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Woodward foundation must hold open meetings, Woodward County district attorney says

The Woodward Industrial Foundation must comply with the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, Woodward County District Attorney Hollis Thorp said Wednesday. A Woodward nurse had challenged the foundation's policy of holding meetings closed to the public.
by Randy Ellis Published: September 6, 2012

WOODWARD — The Woodward Industrial Foundation must open its meetings to the public, Woodward County District Attorney Hollis Thorp said Wednesday.

Melissa Pittman, a 44-year-old Woodward nurse, filed a complaint with Thorp after she was blocked from attending an Aug. 8 Woodward Industrial Foundation meeting.

“Our police chief, Harvey Rutherford, greeted me at the door and told me I could not enter. I asked him why and he said it was because it was a closed meeting,” said Pittman, who has been at odds with the foundation over its secretive policies since February.

Pittman said Rutherford was polite, but she disagreed with what he was saying so she asked the district attorney's office to investigate.

“I'm here to represent the people,” Pittman said. “I'm a single mom. I've fought the battles up and down, but I stand my ground.”

The foundation must comply with the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act in its future meetings, Thorp stated Wednesday.

Thorp said this is the first time he has issued an opinion on the issue so he doesn't plan to seek criminal charges against anyone for past violations.

Pittman said she is satisfied with that decision because it is possible board members didn't know the meetings should be public.

Rutherford and LaVern Phillips, president of the Woodward Industrial Foundation, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Records the foundation files with the Internal Revenue Service show the foundation received more than $3.4 million in revenue in the tax year that ended March 31. Phillips received a base salary of $120,413 from the foundation and total current and deferred compensation of $160,827.

Pittman said her difficulties with the foundation began last February when she was considering running for city commissioner and wanted to know more about city government.

Pittman said she noticed the city had been paying $27,000 a month to the industrial foundation so she decided to go to Phillips and inquire about how those tax dollars were being used.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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