Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed a bill that would allow public bodies and nonprofits to meet remotely as the state continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislation, Senate Bill 1031, was fast-tracked by lawmakers and extends the virtual exemption to the Open Meetings Act until the end of the governor’s COVID-19 state of emergency or Feb. 15, 2022, whichever comes first.
Last year, state lawmakers granted Oklahoma public bodies permission to meet virtually in a bid to protect participants from COVID-19. The modifications to the state’s Open Meetings Act were greeted with considerable enthusiasm by many appointees, elected officials and members of the public who welcomed the chance to participate safely and remotely.
But, the temporary modifications expired Nov. 15. Lawmakers, who apparently only expected the pandemic to last a few months, wrote the law in such a way that nobody could modify it without a full legislative vote.
We agree with the legislation allowing remote meetings, with some reservations.
One, we would hope we could end the exemption as possible if we get COVID-19 numbers under control as more people receive vaccinations.
And, perhaps more importantly, we don’t want any public bodies to take advantage of the exemption to be less than forthcoming with the people about government business. Transparency is more than a buzzword, it is how government organizations must conduct the people’s business.
Enid City Commission and Enid Public Schools Board of Education did good jobs handling the situation last year. They provided access to people who wanted to watch meetings via television as they conducted their business via Zoom.
These are extraordinary times, and we must continue to adapt to keep people safe. In a perfect world, we would want all public bodies to meet in person in front of the public, but we also understand the need to keep people safe.
As long as public bodies don’t try to hide behind the notion of safety to keep things from the public we are fine with the use of remote meetings.