|Opinion:||Fraternal Order of Police v. City of Norman, 2020 OK 20|
|Subject matter:||Open Meeting Act|
|Date Decided:||April 13, 2021|
|Trial Court:||Cleveland County (Baldwin, J.)|
|Route to this Court:||Appeal of summary judgment in the trial court; OKSCT retained on Court’s own motion. Accelerated appeal per Rule 1.36.|
|Facts:||At a special meeting on June 16/17, 2020, the City Council for the City of Norman passed an FYE 2021 budget that, as amended, “reallocated” $865,000 of the Police Department’s budget for the establishment of an internal auditor and other community programs. The Plaintiff challenged the action on the amendments as taken in violation of the Open Meeting Act (OMA), 25 O.S. §§ 301-314. Plaintiffs claimed that because the amendments in question were not listed on the agenda or any of the accompanying documents (the agenda included attachments that specifically identified several amendments that would be considered, but none of them involved a change to the Police Department budget), the public was not given sufficient notice that the challenged amendments would be considered. Plaintiff filed an action for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief and the trial court granted the Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgement on the same. The City of Norman appealed.|
|Standard of Review:||De novo (summary judgment is always a matter of law; the Court also is construing statutes in this case)|
|Analysis:||The posted agenda for the June 16th special meeting listed the only matter of business as “CONSIDERATION OF ADOPTION OF THE FYE 2021 CITY OF NORMAN PROPOSED OPERATING AND CAPITAL BUDGETS AND THE NORMAN CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU INC., BUDGET WITH DETAILED ANNUAL PLAN OF WORK.” The agenda also contained a list of attachments. One such attachment was “FYE 2021 Budget Amendments 6-12-2020.” Instead of adopting or rejecting the city budget as listed on the agenda, the Council proceeded to amend it numerous times, eventually adopting the three disputed amendments at issue in this case (none of which were included in the aforementioned attachment to the agenda). |
“Because it was enacted for the public’s benefit, the Open Meeting Act ‘is to be construed liberally in favor of the public.”’ quoting Lafalier v. Lead-Impacted Cmtys. Relocation Assistance Tr., 2010 OK 48. “Based on the City’s published agenda summary, a person of ordinary education and intelligence would have understood that City Council may or may not approve the proposed budgets at the special meeting. City failed to distinguish ‘consideration’ of the city budget from further ‘amendment’ to the city budget.” The list of attachments to the agenda does not provide notice that the Council would consider new, additional amendments at the special meeting beyond those listed in the attachments. Taken together, the agenda summary, proposed action section near the bottom of the agenda, and attachments would not provide notice to a person of ordinary education and intelligence that Council could possibly introduce and adopt new, additional amendments to the budget at the special meeting.
The City must follow the mandates of the Open Meeting Act when taking action pursuant to the Municipal Budget Act. The Municipal Budget Act does not give the City authority to amend its budget without regard to the requirements of the Open Meeting Act. “Transparency to the public requires advance notice that potential amendments may be considered at the public meeting.”
“City’s agenda for the June 16th special meeting was deceptively vague and likely to mislead, therefore it was a willful violation of the Open Meeting Act. Because City willfully violated the act, actions taken at the special meeting are invalid.” See 25 O.S.2011 § 313.
|Vote:||8-0. Opinion by Darby, C.J; Kane, V.C.J., Kauger, Winchester, Edmondson, Combs, Gurich and Rowe (by separate writing), JJ., concur.|
|Other:||Appellant’s Motion for Leave to Submit Appellate Briefs was denied. Appellant’s Motion for Appeal-Related Attorney Fees is pending. Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney Fees of $29,765 is pending in the trial court.|