Without public discussion of the performance of Town Coordinator Marty Tucker, there can be no accountability to the citizens of Skiatook.
By the Skiatook Board using executive session, Tucker is only accountable to the Board of Trustees. Many citizens feel that Tucker has too much control over the board of trustees. Steven Kendrick, recent mayor and previous board member, is related to Tucker by marriage. This is a apparent conflict of interest that should not be repeated. Many citizens feel that the current Skiatook board is controlled by Marty Tucker as evidenced by the recent Board approval of a duplex on 4th Street that was previously zoned for single family residence. This approval was granted at Tucker’s suggestion without the specific zoning change being on the board agenda, public hearings, or legal notice to the neighborhood affected by the decision.
The only board member to abstain was Lee Sawin, who has since resigned.
All discussions concerning Tucker’s future employment status should be held openly, not behind closed doors.
Public Bodies are not required to go into Executive Session under the Open Meeting Act. The Statute states “Executive sessions of public bodies will be permitted only for the purpose of…. ( Okla.Stat. Title 25, Section 307 (B).
A 1997 Oklahoma Attorney General Opinion explained, “we note that for a public body to convene in executive session to discuss employment matters is not mandatory; it is simply permitted.” (1997 OK AG 61, 5)
In other words, public bodies MAY meet behind closed doors to discuss certain topics. But the Open Meeting Act does not PROHIBIT them from discussing the topics in public.
In view of the desire of some members of the public to hire a new town coordinator, all discussions concerning the issue should be in open meetings as the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act permits.
The other concern expressed by board members is the Town of Skiatook would be open to a lawsuit if the citizens publicly bash Tucker. Therefore, the citizens should be excluded from public discussion by the Skiatook board meeting in executive session.
Marty Tucker, as Town Coordinator, is a “public figure.”
A “public figure” is a person who is publicly prominent, so much so that discussion or commentary about that person amounts to a “public concern.”
A “public figure” figure must prove actual malice or reckless disregard of the truth with “clear and convincing proof” New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 286 (1964).
The standard of proof of defamation is so high that allowing citizens to vocalize their legitimate complaints against Tucker, a “public figure” does not justify using liability as a reason for “executive session.”
I believe that all discussions concerning Tucker and the town coordinator position should be held in open board meetings because the citizens of Skiatook have the right, reason, and justification for open public meetings and discussion.
The Oklahoma Open Meeting Act was intended for this very purpose.
By Victor O. Waters, M.D.