Claremore Daily Progress

July 29, 2011

City refutes allegations of illegal closed-door meetings

Cassie Woods
Claremore Executive Officer

CLAREMORE — Dear Editor,

The Claremore Progress recently alleged an executive session held by the trustees of the Claremore Public Works Authority (CPWA) was unlawful.  The purpose of the executive session was to confer on matters pertaining to economic development and the creation of a proposal to entice a business to locate to the city. 

Upon learning of the Progress’s allegations, city staff sought the advice and counsel of the City Attorney, as well as other available resources. 

The city’s legal counsel contacted the District Attorney’s Office and advised the DA’s office of the agenda item and the intended purpose of the executive session.  The DA’s office is the authority responsible for prosecuting charges for violations of the Open Meetings Act; therefore, the city consulted with the DA’s office in good faith effort to ensure any concerns could be discussed prior to the meeting.  No such concerns were raised. 

The City also contacted the Oklahoma Municipal League and found it was the opinion of both of their attorneys the City did nothing wrong by planning or holding the executive session and such executive sessions are proper and authorized by law.  These attorneys specialize in municipal affairs and provide expert advice on these matters.   

Research by city staff prior to the executive session showed dozens of cities, public trusts and development authorities across the state regularly convene in executive session to create proposals for businesses. 

These sessions are part of the ordinary course of business and allow cities to negotiate in the public interest, without tipping their hand about their willingness to offer incentives.

The main disagreement between the City and the newspaper is what the City is considered according to the State Statute.  The newspaper believes only non-profits can hold an executive session under that section. 

The words “public trust” are also clearly outlined in that section.  Because the executive session was an agenda item on the CPWA agenda and not the City Council Agenda, the governing board was acting as a public trust and not a city council.  It clearly states that executive sessions are completely legal if those public trusts are “supported in whole or in part by public funds (which the CPWA is); entrusted with the expending of public funds (which the CPWA is); or administering public property (which the CPWA is); for purposes of conferring on matter pertaining to economic development (which the executive session did), including the transfer of property, financing, or the creation of a proposal to entice a business to locate within their jurisdiction (the specific purpose of the executive session) if public disclosure of the matter discussed would interfere with the development of products or services, or if public disclosure would violate the confidence of the business (which it would).”

The City of Claremore, with the help of Senator Sean Burrage and Representative Marty Quinn, has requested a formal Attorney General’s opinion on the matter.  The City has been advised it could take three to six months to receive a response.