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Update: Problematic Agenda Items

In January’s newsletter article, I discussed legal proceedings the City of Norman faced over a City Council agenda item alleged to have violated the Open Meetings Act. At issue was the following item from the City Council’s June 16, 2020, special meeting:

  • Consideration and adoption of the FYE 2021 City of Norman proposed operating and capital budgets and the Norman Convention and Visitors Bureau, Inc., budget with detailed annual plan of work.

The vote taken under this agenda item resulted in a budget cut of $865,000 to the Norman Police Department. Afterward, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) sued the City of Norman alleging, among other things, a violation of the Act. The FOP argued that there was not sufficient notice provided on the agenda for the public to know that a potential defunding could occur.

Cleveland County District Court Judge Thomas Baldwin agreed with the FOP, finding that an individual reading the agenda language in question would not have understood that the vote could result in a modification, reallocation or defunding of the police department’s budget. As a result, the Council’s action was invalidated.  

The City of Norman appealed the judgment, and the matter was taken up by the Oklahoma State Supreme Court. In mid-April, the Court unanimously upheld Judge Baldwin’s ruling, concluding that:

  • City's agenda did not provide sufficient notice of the June 16, 2020 special meeting as required by the Open Meeting Act. We find that the language used in the agenda was deceptively vague and likely to mislead regarding the meeting and was therefore a willful violation of the Act. Due to City's failure to post a valid notice under the Open Meeting Act, City's amendment of the city budget and subsequent approval of the amended budget is invalid. We find there are no disputes as to any material facts and Plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The district court's order granting summary judgment is affirmed.

This matter, while not a school issue, is a good example of why it’s critical for public boards to use the utmost care when crafting meeting agendas. As seen time and again with public bodies, including school boards, agendas are subject to scrutiny and legal action, perhaps especially so when the business being transacted is controversial.

Terri Thomas

Director, Legal Services

Terri Thomas serves as Director of Legal Services for OPSRC. Ms. Thomas is an attorney practicing exclusively in the area of Oklahoma school law, with a primary focus on rural and smaller school districts. Prior to OPSRC, she served as legal counsel for the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools (OROS).

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