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.
“I was asking a simple question that any concerned citizen should ask,” she said. “When I did that, I got shut down completely. I got treated horribly from that point on.”
Denied access to information, Pittman said she decided to apply for membership in the foundation.
Pitman said she offered to pay the membership fee sometime around March, but was told she would have to go through a lengthy application process that could take months and would involve obtaining approval from the executive committee and the entire governing board.
Pittman said she submitted her application but hasn't received a decision yet. She said the membership fee is $150 a year, although she's been told it may have been cheaper when she first inquired about membership.
“I have been given every excuse in the moon from them,” she said.
The Woodward Industrial Foundation is the latest of several boards to be accused of violating Oklahoma's Open Meeting Act.
In August, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater announced he was investigating whether the state Pardon and Parole Board has been violating the Open Meeting Act by bringing up inmates for early release consideration under an agenda item labeled “docket modification.”
The previous month, the state Department of Human Services was accused of violating the Open Meeting Act by bringing up a plan to close a Pauls Valley residential center for developmentally disabled adults after telling a parent-guardian group it would not be discussed.
The plan was brought up under an agenda item labeled “property committee report.”
And in April, the state auditor and inspector criticized the Delaware County town of Bernice for voting behind closed doors and other possible Open Meeting Act violations.