard L. Smothermon filed a motion June 9 to dismiss the charges with prejudice and with costs. Creek County Special Judge Pam Hammers signed the motion. The motion was filed at the Okfuskee County Courthouse on June 12.

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Okemah councilmen Lloyd L. RaimerWayne J. Bacon and Bobby G. Massey pled “not guilty” last week to misdemeanor charges that they violated the state Open Meeting Act, the Okemah News Leader reported.

They are accused of privately discussing public business among themselves after a June meeting.

Their next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 29.

Violating the Open Meeting Act is 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))

Bacon previously told the newspaper that the charges are politically motivated and that he did not willfully  break the law.

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)

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)

 

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
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.

One thought on “Okemah City Council members plead ‘not guilty’ to Open Meeting Act charges

  1. This is no surprise. Henryetta councilmen vote on amendments all day long without any discussion during the council meeting. Then there was approval of a 5 year capital expenditure budget with no discussion. Citizens have no idea where their funds are going for 5 years. So are councilmen voting “blind” or have they discussed the matters elsewhere.

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