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Ryal school board may have violated open meeting laws, attorney says

An attorney representing suspended Ryal Public Schools superintendent Scot Trower said the district's school board violated open meeting laws when it took action against his client Monday night.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: March 6, 2013 at 9:51 pm •  Published: March 7, 2013

— An attorney representing suspended Ryal Public Schools Superintendent Scot Trower said the district's school board violated state open meeting laws when it took action against his client Monday night.

Trower was suspended with pay following the meeting as school board members continue to investigate unflattering comments the administrator made about the Ryal community during an interview with The Oklahoman last month for a story about how the district has been academically successful despite various hurdles.

Richard O'Carroll, an attorney representing Trower, said the school board broke the law Monday on at least two occasions. He also said Trower does not deserve to be suspended for making candid but truthful remarks.

“For 48 hours, they have to post the agenda so the community is advised as to what action is going to be taken,” he said of Monday's meeting. “That didn't happen here.”

An attorney for the school district said there was no apparent violation of open meeting laws.

The agenda, which is available on the school district's website, does not mention Trower by name or make reference to any kind of action regarding his employment.

Trower's suspension was discussed during “New Business,” one of the last items listed on the school board's agenda for Monday night's meeting, O'Carroll said.

“I've been doing this for 20 years,” he said. “That is unusual.”

The school board further violated the state's open meeting laws by allowing a “non-school board member,” a man named Wallace Gambler, to participate in an executive session where it was ultimately decided that Trower would be suspended with pay, O'Carroll said.

He described Gambler as a well-respected member of the local Indian community — “an elder.”

The Ryal School Board has three members, but Monday night one seat was officially vacant due to a recent resignation, O'Carroll said.

“(Gambler) was not a board member when he was deliberating,” he said. “There had been no votes, no election, no assignment, no appointment. He was never sworn in.”

Andy Fugitt, an attorney representing the Ryal School Board, said the allegations made by Trower's attorney are apparently unfounded.

“If my understanding is correct, this was a regular meeting and the Open Meeting Act does allow boards to take up new business at a regular meeting,” Fugitt said. “It's my understanding this was new business.”

As for Gambler's participation in the executive session, Fugitt said he didn't “know anything about that.”

Even if Gambler was there, he said it likely wouldn't make the meeting illegal.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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