Student Congressional Violation: UCO Student Congress Breaks Open Meeting Act

Student Congressional Violation: UCO Student Congress Breaks Open Meeting Act

Kaline Popova, Caleb Shaw, and Stockton Duvall, the Congressional Leadership of the UCO Student Association speak during a UCO Student Congress meeting on Monday, April 3, 2017. The UCO Student Congress violation of an Oklahoma law may void several pieces of legislation that the association has passed in recent months. (Ryan Naeve/ The Vista). 

By: Kateleigh Mills, editor-in-chief , and Megan Prather, managing editor

Several pieces of legislation passed in the UCO Student Congress over the past year could have the potential of being void due to a violation of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act

Three senators in the UCO Student Congress claim that the Congressional Leadership have not followed the standards of OMA, which states that the agenda for a regularly held meeting should be posted at least 24 hours in advance, excluding weekends.

This provision of OMA can be found under Section Three under B titled “ Notice to the Public and Agendas.”

UCO Student Congress Senator, Parliamentarian and Floor Leader, Caleb Power, said that he spoke to the Congressional Leadership – comprised of Secretary Kalina Popova, Vice Chair Stockton Duvall and Chair Caleb Shaw – privately on multiple occasions for breaking this section of OMA before bringing it up on the floor of student congress. 

Popova denied at the meeting last Monday that Power came to talk to her about the issue. However, both Shaw and Duvall acknowledged that Power came to talk to them. 

Power said during the “student concerns” portion in the last Congress meeting that students of UCO should be able to walk by the UCOSA office and see posted on the door a record of votes, time and place of a meeting and what is to be voted on in the next session, something Power claims the leadership hasn’t been doing.

According to the attorney general opinion (Opinion 79-134) the student government associations and residence halls associations are required by law to follow the Open Meeting Act and are “compelled to follow the provisions of the Act in the manner in which they are enacted.”

“Yes we are supposed to post these things because it is the morally right and transparent thing to do, but actually Oklahoma State Law mandates it,” Power said. 

The UCO Student Congress typically meets every Monday at 1 p.m. in the Will Rogers Room located on the 4th floor of the Nigh University Center.  To be in compliance with OMA, their agendas about what they will discuss in the meeting should be posted by “the preceding Friday”  at 1 p.m. 

Chair Shaw said that it wasn’t the first time he was informed of the OMA violation from Senator Power.

“Caleb Power has spoken to me about this issue about three or four times,” Shaw said.

The real issue, according to Shaw, is that it isn’t about being transparent, but rather being “transparent enough.”

“We want to be transparent, that’s not the issue. If you ask me for legislation, I’m going to give it to you. If you are asking for the agendas, past agendas, past minutes, I will do my best to get that to you,” Shaw said.

Another issue that Shaw brought up was that the time of posting the agendas at 1 p.m. on the Friday before Monday’s meeting is something that is “unobtainable.”

Chair Shaw claimed that it was unobtainable to meet that deadline, in part, because of the meeting time of the Ways and Means Committee which is at Friday at 1 p.m.

The Ways and Means Committee generally handles congressional financial resolutions (CFRs) – legislation that allocates money to organizations funded through UCOSA. One of the reasons the agenda has been posted late is because the committee meets after the OMA mandated deadline.

Members of the Ways and Means committee want to try to get money quicker to student organizations that need them, and therefore are writing legislation after the deadline to appear on the docket on Mondays.

Therefore to follow OMA, legislation that is drawn up and approved by the Ways and Means Committee would have to wait a week to be put on the docket. This would slow the process of getting money to organizations to be approved by the UCO Student Congress.

There are times where things become time sensitive, we have to get stuff through,” Duvall said. “If that’s something that’s a deterrent that’s not supposed to be our main focus. Our main focus is our students.”

OMA is a series of statutes that is supposed to help encourage and foster a citizen’s understanding of “governmental processes and governmental problems.”

OMA does this by requiring public bodies, like the UCO Student Association to adhere by 6 standards – to provide advance notice of the “date, time and place of meetings, to post agendas or matters to be considered at those meetings,” to require meetings to be held at a convenient place and time for the public, to record individual votes, to take minutes, to hold “executive sessions (inaccessible to the public)” for certain specific purposes and to refrain from holding “informal gatherings of a majority of board members in which public business is conducted or discussed.” 

The Act also states that any actions made by a public body if it is found in “willful violation” of these standards are void. Since there has been more than one instance of the UCO Student Congress posting their agendas late, that means that the legislation on those agendas that passed should have been voided. 

“I’m not in the mind set that we need to go backwards because the money has already been spent,” UCOSA’s advisor Cole Stanley said.

Senator Camilo Ulloa has been another advocate for the UCO Student Congress to follow the provisions under OMA. Ulloa previously worked with the SGA at Rose State University to improve their statutes and bylaws.

Senator Colten Kidd has been in UCOSA for this past semester and agrees that the UCO Student Congress should be following OMA.

“The three of us did confront the leadership team,” Kidd said. “I believe I told them we weren’t having any ill will, we weren’t doing this to screw with them, we were doing this because we just wanted to do things right and in the end protect UCOSA.”

Power addressed the leadership at the UCOSA meeting on last Monday and began by saying that he was not looking to start a feud, fire or fight, but to address a concern of his about student congress.

Senators Camilo Ulloa and Colten Kidd have also backed Power for the need for transparency.

According to other student newspapers across the state – such as the O’Colly at Oklahoma State University, the 15th Street News at Rose State University, The Daily at Oklahoma University and The Pioneer at Oklahoma City Community College – their Student Government Associations (SGA) or their UCOSA counterpart has not recently experienced the same issue of posting agendas and legislation within OMA’s 24 hour deadline.

The only OMA violation reported recently at one of those colleges was at OSU where the SGA was using proxies to vote for legislation. 

“Do we need to tighten up? You bet,” Stanley said.

According to 314 in OMA, any person or persons that are found in violation “of this act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be punished by a fine not exceeding Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00) or by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not exceeding one (1) year or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

Since Power’s statements last congressional meeting, the UCO Student Congress has posted their agenda for the next meeting on OrgSync at 12:43 p.m. Friday April 7. It was also posted to the recently added bulletin board next to the UCOSA office.

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