(Update: A link has been added to the OU Regents meeting minutes website for the September 2016 document. While it initial directed to an error message, the minutes are now available for download as of about 2 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1.)
The OU Board of Regents is scheduled to meet 2 p.m. today at the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. As of Wednesday evening, the public has no access to minutes detailing the board’s previous two meetings, and attempts by NonDoc to access those minutes have been unsuccessful.
Today’s agenda (below) does not specify where the board will meet inside the football stadium.
In Title 25, Section 312, the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act offers a short description of how a meeting’s proceedings shall be recorded and produced as “minutes.”
“The minutes of each meeting shall be open to public inspection and shall reflect the manner and time of notice required by this act,” the statute reads.
The OU Board of Regents met Sept. 14 in Tulsa and Oct. 25 in Lawton, according to the board’s schedule. The board typically approves the previous meeting’s minutes at each subsequent meeting, meaning October’s minutes will likely be voted on for approval today.
But with the minutes of September’s meeting unavailable for public review, the board’s scheduled meeting today will occur without public transcript of its actions since the June 21 meeting.
The agendas for the September and October meetings are no longer posted on OU’s website either.
‘It narrows public knowledge’
NonDoc requested the OU Board of Regents’ September and October meeting minutes late on Nov. 23 (the day before Thanksgiving) and asked that they be posted for the public after the holiday weekend.
Tuesday, the regents’ associate secretary, Debra Skinner, emailed to say the minutes were unavailable.
OU Board of Regents
Chairman A. Max Weitzenhoffer
Vice Chairman Clayton I. Bennett
C. Renzi Stone
Leslie J. Rainbolt-Forbes, M.D.
Phil B. Albert
Bill W. Burgess, Jr.
“The September minutes will be posted to our website soon,” Skinner stated in the email. “They were approved by the board at the October meeting, then must be scanned and loaded by the University Library, who provides this service.
“The October minutes won’t be available until after they are approved at the December meeting. Until they are available, please let us know if there is a particular item in which you have interest.”
Neither Skinner nor Chris Purcell, vice president for university governance, returned a phone call about the issue Wednesday.
OSU journalism professor and Freedom Of Information Oklahoma board member Joey Senat did.
“It does get back into what constitutes good government and allowing people to participate in their government,” Senat said. “The OU Regents, they seem to interpret the law so that it narrows public knowledge and public participation in what they’re doing.”
He said state statute does not require meeting minutes to be posted on a website, but it doesn’t require a subsequent meeting to finalize them either.
“They don’t have to be approved to be a public record,” Senat said. “That gets into the argument of, once they’ve had the meeting and someone has taken down the minutes, then they become a public record, which is what (former Attorney General Drew) Edmondson used to say.”
Senat has written on the FOI Oklahoma blog previously in criticism of the OU Board of Regents, specifically regarding what he says is the use of subcommittees as a way to discuss public business behind closed doors.
He said that action and the unavailability of September and October’s meeting minutes contradict the intention of the Open Meeting Act and the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
“These statutes are a minimum for the public access (of meetings and records),” Senat said. “Governments can go beyond that and make information much more accessible. Public bodies are expected to act in the spirit of these statutes. Those two statutes basically boil down to the fact that government belongs to the people, and for people to participate they have to know what government is doing.”
Unlike the OU Board of Regents’ procedure, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education list their meeting minutes on the agendas for each successive meeting. That board also meets this morning in Oklahoma City.
“Across the country, public universities seem to forget that they are part of government. They think they are running a private business at times,” Senat said. “A lot of these regents across the country are business people who aren’t used to the public looking over their shoulder. Regents aren’t directly accountable to the public.
“We have to rely on elected officials who appoint them to expect them to follow the spirit and letter of our open-government laws.”
The OU Board of Regents governs the University of Oklahoma, Cameron University in Lawton and Rogers State University in Claremore.