Oklahoma County Jail Trust May Have Violated State Transparency Laws, Expert Says


Monday, April 19th 2021, 10:37 pm
By: Barry Mangold


OKLAHOMA CITY -

The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, also known as the jail trust, briefly limited entry to a virtual-only meeting on Monday, which one expert said could constitute a violation of state transparency laws. 

After about 40 minutes, the trustees voted to adjourn due to technical issues including poor audio quality. 

Related: Okla. Co. Jail Trust Accused Of Violating State's Open Meetings Act; Meeting Postponed After Technical Issues 

The meeting was held on the Cisco Webex virtual meeting platform, which was linked in the trust’s agenda. 

During the meeting, a group of more than 10 people were briefly held in the Webex virtual “waiting room.” One county staff member said during the meeting they were only granting access to those who signed up for public comment. 

Joey Senat, an Oklahoma State University professor and media law expert, said the lack of access to a livestream on the meeting agenda could qualify as a violation of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act. 

“They were in a waiting room and not able to see or hear the meeting while it was taking place. That’s a problem,” Senat said. “It’s like having an in-person meeting and keeping people out in the lobby and not letting them come in and hear and listen to the meeting. That would not be allowed. That would be a clear violation of the open meeting act.” 

Christopher Johnston of the Oklahoma Coalition Against People Abuse was among the group in the virtual waiting room.  

Johnston, a consistent advocate for jail reform, said he was using multiple devices to watch the meeting while waiting. 

“It had the optics that because there’s so much heat that they are trying to keep people from talking,” Johnston said. 

Trust chair Tricia Everest said after the meeting it was a “disaster” and rescheduled for 3 p.m. on Wednesday. It will be held in County Commission meeting room, which is typical for the jail trust. 

“In attempt to improve the decorum of the meetings, the Trust and the County implemented procedures that the (City of Oklahoma City) has successfully used, which are in compliance with Oklahoma Meeting Act,” Everest said in a statement. “Technical difficulties arose, upon learning of these problems the meeting was cancelled.” 

Senat said ending the meeting due to technical problems and lack of accessibility was the right move. 

“Maybe to give them the benefit of the doubt, they didn’t know the technology they were trying to deal with,” he said.