Members of four new DHS citizens' advisory panels received a memorable introduction to Oklahoma's Open Meeting Act on Wednesday.
Assistant Attorney General Jan Preslar cautioned them that if she began her speech on the law when she was initially introduced, she would be in violation of the law, itself.
The problem, Preslar explained, was that the agenda for Wednesday's meeting stated that her presentation was to begin at 10:45 a.m. and that time was still several minutes away when she was invited to take the podium.
“Let's take a 5-minute break,” said Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake.
Members of the citizens' advisory panels were told they must conduct their meetings in public to comply with the Open Meeting Act. They must also comply with the Open Records Act.
Failure to do so is serious business that can carry penalties of up to a year in jail and a $500 fine, she said.
“The Open Meeting Act is so that the public knows what you're doing,” Preslar said.
She cautioned panelists that violations can occur in unexpected ways.
For example, if a DHS staff member emails information to panel members and one of the panelists sends a response by clicking the “reply all” button, that would be a violation, she said. The violation occurs because it would be a communication about DHS business with all panel members outside of a public meeting, she said.
Preslar told panelists they should have a DHS staff member send out communications scheduling meetings and sharing information, rather than doing it directly with each other by email, to avoid violating the law.
“The whole purpose of the Open Meeting Act is so that the public can see what you're doing,” she said.
“If you have email meetings, electronic meetings outside the view of the public, they can't see what you're doing.”
Preslar's presentation prompted a quip from Lake.
“You certainly got my attention,” Lake said. “No matter how hungry you are, you won't get lunch until 11:45 a.m.”
That was the time specified for lunch on the agenda.