I recently received an assistance request from an individual worried about an impending action by a state agency. He was afraid they were about to approve a policy permitting a certain group of people to ignore a recently approved state law. He wanted to view the agenda of the agency’s next board meeting but couldn’t find the agenda on the agency’s website. Without this information, he couldn’t know when or where the meeting was taking place or even what topics the board would discuss at that meeting.
All too often, state agency board meetings take place in environments that, while technically accessible to the public, in fact provide little public purview. These meetings are presented in conference rooms tucked away in the recesses of government bureaucracies across the state.
Imagine the plight of the Idabel businessman regulated by a state agency that holds meetings in a conference room in Shepherd Mall in Oklahoma City. That businessman’s license to practice potentially depends on the benevolence of the agency. Should he really be forced to commute 3 1/2 hours every month to Oklahoma City to attend those meetings? Aside from the cost of travel, this would mean giving up an entire day of productivity at his business.
Consider the situation of a constituent who lives south of Guthrie. He held a private security license and was forced to answer questions from the state agency that regulates his profession. Inexplicably, that agency has its headquarters in the not-so-centrally located town of Ada. Security officers do not make a lot of money, and traveling to Ada is a tremendous inconvenience.
The current version of Oklahoma’s Open Meeting Act was initially signed in 1977, but It’s no longer 1977. It’s time for the act to evolve to the next level and for state agency meetings to utilize technology to truly provide public access.
I believe that state agency board meetings of the future must be recorded, placed online and remain forever publicly accessible through a centralized repository.
I also suggest members of the public who wish to participate in the meeting should be allowed to do so via video conference. Rapidly evolving technologies have made this possible at little to no expense to state agencies. In this way, the Idabel businessman would be allowed to provide input without having to travel or take a day off work. The Guthrie security officer could speak directly to the board without traveling to Ada.
In addition, a historical reference point will be established when these meetings are placed online. When a governing board extends a promise, it will be online for everyone to see forever. This will provide true accountability by the government to its citizens.
Additionally, the public will have purview of the meeting at the convenience of their own time and schedules. No longer must they take time away from their busy schedules because the data will be publicly accessible online.
I suggest that the Secretary of State’s online portal provide a potential web-based repository for archived state agency footage. The Secretary of State currently serves as the curator for state agency meeting notices and this would be a logical extension of that service.
This important concept could advance through legislation as soon as the 2014 session and will codify the next logical evolution of Oklahoma’s Open Meetings Act.
REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at email@example.com.