Cleveland County sheriff requests OSBI investigation into alleged Open Meetings Act violations

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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – Following a judge’s ruling, the Cleveland County sheriff has asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to look into actions by the Norman City Council.

The Norman City Council held a special meeting in June to vote on the city’s budget for fiscal year 2021, which included proposed cuts to the police department.

Norman Citizens for Racial Justice called on Mayor Breea Clark and the city manager to defund and demilitarize the Norman Police Department.

City council member Alexandra Scott initially proposed a $4.5 million cut to police. The money would have been re-allocated in part to public safety sales tax and police sensitivity training.

Council members say the 11-hour meeting was the longest meeting they’ve ever been in but they wanted to give everyone a chance to speak.

At the end of the meeting, city council members voted to cut $865,000 from the police salaries and benefits portion of the department’s budget.

After the vote, the Norman Fraternal Order of Police filed a lawsuit against the Norman City Council, claiming its actions violated the Open Meetings Act.

Last month, a judge ruled in favor of the FOP.

The judge said the notice for the meeting “was deceptively worded or materially obscured the stated purpose of the meeting and is therefore a willful violation” of the Open Meetings Act.

“The City Council’s actions at a late-night meeting clearly violated the Open Meetings Act and the will of Norman voters who want to live in a safe community. We thank the court for invalidating the Council’s actions to defund police,” Robert Wasoski, president of the Norman Fraternal Order of Police, said. “The Norman FOP will continue to hold City Council accountable and advocate for adequate funding for the police department. Our members proudly protect and serve, and they appreciate the outpouring of support from our community.”

Norman city officials issued the following statement in response to the ruling on Dec. 3:

“The City of Norman has received an advance copy of Judge Thomas Baldwin’s ruling on the Fraternal Order of the Police v. the City of Norman case, but has not yet received formal notification of filing. While the City respects Judge Baldwin’s professionalism throughout the case, we fundamentally disagree with his decision in regards to the Open Meeting Act and its potential negative future impact on citizen involvement in government.

The City believes its citizens have a right to influence the decisions of their elected officials through open public discourse. We believe this court’s decision has a direct negative impact on this right and is inconsistent with the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Open Meeting Act. The City will file an appeal to protect the right of its citizens to suggest amendments and changes to government decisions in open public meetings at the City of Norman.”

CITY OF NORMAN

Now, Cleveland County Sheriff Chris Amason has requested an investigation by the OSBI into the allegations.

Officials with the sheriff’s office say violations of the Open Meetings Act also carry the potential for criminal misdemeanor charges.

“The June 16 city council meeting and the modification of the police budget during that meeting has created a deep divide within a large segment of the Cleveland County population,” Amason said. “By bringing in the OSBI as an independent investigative agency, I hope questions raised by our citizenry will be resolved.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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