Piedmont City Council considers disbanding police department in possibly illegal secret meeting

The Piedmont City Council discussed getting rid of its police department and heard a presentation from Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards this week during a closed-door session that may have been illegal.
BY BRYAN DEAN bdean@opubco.com Modified: August 31, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: August 31, 2013
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— Police Chief Alex Oblein doesn't know why city council members are considering getting rid of his department in favor of using county sheriff's deputies.

Piedmont City Council members held a questionable closed-door session this week to discuss the matter and hear a presentation from Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards on taking over policing duties. One councilman, Donnie Robinson, refused to take part in the executive session because he didn't think it was legal.

“I felt like some of the stuff that was on the agenda should have been done in an open meeting,” Robinson said. “I didn't feel like I could go into executive session under those circumstances. I didn't feel it was proper.”

Council members did not take a vote on the matter.

Edwards said Friday he doesn't know how the item was listed on the agenda or whether it was legal. He said he gave council members a presentation and answered their questions.

“They wanted a bid on contracting the public safety or law enforcement there in Piedmont to possibly compare to their current budget,” Edwards said. “They asked me to bring a proposal to the council meeting, and they called me into the room and asked me to give it to them and explain it to them.”

City Attorney Mike Segler told council members the agenda item, which was labeled “discussion on police contracts,” was vague but fulfilled the requirements of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.

Robinson disagreed. The agenda cited a section of the law that allows for executive sessions to discuss negotiations with employee unions.

Open government expert Joey Senat, an Oklahoma State University journalism professor, said a presentation by the sheriff would not qualify as employee negotiations because the sheriff is not an employee or a representative of employees.

“That exception is intended for negotiating with a union, not to take a bid from another elected official,” Senat said. “There is no reason they shouldn't have discussed that in open session.”

Canadian County District Attorney Mike Fields said he will look into the legality of the meeting if he gets any complaints from the public. Violating the open meeting act is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $500.

“If some citizens have concerns that the open meeting act was violated, they can either make an official incident report with a law enforcement agency or they can submit that directly to the district attorney's office, and then we will consider appropriate action after we've evaluated their complaints,” Fields said.

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