In what may be s a violation of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Law, Pittsburg County Commissioners decided, outside of a public meeting, to change a long standing policy allowing the public to add items to the commissioner’s meeting agenda.
“If outside of a public meeting even two of the three commissioners discussed (or made a decision on) changing the policy or practice, then they violated the Open Meeting Act,” said Joey Senat, Ph.D. associate professor at Oklahoma State University School of Media and Strategic Communications.
Commission Chairman Gene Rogers said the change was made to keep the commissioner’s meetings from turning into a “public side-show.”
The decision was made after the commissioners attended a class on “Open Meeting Laws” during conference the commissioners attended recently, according Kevin Smith district 2 commissioner.
According to the new unwritten policy, Pittsburg County Commissioners decided that citizens wishing to place an item on the agenda must first discuss it with their district commissioner. If the commissioner decides it is a valid item, then it will be placed on the next agenda, however if the commissioner says no,then the item will not be placed on the agenda.
“They can take it up at election time,”Smith said.
The new policy was revealed during a break in Monday’s regular meeting of the Pittsburg County Commissioners at the Pittsburg County Courthouse when Patricia Garvin of Bucks of Gaines Creek, asked the commissioners why she wasn’t able have her item added to the agenda. She said she was concerned because she saw her district commissioner and his men doing work on what appeared to be private property and she said she had other unresolved issues she needed to discuss. After calling the commissioner’s office to be added to the agenda, she was told to call her commissioner Ronnie Young, who denied her request. Then she contacted Gene Rogers, commission chairman, and he also denied her request. Garvin said she was frustrated that her elected officials would not allow her to speak publicly at the meeting about her issues with her commissioner.
“This is not resolved and I’m not going away,” Garvin said.
Smith said with the new policy, only items that need to be acted on by the entire commissioners board will be allowed on the agenda.
“If it’s a board issue, it will be put on the agenda, if it just has to do with one commissioner, then you will have to contact that commissioner.”
Recent commissioner’s meetings have brought several citizens and employees to speak out on different issues ranging from the Pittsburg County Animal Shelter to complaints of heavy trucks running unchecked on county roads and public complaints of county workers grading a road leading to a fishing hole.
Meanwhile, Professor Senat said the commissioners seem to be trying to limit public involvement at the public meetings.
“Just because it's not required, doesn't mean it's not good government,” Senat said. “Seems as though they're trying to lessen public involvement in county government. That’s an awful big change to make without public discussion.”
Also attending Monday’s meeting was District 3 Commissioner Ronnie Young.
Pittsburg County Commissioners meet every Monday at 9 a.m. in the county commissioners conference room at the Pittsburg County Courthouse. The meetings are open to the public.
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