|NMU||OKLAHOMA||Freedom of Information||Oct 31, 2002|
Private organization must abide by meetings, records laws
- According to the state attorney general, the Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature, a private volunteer organization that is funded by public agencies, is subject to the Open Meeting and Open Records acts because it is supported by publicly-funded agencies.
In an opinion released Oct. 29, the state attorney general determined that the Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature must abide by the state Open Meeting and Open Records acts because it “is supported at least in part by publicly funded State agencies.”
The Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature is a private volunteer organization modeled after the state legislature. The organization provides older Oklahoma citizens a forum for discussing issues. Elected by their peers, Silver Haired legislators work with elected officials to improve conditions for the aged community.
The Silver Haired Legislature receives support services from four state agencies — the Tax Commission, Department of Human Services, State Treasurer and Office of State Finance.
Services include maintaining and paying the costs of the system that permits the Silver Haired Legislature to benefit from donated funds.
According to Attorney General Drew Edmundson’s opinion, an agency that is “supported in whole or in part by public funds or entrusted with the expending of public funds, or administering public property” falls under the definition of a public body in the Oklahoma Open Meeting and Open Records acts.
Charlie Price, the director of communications for the Attorney General’s office, said the law is vague when it describes an agency that is “supported in whole or in part” by public funding. Often the attorney general must examine on a “case-by-case basis” whether private organizations fall under the Open Meeting and Open Records acts.
“There is no proposed legislation right now that attempts to tighten the law,” Price said.
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office examined this matter in response to a request made by Senator Maxine Horner on behalf of the Silver Haired Alumni Association, the support group for the legislative organization.
“We went to Edmundson’s office and told him that we didn’t understand the law. He explained it to us and asked if we wanted a formal written opinion. We said ‘yes,'” said Charles Campbell, the recently elected president of the Silver Haired Alumni Association.
“We appreciate Mr. Edmundson for explaining the information to us,” Campbell said. “We didn’t want to start the new legislative year by doing anything that might be wrong under law.”
© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press