A review of public records shows Enid city commissioners may have appointed dozens of board and committee members in violation of the state Open Meeting Act.
Since June 2013, commissioners made at least 35 appointments without announcing the votes or including them in the minutes, which could run afoul of state law. Earlier records were not immediately available.
Two current members of Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, including its vice chairman, were re-appointed to their position without a publicly recorded vote by the city’s senior elected officials. MAPC has some authority over development within the city and surrounding area.
The entire membership of two new committees was appointed by the so-called secret ballot process: the Visual Arts Commission and Public Access Television Advisory Board. Four of the most recent Park Board appointees were named by secret ballot.
In past meetings, city commissioners would listen to applicants’ speeches and mark their choices on a piece of paper. Those ballots then were counted by a staff member and the person with the greatest support was considered the appointee.
The ballots include a space for each commissioner to write his or her initials.
Mayor Bill Shewey indicated last week the commission might consider using a “secret ballot” process to appoint a replacement for the vacant Ward 2 seat. After an expert on open records and meetings questioned that process, however, Shewey said he would seek guidance from the city attorney.
Enid City Attorney Andrea Chism contests the assertion and said through a spokesman that Enid does not vote by “secret ballot.” She then said anyone wanting to know how the commissioners voted only has to submit an open-records request.
That response, according to the open meetings expert, is “disingenuous at best” and describes a secret vote.
“That’s defeating — if not the letter of the law, which I think it is — but also the spirit of the statute. They’re required to follow both,” said Joey Senat, associate professor at the Oklahoma State University School of Media and Strategic Communications.
The city had not responded to another request for comment late Wednesday.
Senat said votes taken without public announcement are a violation. In a blog post reacting to a previous story on this issue, Senat said every previous appointment made by secret ballot is invalid by state law.
“The Open Meeting Act clearly forbids secret ballots by public bodies,” Senat wrote on the Freedom of Information Oklahoma website. “Otherwise, the members of these public bodies couldn’t be held accountable for how they vote.”
State law mandates that “in all meetings of public bodies, the vote of each member must be publicly cast and recorded.” The Oklahoma Supreme Court has upheld an earlier but similar version of the law, Senat wrote.
“The requirement is it be publicly cast and recorded,” he said Wednesday. “If it’s not in the minutes of the meeting and it’s not announced at the meeting, how is that publicly cast if you have to go make an open records request to find it?”
Update: Speaking at an Open Meetings and Records Act seminar in Woodward Thursday, First Assistant Attorney General Tom Bates commented on the issue raised by the Enid City Commission's appointments procedure.
"The votes of each board member must be publicly cast and noted in the minutes," he said.
Woodward News staff writer Rachael Van Horn contributed to this story.