The state Attorney General’s Office admitted Friday that it gave incorrect advice to the new Workers’ Compensation Commission about the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.
Because of that admission, a criminal investigation of the commission now will be dropped, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said Friday.
“That resolves my review of the situation,” Prater said. “Our case is closed.”
The admission by the Attorney General’s Office does not resolve all of the commission’s problems, however.
The Open Meeting Act states that any action taken in willful violation of its provisions “shall be invalid.”
The commission has been under fire recently for several closed-door meetings it has held concerning matters ranging from the commission’s budget to a presentation by a potential vendor. The commission also created a furor when it terminated 16 employees.
It was unclear late Friday what, if any, commission actions may be declared void and what remedial actions may be required.
Commission Chairman Troy Wilson announced late Wednesday that the commission would start over on the bid process to purchase an electronic data interchange system for the agency because of questions that were raised about a closed-door informational meeting between one potential vendor and commissioners.
Staff members of the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services had cautioned commission employees before the meeting that allowing commissioners to attend the closed meeting with the vendor would appear to violate the Open Meeting Act.
Wilson told The Oklahoman on Wednesday that commissioners were following the advice of Assistant Attorney General Ted Rossier, who serves as the commission’s general counsel, when they conducted meetings where the public was excluded. Rossier attended those meetings, Wilson said.
Friday, the Attorney General’s Office admitted some incorrect advice was given.
“When concerns were raised about the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s compliance with open meetings, the Attorney General’s Office began conducting a thorough review of the advice given to the commission to determine if it was correct,” Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office said in a prepared statement. “We have determined that some of the advice given, particularly as it relates to the Open Meeting Act, was incorrect. We will discuss with the Workers’ Compensation Commission actions necessary to correct the situation going forward.”
Aaron Cooper, Pruitt’s director of communications, declined to be more specific about what incorrect advice was given and what corrective actions will be necessary.
Friday’s admission was surprising, since the Attorney General’s Office frequently advises state agencies concerning compliance with the Open Meeting Act and provides educational presentations on the topic. Pruitt has urged state agencies to utilize his agency for legal counsel rather than hiring their own lawyers.