Charges against parole board members may do more harm than good
INMATES become parolees largely through the work of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. Members of this board now face the prospect of becoming inmates themselves because a prosecutor refuses to accept their good-faith effort to let more light shine on board proceedings.
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What Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has done in filing charges against parole board members will have a chilling effect on the willingness of citizens to serve on public boards for little or no remuneration. The misdemeanor charges can be seen as putting public servants on notice that open meetings and open records aren't optional but mandatory. That's good. But demanding the resignation of parole board members as a condition for waiving charges wasn't justified in this case.
Ironically, if convicted the members could stay on the board. So the same people Prater says have “willfully” violated the Open Meeting Act might still be serving on a board operating under new procedures because of their equally willful determination to follow the law.
“It is difficult to imagine,” Gov. Mary Fallin said, “men and women who are leaders in their communities wishing to serve in these positions — the vast majority of which draw no salary — if they are constantly in fear of being charged with a crime while making a good-faith effort to follow the law and the recommendations of their paid legal advisers.”
This is not a straw man argument. Finding people to serve on any board is difficult. Finding them to serve on a board that requires hundreds of hours of study and meetings each year is especially difficult. Yet the names of these five parole board members were likely unknown to most Oklahomans until Prater began his investigation last year. Lest you still don't know their names, here they are:
Currie Ballard, a historian.
Marc Dreyer, a Baptist minister.
Richard L. Dugger, a former district attorney.