MARC Dreyer went back to the pulpit. Currie Ballard went back to the prayer closet. One by one, Dreyer, Ballard and other members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board went back to their normal lives after being hit with criminal charges for alleged violation of the state Open Meeting Act.
Here's something else the members did: They resumed their duties in helping determine whether inmates applying for a parole are worthy of one. Just days after being booked and fingerprinted, board members began a typical three-day meeting to consider parole applications. Behind the scenes, their attorneys were preparing to defend them while Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater prepares to try them.
Dreyer is senior pastor at a Baptist church in Tulsa. Ballard, a Langston University historian, told the Tulsa World that he is praying for Prater and believes the prosecutor is “misguided” in this case, a sentiment that we share. The criminal charges were devastating, Ballard said. But like his fellow board members, Ballard refused to take Prater up on his offer to waive charges if they resigned.
A conviction won't necessarily mean the board members will leave the board early. So we ask again: What purpose does it serve for Prater to continue this case? The DA had suggested that the resignations be staggered to ensure continuity of board deliberations. If the DA really believes the members are unfit to serve because of criminal acts, how could he suggest that any of them remain in office?
Continuity of parole hearings is critical, something Prater obviously recognizes. This continuity entered the latest phase with the board's March deliberations at an Oklahoma City correctional facility. It will be on display as well when the board meets beginning Tuesday. On and on it will go, throughout the year, as board members do the heavy lifting on paroles. But their hearts will be heavier as well because they stand accused of criminal acts.
Things didn't have to reach this pass. Prater could have honored the good-faith efforts of board members to correct deficiencies in their transparency.
Dreyer, the board's chairman, called Prater “a man of real integrity.” He said he admires Prater's diligence. “But I think we could have gotten to the same place we'll end up without all this.” We agree.
The “same place” is a compliant public body operating above board and in the open. Prater is to be commended for calling attention to the board's transparency shortcomings. The board took the matter seriously and began changing its procedures. This wasn't enough for Prater, who demanded that the members resign or face charges. The five members refused to leave. Prater refused to back down. And so the members of a state board focused on the post-incarceration fates of criminals are accused of being criminals themselves.
An attorney for Ballard says the prosecution smacks of a witch hunt, hinting that Prater's intransigence is linked to dissatisfaction with particular parole recommendations more than it is to Open Meeting Act violations. We won't go that far. But we do think Prater went too far in this case. If an exit strategy is extant for this set of circumstances, we hope Prater is open to it.
Meantime, Dryer's legs are standing behind the pulpit and Ballard is on his knees in prayer.