OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – After a citizen’s complaint of overcrowding at the State Board of Education meeting, public access has now been limited to a few people.
The State Board of Educations holds a monthly meeting to discuss business. Lately, the meeting has attracted more and more people.
At the July 27 meeting, public comment exceeded two hours with each person receiving no more than three to four minutes to speak.
During the monthly meeting before that, two men were involved in a conflict and were eventually charged with obstructing passage at a state building.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office confirmed with KFOR they received a citizen’s complaint over the phone two weeks ago.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office said they investigated and later determined only 49 people could safely fit in the room where the State Board of Education meeting is typically held.
However, with the number of media that shows up, board members, and required personnel, the Oklahoma Assistant State Fire Marshal, James Fullingim said it makes the room “pretty full.”
“By the time you count all the people who have to be in there, that’s about 49. I mean, they had room for one to six additional,” added Fullingim.
Another 49 people were allowed to wait in the hallway outside of the board room. Then, 49 people were allowed in the lobby. Once those fill up, everyone else is forced to wait outside.
“Previously, they were letting people in early into the lobby area and held them there for about 15 minutes. They would then open the door and they would rush down that corridor to try to be the one who got in the room,” stated Fullingim.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office was in attendance of the July 27 Board of Education meeting.
A “rope system” was put in place and OSDE had a sign in sheet to keep track of those allowed inside the board room and in the hallway.
Fullingim told the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal Commission on Friday that OSDE responded well to the new changes in capacity.
“[OSDE] did a really good job of managing the numbers, so I feel like we’ve got the cooperation we needed on this,” said Fullingim.
The capacity signs displayed on the windows were created by OSDE, according to Fullingim. He said the State Fire Marshal’s Office provided OSDE with the maximum capacity number, but they didn’t make the signs.
Sean Cummings frequently attends the Board of Education meeting. He expressed his concerns to the State Fire Marshal Commission on Friday.
“We had all been complaining to the Superintendent that we needed a bigger room so thank you for stepping in. I’m not trying to drag you into anything, but what I would like to see is, can you assure me that we’re going to keep this up until we getting a bigger environment or less people? Because it was safe last time. Difficult but safe,” stated Cummings.
Fullingim responded by saying OSDE seemed to be pleased with the changes and new way of allowing people inside the building.
“We will continue to monitor the situation over there but they seemed motivated to continue to do this and work with us,” said Fullingim.
Oklahoma State Fire Marshal, Keith Bryant chimed in by saying their office would continue to be involved if OSDE requested their assistance, but so far no request has been made.
“The Department of Education – if they made a specific request of our agency to assist them with that, I’m sure we would help them with that,” stated Bryant.
Cummings asked if there needed to be a continuous loop of complaints filed with the State Fire Marshal’s Office to have them stay involved if OSDE doesn’t request their help.
Bryant said if they continued to get complaints about OSDE, then the State Fire Marshal’s Office would likely attend every meeting moving forward.
Cummings told KFOR what he would rather see is OSDE move to a larger venue.
“I went over to the Capitol and they have meeting rooms A and B. [Those rooms] are down on the left, on the second floor. It seats 150 people,” said Cummings. “I went across the street to the history center. Their room holds 300. It isn’t that there aren’t rooms available. Ryan Walters likes [the] media. He likes to be on television and he’s doing this so he can be on television and make this look more exciting than it is now.”
Cummings has since filed an Open Records Request with the State Fire Marshal’s Office for documented discussions between OSDE and the Fire Marshal.
“The Fire Marshal assured me that they will keep it safe and if we’re over there and it’s not calm, that’s what we need to do,” said Cummings.
OSDE Chief Policy Advisor, Matt Langston told KFOR,”SDE is exploring other venues to conduct the board meetings and will notify the public once a decision is made.”
News 4 also asked if OSDE plans to formally request the help of the State Fire Marshal’s Office at upcoming meetings, but we have not received a response.
House Representative Andy Fugate (D-OKC) said he’s glad to see OSDE exploring other venues and supports that decision.
“When you create a circus, you really have to think about the size of the tent,” stated Rep. Fugate. “Six seats is definitely not convenient for the public.”
Rep. Fugate said by OSDE not moving to another venue would go against state law.
“Title 25, Sections 303 to 314 outline the Open Meetings Act in the State of Oklahoma. The central premise of that is that open meetings exist for transparency and accountability for the general public. These are public meetings for the public, not for the agency, not for the directors, but for the public, so that they can provide input and they can observe what’s going on and so that they can see the decisions that are being made on their behalf by those who are involved,” explained Rep. Fugate.
Rep. Fugate added the board could have motioned to move the meeting into recess and chosen a larger venue to “support a larger crowd and could have been doing that all along.”
The State Board of Education’s next meeting will be August 24 at 9:30 a.m.