City council photo

Members of the Norman City Council on June 16, 2020, during a City Council meeting.

The City of Norman has lost an appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in a lawsuit filed by the local Fraternal Order of Police last year.

The lawsuit alleged Open Meeting Act violations during the City Council’s 11-hour June 16, 2020 meeting, which ended with an $865,000 cut to the Norman Police Department’s proposed budget increase. A district court judge ruled on Dec. 3, 2020 that the council’s meeting agenda language was insufficient and violated the Open Meeting Act, The Transcript reported previously.

Justices agreed this week that the lack of certain amendments on the agenda that night “misled the public,” the order reads.

The agenda specifically listed the capital and operating budgets, Norman Visitors and Convention Bureau budget and 11 amendments as an attachment, but did not list “three additional amendments — which were not listed on the attachment to the agenda — that collectively reallocated $865,000 of the Police Department’s budget for the establishment of an internal auditor and other community programs … all three amendments were adopted overwhelmingly.”

The court found that the “delineation of these amendments, taken together with the confining language of the action items and omission of any reference to the possibility of other amendments, created a false implication that Council’s activity would be limited to adopting or rejecting the budgets, subject only to the listed amendments.“

“This implication misled the public,” the order reads.

The budget amendment is invalid, but it does not mean the cut funds will be returned to the NPD’s current fiscal year budget automatically, city spokeswoman Annahlyse Meyer said Tuesday.

“Council will need to ratify the budget from last year for this year’s fiscal budget year document,” Meyer said. “In terms of how this impacts our budget process moving forward and how it impacts how we agendize things, we are reviewing that and we will comply with the supreme court’s ruling.”

Meyer said the decision will immediately affect how the language of the amendment will appear on the agenda before council, and will likely impact all municipalities and government board agendas.

FOP President Robert Wasoski said Tuesday he was pleased with the judge’s ruling.

“We’re shocked that the members of (then) city council were so eager to get on the whole ‘defund the police’ bandwagon,” Wasoski said. “We’re glad that the court could see through that and we’re glad that they found the politicians are not above the law. The union hopes that the police department appreciates all the hard work that we put in taking on this fight and that the union, the department and the city can hopefully sit down and come to some response to the issues that are of concern to a point where everybody benefits from it.”

Freedom of Information Oklahoma Executive Director Andy Moore said the court’s decision was a win for the public.

“This is an important ruling for transparency in Oklahoma,” Moore said. “Often public bodies hide behind vague language and obscure agenda items. In our opinion, the court correctly has ruled that the purpose of the Open Meeting Act is to inform the public. We hope this sets the precedent for more thoughtful and detailed meetings agendas in the future.”

Norman Mayor Breea Clark could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The council and mayor also remain under criminal investigation with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations, which The Transcript learned last Thursday has not concluded its probe. If convicted of the misdemeanor, punishment includes up to a $500 fine and a year in county jail.

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at mwood@normantranscript.com or 405-416-4420.

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