Oklahoma regulators to consider possible open in-person public hearings

 

Oklahoma’s Corporation Commissioners meet Tuesday to consider a third extension of keeping their headquarters building at the state capitol closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, there are indications they will open the building only to those directly involved in some cases to be heard, while excluding the public. Some of the indications come directly from Commission Chairman Todd Hiett.

The issue of possibly extending the COVID-19 order a third time is on Tuesday’s agenda. But Tim Rhodes, Director of Administration is proposing that a Thursday hearing involving the City of Moore and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway be held in person in the Jim Thorpe building which houses the Corporation Commission main offices. However, only those directly involved in the issue would be allowed to attend the public meeting.

In a July 10 internal email, he proposed protocols for the Moore/BNSF hearing and others including the mandatory wearing of face masks, the taking and checking of temperatures, assigned seating in the Commission courtroom and departure from the building immediately following the hearing.

Attorneys would be properly distanced and assigned seating and microphones and prior to their appearance, the courtroom would be sanitized. Glass and plexiglas partitions would also be used.

In a late Monday press release, Commission Chairman Todd Hiett backed away from his comments last week lamenting a backlog of 200 cases, some delayed due to COVID-19. He also praised the OCC staff saying employees had gone above and beyond to meet stakeholder’s needs in a challenging time. He also suggested it is time to reopen the commission hearings.

“Because the work of the Commission is so important to many of the key drivers of Oklahoma’s economy, I think it is time that we move forward in a measured, cautious approach to return to in-person hearings for contested cases. Allowing the parties and the decision makers the opportunity to personally observe the demeanor of witnesses can lend itself to a more fair process.” Hiett added. “With the Governor’s Executive Order 2020-06, I believe we have the ability to move in this direction during unprecedented times.”

Hiett’s plan calls for prioritizing contested cases, with scheduled in-person hearings limited to parties of designated cases, while still observing such requirements as face masks, social distancing, etc.

Hiett said despite the closure of the Commission’s headquarters building, the Commission’s court system used remote technology to hold 3,111 hearings from March 22 through July 10 and 2,896 orders were issued.

Tuesday’s Corporation Commission meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. is closed to the public “to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. To allow public participation, teleconferencing and/or videoconferencing will be used,” according to the posted agenda.

The agenda also indicated that the 3-commissioners plan to participate remotely for the meeting, but they could also change their minds and attend in-person in courtroom 301 of the Jim Thorpe building.

The public can monitor the actions by remote monitoring as the Commission agenda indicates:

To participate, individuals may call into the public meeting using a regular phone line by dialing one of the following telephone number(s): +1-888-238-5279 or +1-678-292-5021 or +1-202-552-1570. At the voice prompt, enter your Meeting ID number 96914055212289 followed by the # sign. Individuals may also participate utilizing the Scopia Videoconferencing application.  Individuals interested in participating by either teleconference or videoconference must REGISTER HERE or may call 405-521-4135 for instructions.

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