The city of Tahlequah's 2019-2020 proposed budget summary and notice of hearing was published just four days before this weekend's public hearing, which constitutes a possible violation of Oklahoma statutes.
Oklahoma law regarding public hearings on a proposed municipal budget states that a notice of the date, time and place of the hearing, along with the proposed budget summary, must be published in a legal newspaper "not less than five days before the date of the hearing." This hearing is set for 5 p.m. Saturday, June 15 at the Armory Municipal Center.
City Attorney Grant Lloyd called TDP Monday morning, admitting the city had erred in contacting the newspaper after the statutory deadline, and asking for options. TDP offered to put the notice on its website, www.tahlequahdailypress.com, then published it in the Tuesday print edition. Lloyd told TDP Wednesday that he believes the city is in compliance because the notice for the hearing appeared on the website within the required time frame.
A local attorney contacted TDP Tuesday after seeing the notice published online, suggesting there might be a problem. The Oklahoma Press Association provided documents confirming the lawyer's assertion that there is no contingency in the law to allow online publication to fulfill the statutory obligation.
But Mark Thomas, executive vice president for the OPA, said there's a difference between "strict compliance" and "substantial compliance" regarding Title 11, Section 17-208, which covers open meetings. Courts have confirmed that "strict compliance" standards must be applied, for example, if an election for a tax initiative is looming. In the case of the budget hearing, he said, the city could claim it is in "substantial compliance" with the notice, since the Press does not have a Monday edition.
“That would be taking a chance that someone would protest the budget hearing and subject the city to a legal action,” Thomas said. “It’s always best to avoid that and be in strict compliance with the statutes.”
Lloyd said there are no plans to reschedule the meeting.