Claremore Daily Progress

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March 12, 2013

State Senate holds secret meeting, breaks custom

OKLAHOMA CITY — At the start of a week set aside for promoting openness in government, the Oklahoma Senate on Monday cleared its gallery of news reporters and observers to hold a secret meeting.

Oklahoma legislators are exempt from the state’s Open Meetings Law, and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said he requested the closed-door executive session to discuss “Senate decorum.” Senate Democratic leader Sean Burrage agreed to the motion.

The Senate sergeants cleared those in attendance from the gallery, including reporters who were covering the Senate from the press gallery, and closed the doors to the Senate floor.

Bingman and Burrage declined to elaborate on the secret session after it ended about 30 minutes later.

"Ironic to say the least,” said Joey Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University, who noted this week is national Sunshine Week, a week dedicated to promoting openness in state government. “Maybe it shows they are clueless that Sunshine Week even exists.

“Hopefully they didn’t do it intentionally to thumb their nose at open government in the state.”

Chief Sergeant Bob Craig, who has worked for the Senate for 43 years, said it’s been more than two decades since the Senate went into executive session, although he said it was once a common occurrence.

“They used to do it quite often,” Craig said.

Among the Senate rules is a Code of Conduct that requires members to refer to each other as “Senator” and to “avoid personal attacks and dealing in personalities.” The 48-member Senate has eight freshman members and 20 who are in their first four-year term.

Sunday was the start of Sunshine Week, when news organizations promote open government and freedom of information.

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