Public service, done right, can be very fulfilling. Done wrong, one can get one's feelings hurt pretty quickly or even experience things of greater consequence, such as trouble with the law.
Having served as a trustee and mayor of a small town, Lexington, and then as a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives for 12 years followed by 16 more in the state Senate, including three as the president pro tempore, as well as a gubernatorial appointment to a board of directors for a state agency, I've certainly had my good and bad days in public appointed and elected office.
Public service, in my opinion, is a noble and worthwhile calling for those who have thick skins and a forgiving nature.
Now, due to those lengthy stretches of public service, I'm fairly familiar with the requirements of the Open Meeting Act. Additionally, I've sat through and participated in thousands of public assemblies that both required and did not require adherence to the OMA.
As a reminder for readers, the legislature exempted itself from most of the requirements of this important sunshine mechanism, and I arrived in the House the year after its adoption which was, by my memory, 1977. I was elected in 1978.
So, having said all that as background, I assure you the authors of the bill and eventual OMA law never remotely thought it would be interpreted as it has been recently by a local judge and then confirmed by the Supreme Court. Let me repeat: Never.
The purpose of the Norman City Council meeting in June 2020 was to discuss and adopt the community's budget. Apparently, the court found that considering an amendment that modified the police part of the budget was a step outside of the meeting notice otherwise properly listed and provided to the public.
That's right. The ongoing and intensifying kerfuffle to date was an amendment to the budget to be adopted or rejected that evening back in June of 2020. Probably 200 citizens were in attendance that night, with most of the focus on whether the men and women in blue were being defunded or not, when in reality, the amendment was modest, offered in a clear and timely manner in open hearing, authored by a duly-elected individual to the council and followed by a public vote to adopt or not.
The process, comments, amendments, allegations, denials and eventual votes that evening led to the creation of UNITE Norman and recall petitions for the mayor and several council members, all of which eventually failed.
Subsequently, several occupants of seats on the horseshoe either quit, moved out of their ward, didn't run again or were defeated in re-election efforts, all of which culminated in the lawsuit against the city that was upheld by our Supreme Court.
And folks wonder why so many good people choose not to run for public office. But after this ruling, please wonder no more. The penalties that may apply are a $500 fine and a year in the county jail.
Public office, anyone?