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Senator Requests Explanation for Regents' "Secret Meetings", Circumvention of State Open Records and Meetings Laws

Information obtained by a state legislator indicates the State Regents for Higher Education may have circumvented state open meetings and records laws in drafting their proposed shake up of Rogers University in Tulsa.

"The paper trail indicates the State Regents did everything possible to keep their meetings and discussions about Tulsa secret so no one outside their inner circle could interfere. They met in private locations and placed a strict gag rule on all the discussions and documents related to those meetings, even though state law requires that information to be open to the public," said Senator Lewis Long.

"If they didn't break state open meetings and records laws, they certainly did their best to circumvent them."

According to information obtained from the State Regents in an open records request, clandestine late night meetings and documents marked "confidential" were the norm in their Tulsa discussions. Examples include:

  • On August 13, 1997 the State Regents held a "public" meeting at an exclusive Oklahoma City restaurant at night to discuss Tulsa. After hours, the Regents continued the meeting in the private offices of the Stillwater National Bank in a private office complex nearby.

  • In preparing for the August 13th meeting, Chancellor Hans Brisch prepared a discussion packet on Tulsa that he urged board members to keep "confidential."

  • Regents chairman Robert McCormick also urged members to keep the information secret, writing in a memo "I urge you to handle the reports in the most confidential manner, bring them to the retreat, and leave them with the Chancellor at the conclusion of the meeting. It is critical that we as a board decide how and when the documents should be released."

  • On September 3, 1997 the Regents held a "public" meeting about Tulsa higher education at the private ranch of Regent Joe Mayer near Guymon in western Oklahoma. Members were transported to the meeting by airplane.

  • In a memo describing the "public" meeting, Chancellor Brisch stated "I have prepared the attached agenda for tomorrow evening provided that we are able to get together privately after dinner activity. "

  • In a September 11 memo, Regents chair McCormick urged members to keep the draft document of their plan for Tulsa "confidential."

"Why are the Regents meeting in private office buildings in Oklahoma City late at night to decide the future of Tulsa higher education? Why did they fly all the way out to a private ranch in Guymon to make decisions affecting Tulsa? Why did they ask Regents to keep documents confidential when they were clearly public records? Why all the cloak and dagger stuff?" asked Senator Long.

"If they were truly interested in doing what is right for Tulsa, they would have been holding open meetings in Tulsa, instead of sneaking around in Oklahoma City or off in the Panhandle. It looks like they were trying to give Tulsa the shaft again, but didn't want anybody to find out until it was too late."

Senator Long and other Tulsa area legislators blocked the Regents' unilateral attempt to strip Rogers University of local control. The issue is currently being debated in the Legislature. Long is advocating a freestanding, four-year university in Tulsa.

The Glenpool legislator is also seeking a specific explanation for the possible violations of the Open Meetings Act and Open Records Act. If the Regents are unable to provide sufficient explanation, Long will take the matter to legal authorities.

"The people of Tulsa deserve to know why the State Regents bent over backward to exclude them and everyone else from the discussion process. I think they've corrupted the process so badly that no one in Tulsa will trust them," said Senator Long.

In the past, the Regents have claimed they "post" all their meeting notices appropriately and therefore meet the minimum requirements of state law. That explanation won't wash, according to the legislator.

"How is the average Tulsan going to fly to Guymon and find a private ranch in the panhandle? How is the average Tulsan going to get into a private office building in Oklahoma City that's locked up tight after hours?

"The reason you meet in remote places after dark is so no one else will show up. Anybody with common sense knows the Regents didn't intend those meetings to be open to the public. That's disturbing if not illegal," said Senator Long.

Contact info
Senate Communications Division (405) 521-5605 1997 1998