The five members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board have been given until 5 p.m. Friday to decide whether or not they are willing to resign to avoid criminal charges, The Oklahoman has learned.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater notified the parole board in August that he had concluded it blatantly violated the Open Meeting Act. His investigators have been sifting through parole board records for months looking for evidence to support dozens of misdemeanor charges.
The district attorney decided to offer the board members a chance to resign — in carefully structured stages — to prevent the entire parole system from being shut down, sources told The Oklahoman.
Prater also made the offer in case some board members may not have realized they were breaking the law, sources said.
Prater also wants the board's longtime executive director, Terry Jenks, to step down, sources said. Jenks already had been planning to retire.
At least one board member already has decided he won't quit. Others are considering what to do.
“I'm not going anywhere,” board member Currie Ballard said Wednesday. “Until Christ Jesus calls me home, I'll be on the parole board. We haven't committed a crime. Knowingly violated the law, we have not done that.”
He said the board has tried to correct the issues involving the Open Meeting Act. He said, just like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was, “if I got to be chastised by the government when I know I'm right — when I know I'm right — so be it.”
Ballard said Prater has been added to the prayer list at Ballard's church, Salters Chapel AME in Langston.
The board's defense attorney, Mack Martin, of Oklahoma City, met with Prater on Jan. 18. Martin then met with board members individually last week at his law office to communicate the offer.
Both Prater and Martin declined Wednesday to comment on the offer.
“The rules of professional conduct do not allow me to discuss proposed plea agreements,” Prater said.
Prater alleges the board acted illegally about 50 times in the last three years when it took up early release requests without proper public notice. Prater in a letter in August wrote the board's “violations in this matter are egregious, aggravated and a clear attempt to operate in secrecy, outside of public scrutiny.”
The punishment for a violation of the Open Meeting Act is a $500 fine and a year in jail.
Board Chairman Marc Dreyer, a Tulsa minister, declined Wednesday night to discuss the prosecutor's offer directly.
Reached after a Bible study, Dreyer said, “We have a lot of things to do and I don't think my work is finished but I am aware that there are concerns that have been raised about the operations of the board. We'll just have to see how that all plays out. I do not believe the board has done anything wrong.”
Board member Richard Dugger, a former district attorney, has hired his own attorney, John Coyle, of Oklahoma City.
“It's really unfair that they're put in this position,” Coyle said Wednesday of Prater's offer.
The attorney said Dugger is considering the offer but does not believe he did anything wrong.
“They never intended to do anything wrong,” Coyle said. “All they've tried to do is help the citizens of Oklahoma, and the people that are incarcerated, to do the right thing by them. And it's a difficult balance and a difficult job.”
Coyle also said, “It seems to me there would be a better way to solve this problem.”
Board members David Moore and Lynnell Harkins could not be reached for comment Wednesday night despite multiple calls to their cellphones.
The five board members were appointed to their voluntary positions and are not full-time.