Corporation Commissioners get the power to exclude public from some meetings


One of two bills directly affecting Oklahoma Corporation Commissioners made it through the legislature and was signed into law while the other died quietly in a committee. One bill will exclude the public and close the door on certain discussions.

What passed?  A measure called the Corporation Commission Efficiency Act. The measure that will allow Commissioners to meet privately and discuss issues but not take a vote. It’s a move to get around the state’s Open Meetings Act which previously stopped commissioners, whether it was two or all three, from discussing issues without the presence of the public.

What failed? The bill requested by Commissioner Kim David to pay commissioners for mileage to and from work and for their travel across the state to attend commission meetings and hold business at the state capitol.

Exempting commissioners in part from the public meetings act, Gov. Kevin Stiff signed HB 2367 into law April 29 without fanfare and no publicity after the House and Senate gave approval to the measure introduced by Rep. Tammy Townley of Ardmore and Sen. Dave Rader of Tulsa.

The House voted 54-32 for the measure on March while the Senate voted 39-6 on April 23.

In a House Committee hearing, Rep. Townley told members she had been asked by the Corporation Commission to support the measure and it had the support of the Oklahoma Press Association. She called the existing law “oppressive” and said her bill would only apply to the three-member Corporation Commission, not to other similar agencies.

With the governor’s signature, it means corporation commissioners will be “exempt” from holding a public meeting to discuss certain work-related issues. The new law identified such topics as scheduling of agenda items, internal processes, staffing needs, public and media statements, interviewing potential employees or assessing performance reviews and duties of the Director of Administration and Division Directors.

Here is the language of the new law:

“An Act relating to the Corporation Commission; making
certain exemption; allowing Corporation Commissioners
to have certain discussions when quorum is present
provided no official action is taken; disallowing
certain discussions; providing list of allowable
matters for discussion; authorizing attendance,
discussion, and participation at certain events if
certain conditions are met; disallowing certain
discussions; defining term; requiring certain timely
documentation for certain matters; requiring public
vote to determine form and manner of documentation;
allowing for amendment to form and manner subject to
certain requirements; stating purpose of certain
documentation; requiring posting of documentation to
website within certain time frame; requiring certain
documentation be posted within certain time prior to
consideration at a public meeting; requiring certain
notice for certain changes to or cancellation of
regularly scheduled meetings; requiring notice be
filed within certain time frame; requiring certain
training be implemented; providing for codification;
and providing an effective date.”

After holding such private meetings and discussions, commissioners will be required to inform the public of what they discussed and did.

After participating in any events authorized by this section, the
Corporation Commission shall be required to provide timely
documentation, in the form and manner as determined by a public vote of the Corporation Commission, which may be amended subject to the requirements of this section. This documentation is for the purpose of providing public notice of the subject matter received by or discussed between or among Commissioners, even if a quorum is present, outside of a public meeting. Such documentation shall be posted to the Corporation Commission’s website within five (5) business days following the event. However, should the Corporation Commission wish to take potential action on the subject of a disclosed event, such potential action item shall be documented at least forty-eight (48) hours prior to the Corporation Commission considering such item at a public meeting.”

Some commissioners had complained they were not legally allowed to attend the same conventions or gatherings without violating the law. Despite such claims, they still attended the same national conventions and did so in the past several months in California and Washington, D.C. As OK Energy Today reported in early March, all three had attended a national meeting of the National Assocation of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

The Oklahoma Press Association endorsed the bill and the group’s executive director Mark Thomas worked with legislators in crafting the measure. He felt confident the exemption would be workable for the commissioners and told OK Energy Today a protective aspect of the law is a June 30, 2026 sunset clause. The bill becomes law on Nov. 1, 2024.

“The sunset clause would give some comfort level to legislators that this new ability for commissioners to speak about the limited set of subjects with the enhanced reporting provision would end unless reauthorized by the legislature.   Sunset clauses are generally used as a backstop to bad behavior,” said Thomas in an email exchange with OK Energy Today.

“If the commissioners abuse this new legislative authority as outlined in statute it can be amended in 2025 session, or the 2026 session, or simply go away unless the legislature extends or removes the sunset.  Several people believe a sunset clause would be a valuable amendment to the legislation.”

The measure that failed in the legislature, Senate Bill 1388 was authored by Sen. Jessica Garvin of Duncan and was an attempt to pay the mileage of commissioners who lived long distances from the agency’s headquarters in Oklahoma City.

Garvin’s bill also proposed mileage for other statewide elected officers including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Treasurer, State Auditor and Inspector, Insurance Commissioner and Labor Commissioner. But many of them also have the use of state vehicles.

Commissioner David, who is paid $114,713 a year, lives in the small town of Porter in Wagoner County. She not only requested mileage but per diem as well. The commissioner spent 12 years in the legislature and received such payments as a legislator. When she won election last year to the commission, those payments did not exist for her new statewide office.

Commissioner Todd Hiett is another of the regulators who lives in eastern Oklahoma, driving to Oklahoma City from his farm in Kellyville.

During legislative hearings, Sen. Garvin admitted she did not know what the cost of such a law would be to the state, explaining it would be decided by each of the agencies. The bill initially won approval on an 8-3 vote in the General Government Committee of the Senate. A Fiscal Year 2025 fiscal impact was found to be “none”  and the full year fiscal impact was also “none,” according to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

Following committee approval, the bill was referred in February to the Senate Appropriations Committee and there it lingered without action before the legislature adjourned last Thursday.