THE Oklahoma attorney general's office performs an important service with the occasional seminars it conducts regarding open meetings and open records. Maybe members of the board that governs the Department of Human Services can find time to check one out.
The Human Services Commission got spanked last week when the attorney general's office said the board should have allowed more public comment before voting at its June meeting to increase the co-payment paid by low-income parents and caregivers for child care. That seems like common sense, but the board instead voted for the increase as part of its budget for the new fiscal year.
The commission eventually decided to delay the effective date of the increase until Nov. 1.
That same meeting got the attention of Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who said clearer language was needed on agenda items. Prater also has expressed strong concern about complaints raised by Commissioner Steven Dow, who said, among other things, that the commission never officially returns from executive sessions and votes publicly about matters discussed therein. Dow also complained that there have been times when commissioners left meetings after the executive session, and the commission's clerks called members to get their vote to adjourn.
Not reconvening for public votes “falls short of what is required,” Prater said in a letter this month to commission Chairman Richard DeVaughn. DHS's general counsel said officials didn't believe they had violated the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, and they have pledged to be more specific with their agenda items.
DeVaughn's testimony in a lawsuit filed against DHS by an out-of-state advocacy group indicated the Open Meeting Act could be a hassle. He said various committees within the commission are kept to four members, because five would require having to comply with the act. Those committees sometimes meet with fairly short notice “and to conform to the Open Meeting Act, it would be a pretty onerous task,” he said.