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OPEN MEETINGS ACT

The Oklahoma Open Meetings Act exists to "encourage and facilitate an informed citizenry's understanding of governmental processes." The idea for the statute was conceived during a period of reform in the late 1950s, culminating during the gubernatorial administration of J. Howard Edmondson. The 1959 Open Meetings Act was revised and amended in 1961, 1967, and 1971. A new law was enacted in 1977 and subsequently revised and amended in 1982, 1988, 1993, 1998, 1999, and 2000. Each revision refined the statute to accommodate new circumstances and more specifically addressed and corrected specific problems in achieving full public access.

Under the terms of the act, all "public bodies," that is, municipalities, county commissions, boards of public and higher education, state agencies, and all state-sponsored boards, commissions, and other groups, must give advance notice of all meetings. Notice must include time, place, and subject matter listed in a specific agenda that gives a true picture of any actions that are contemplated. All votes are to be publicly cast and recorded, and all proceedings must be fully recorded, in writing. Records of the meetings must be available and open to public inspection. Executive sessions are strictly limited to very specific purposes.

The law states that any action taken in violation of the statute is held to be invalid. Violations of the act are a misdemeanor punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. The attorney general of Oklahoma has several times issued opinions clarifying various sections of the Open Meetings Act.

Companion legislation exists in the Open Records Act, which exists to facilitate "review of government records so they [the public] may efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power." In effect, the two statutes are an attempt to regularize and monitor the actions of elected and appointed officials and prevent the abuse of power.

SEE ALSO: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS, POLITICAL SCANDALS

BIBLIOGRAPHY: "A Guide to the 1977 Open Meeting Law" [pamphlet, Oklahoma Press Association, 1979], Vertical Files, Tulsa Public Library, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 16 March 1986. Leroy W. Hawkins, "James Howard Edmondson, Governor of Oklahoma, 1959-1963," in Oklahoma's Governors, 1955-1979: Growth and Reform, ed. LeRoy H. Fischer (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1985). Oklahoma Session Laws, 1977 (St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 1977).

Dianna Everett

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