Chickasha’s former city manager has accused city officials of open government violations centered around his firing in early October.
In a lawsuit filed Oct. 24, Alan Guard said officials violated the state Open Records Act by refusing to provide him documents the City Council had relied upon to fire him. He also said the City Council violated the Open Meeting Act by not providing enough public notice of the Oct. 10 special meeting at which they fired him.
The lawsuit was filed in Grady County District Court. But on Thursday, the city moved the case to the federal district court in Oklahoma City based on Guard’s claims that the city violated his rights under the federal First and 14th amendments.
Guard is asking that a judge invalidate the council’s decision to fire him, order the minutes of the meeting’s executive session be made public and grant him access to the investigation records that led to his firing.
He also is asking that City Council members be removed from office for violating a city charter provision prohibiting them from interfering with or becoming involved with personnel matters or the direct administration of the city. Council members forfeit their office for violating the provision, according to the lawsuit.
Guard’s lawsuit alleges city officials violated the Open Records by denying him access to documents, including any investigative report, regarding his firing.
City officials said the records were confidential because they discussed other employees and weren’t part of his personnel file, according to the lawsuit.
Guard’s lawsuit argues that the documents were used to fire him and, therefore, should be part of his personnel file. The Open Records Act grants each public employee “a right of access to his own personnel file.” (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.7(C))
Guard’s claim is supported by a 1986 Oklahoma attorney general opinion that said, “Personnel investigations such as background investigations are necessarily deemed a part of the personnel file.” (1986 OK AG 39, ¶ 3)
The attorney general said employees of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation were entitled to review as a part of their personnel files any materials gathered in the background investigation of them.
Moreover, OSBI could not withhold the names of confidential informants who had provided information for criminal background checks of its employees unless the informant objected and then the agency determined on a case-by-case basis that the release of that name would damage the confidential informant. (¶ 16)
Guard also claims that the City Council violated the Open Meeting Act’s requirement that 48-hour public notice be given for special meetings. The council posted on a Friday (Oct. 7) that the special meeting would be held on Monday (Oct. 10).
However, unlike the language for posting agendas 24 hours in advance, the statute’s language for giving public notice of special meetings doesn’t exclude weekends and holidays. (Okla. Stat. tit. 25, sec. 311(11))
In other words, the city met the 48-hour requirement by giving more than 72 hours notice of the special meeting.
Read The Chickasha Express Star coverage of the lawsuit: Guard targets city council members removal with suit
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications
Mass Communication Law in Oklahoma