State parole board members reject DA's call to resign
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau & CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer
Saturday, February 02, 2013
2/02/13 at 6:56 AM
All five members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Friday rejected Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater's demand that they resign or face misdemeanor charges for alleged violations of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.
"The members individually have decided that they will not resign, and it is a unanimous decision," said Mack Martin, an Oklahoma City attorney representing the board.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin - who appointed three of the board's members - said the governor has not called for their resignations.
"Gov. Fallin believes the individuals serving on the Pardon and Parole Board are well-intentioned public servants who deserve to be treated with respect," Weintz said. "The governor has made it clear in the past that the board needed to pursue reforms aimed at improving transparency. The board has done that and is currently overhauling its website to further improve the public's ability to track its activities."
The governor expects board members to continue to improve services and to operate in "the most transparent and accountable way possible," Weintz said.
Marc Dreyer, the board's chairman and senior pastor of Tulsa's Memorial Baptist church, said in a written statement that he hopes the issue can be "resolved in a manner beneficial to the citizens of Oklahoma and to the benefit of the criminal justice system."
"Each of us has given a great deal of thought and prayer to this decision and are each firmly convinced that we have not ever knowingly or willfully violated the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act nor participated in any criminal wrongdoing in our service on the board," Dreyer said.
"It would be easy to step down," he said, "for the compensation is minimal, the work is overwhelming and the criticism is ample, but we believe that we are doing a service that is important and that we do it well."
Multiple sources told the Tulsa World earlier this week that Prater told the Pardon and Parole Board members to resign or face misdemeanor charges for alleged violations of the Open Meeting Act.
Prater has not returned phone calls seeking comment.
Last year he accused the board of violating the Open Meeting Act by posting vague agendas without enough information for the public to understand actions the board was considering.
Board members have repeatedly denied violating the law and say they've worked in recent months to increase transparency and clarify agendas for the public.
On Thursday, Currie Ballard was the first board member to announce that he won't resign and will fight any criminal charges filed in relation to the alleged Open Meeting Act violations.
Ballard, a Fallin appointee, said he sees Prater's threat as "purely political based."
"The DA has a major problem with my votes of Christian compassion" on the board, Ballard told the Tulsa World. "If he truly thinks we violated the law, he needs to do his job and file charges."
Ballard said he thinks his decision to recommend clemency in 2011 for convicted drug dealer Larry Yarbrough, who was sentenced to life in prison for drug crimes, has made him unpopular with district attorneys, including Prater. (Fallin ultimately denied the recommendation.)
Last year, Prater also accused the board of violating the law for recommending commutations for some inmates who were required by law to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before they could be paroled. An attorney general's opinion released in October said the board was within its power to recommend commutation, which is different from recommending parole.
Dreyer said every board member brings "a unique background and experience" to decisions about 550 to 600 offenders each month.
The board was established 60 years ago by the Oklahoma Constitution to protect it from "the fleeting whim of rapidly changing public opinions," Dreyer said.
The board's five appointees are made by both the judicial and executive branches to protect it "from undue political influence," he said.
In addition to Dreyer and Ballard, the other members are David Moore, Richard Dugger and Lynnell Harkins.
The Pardon and Parole Board is independent from the Department of Corrections so that pressures such as prison overcrowding and funding will not drive the board's decisions about granting parole.
Dreyer said he believes that Prater "is a man of integrity" and said he's willing to sit down with the district attorney to try to work out a solution.
As of Friday evening, Oklahoma County District Court records did not show any charges filed against the board members in relation to Prater's allegations.
"It is our hope that we could sit down with Mr. Prater and address any issues or concerns he has and avoid the ultimatum, but I don't know if we will be able to or not," Martin said.
Original Print Headline: Parole board won't step down
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465 Cary Aspinwall 918-581-8477
(At left) Marc Dreyer: The board's chairman and a Tulsa pastor, he says he hopes the issue can be resolved in a "beneficial" manner. (At right)David Prater: Sources say he told board members to resign or face charges.