There's early voting by absentee, there's early voting Chicago-style and now there may be early voting Norman-style. One is perfectly legal, one may never be known as legal or not, and one has been deemed a violation by a former government attorney. The latter is not Chicago-style.
According to a story in The Norman Transcript, a retired state attorney informed Norman City Council members a vote they took at their June 24 meeting may have violated the Oklahoma Open Meetings and Records Act. The Council approved changes to a tax implemented in a specific business district by a vote of 7-2 and defeated an amendment to the proposal by 5-4.
Lawrence Edmison told the Council at its July 8 meeting he previously served as general counsel for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, and that a 27-year-old Oklahoma Attorney General's opinion bans getting commitments on votes before discussion and voting on the subject in an open meeting.
And guess what? He's right. As stated in section 306 of the act, no informal gatherings among a majority of the members of a public body shall be used to decide any action or to take any vote on any matter.
The story reported that Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal sent an e-mail to the Citizens for Financial Responsibility, stating that she "made another round of calls to council members to gauge what members thought of the proposal."
What did Edmison say?
"It is illegal for a single council member or mayor to poll individual council members one at a time or as a group to get a consensus or to get commitments from them on how they will vote," Edmison was quoted in the story. "You can't do one at a time what you can't do by having a quorum together outside of this room. ... I believe ... that the commitments that were made that night to the mayor violated the Open Meeting Act."
To review, allegedly polling votes before a city council meeting: bad; taking votes during the meeting: good. Oh, yes, very hard to understand.
Rosenthal told the newspaper she did not violate the open records act.
"I think that the e-mail describes the process of trying to keep members informed and to gain feedback, not an attempt to garner commitments to vote a certain way," she said. "I think that's the clear language of that e-mail and that is in fact what the process was."
What about that P-word?
"I have never asked any member to promise to vote one way or the other," she told The Transcript. "I've perceived my role on this and on other issues to keep members informed, to check the pulse of council ... that's what mayors do and that's pretty clearly reflective in that. No, they did not use the term that they had promised their vote. Both of them used the term 'commitment to the mayor.' But obviously, I did not ask any member to promise to vote one way or another."
Glad we got that cleared up.