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Altus mayor, city council members under investigation

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ALTUS, Okla. - The mayor and 4 members of the Altus City Council could be in hot water, having possibly met illegally, violating the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.

At least one citizen believes they did and has filed a complaint with the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.  The letter states that the five of them met in private before the last city council meeting.

The members admit they did, but say it is legal because there has to be five council members present for there to be a violation.  At least one council member disagrees and now the sheriff has turned the matter over to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

The private meeting happened at Councilman Don Johnson's house.  The gist of what the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act states: Informal gatherings among a majority of the members of any public body to decide on any course of action is prohibited.

The issue is, is the mayor a member of that governing body?  Former mayor and current Councilman Don Johnson says no.  However, Councilman Jack Smiley and others say yes because he can vote.

Council meetings are supposed to take place in council chambers and Councilman Jack Smiley says that is where they should stay.

"Everyone wants transparency in government and this is just part of that," said Smiley.

Smiley says the group met illegally because his research tells him the mayor is a part of the governing body.

"I did look at the Supreme Court ruling that half the governing body, and in our form, the mayor does vote, so four councilmen and the mayor can control any vote they want," said Smiley.

Councilman Johnson disagrees.

"If four council members and the mayor came to a city council meeting, we'd cancel the meeting. That's not a quorum," said Johnson.

Councilwoman Peggy Risinger was one who did attend the meeting at Johnson's house. She admits it does not look good.

"It doesn't look good and the public may not understand," said Risinger.

Risinger says she did not intend to violate any law.  Smiley says he is not a lawyer, but he believes what happened was wrong.

"Anytime enough members of the governing body [get together] and discuss city business before a council meeting, it may not violate the letter of the law, but it violates the spirit of the law," said Smiley.

"If we did something wrong, let us know what the guidelines are!  We don't understand the guidelines now.  We're confused on the Open Meetings Act and our form of government," said Johnson.

7News tried to contact Mayor T.L. Gramling, but he did not return any phone calls.  Johnson says he does not plan to have any more meetings like this at his house until they get some sort of clarification from the attorney general's office.

Councilman Sid Willis was also at the private meeting at Johnson's house and says he too, believes it was not a quorum because the mayor can abstain from voting.  Calls were also put in calls to the OSBI and the attorney general's office.  Count on 7News to keep you advised.

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