Oklahoma district attorneys have found a new way around open government laws and Gov. Stitt’s order against hiring lobbyists with taxpayer money.
A cozy relationship between the District Attorneys Council, a state agency, and its private nonprofit, the District Attorneys Association, provides a legal route to meet in secret and possibly skirt laws imposed on other state agencies.
The council and the association are composed of the same people at the same address who meet consecutively on the same day, as found by Oklahoma Watch reporter Paul Monies. The same executive director heads the groups, which co-sponsor training programs and events.
In practice, this is one organization masquerading as two. It goes against the spirit and expectations of transparent government and should end.
This covert operation comes at a time when Oklahomans have sent clear messages to reform criminal justice laws. The state’s high incarceration rate and punitive approach devours revenue and keeps people in a cycle of chaos. It hasn’t improved safety, the economy or communities.
Yet, district attorneys have been the biggest opponents to reasonable reforms such as re-classifying some drug felonies as misdemeanors, restructuring fees and fines and adding more community courts.
The public cannot see the prosecutors’ deliberations on those issues because they held in closed meetings of their private nonprofit.
This prosecutors’ arrangement conveniently opens the door to other abuses, including getting around the governor’s latest ban on state agencies hiring lobbyists.
The Council can’t hire an outside lobbyist under Stitt’s rules, but the Association does. It’s crafty, unfair and wrong. It essentially renders the governor’s rule meaningless to the prosecutors and provides a prosecutor-endorsed outline for any other state agency to thumb its nose at Stitt’s reform.
District attorneys should be the model for obeying the law in letter and spirit. In Oklahoma, they are the model for getting away with anything you can.