Racing Commission Considers Appeals Behind Closed Doors
Ray, Tim, THE JOURNAL RECORD
Deliberations of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission regarding appeals on disciplinary hearings were held behind closed doors Thursday.
The commission defended its actions by citing a 1984 Oklahoma Attorney General's opinion which said such deliberations were quasi-judicial and could be governed by the Oklahoma Administrative Procedures Act.
The appeals regarded Steven Eugene and Kelly Dawn Mitchell of Sallisaw. The stewards at Blue Ribbon Downs suspended the Mitchells' licenses, pending further review by the stewards and the horse racing commission.
The stewards had recommended a five-year suspension and $5,000 fine for Steven Mitchell because he allegedly had a yearling on the premises of Blue Ribbon Downs and allegedly had syringes and prohibited substances in one of his stalls. The stewards recommended the same penalty for Kelly Mitchell, because she is married to Steven Mitchell.
John M. Wylie, correspondent for The Tulsa Tribune, objected when the commissioners voted to deliberate in executive session, saying that it was a violation of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.
The Open Meeting Act states that executive sessions may be held "only for the purpose of discussing the employment, hiring, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of any individual salaried public officer or employee. . ." District school boards also may hold executive sessions to discuss disciplinary actions against students or for discussing negotiations regarding employees.
Horse racing commission Chairman T.J. Henry said the commission had received an Attorney General's opinion in 1984 that said such deliberations could be held in executive session.
Wylie said his objection would stand.
Gordon Hare, executive director of the horse racing commission, provided members of the press with an opinion by then-Attorney General Mike Turpen that was based on a request for clarification on the matter by the Oklahoma State Board of Public Accountancy.
Turpen's opinion stated that the Board of Public Accountancy could deliberate in executive session on disciplinary hearings because the board was acting in a quasi-judicial manner and should be governed by the Administrative Procedures Act.
Turpen cited a 1975 Oklahoma Supreme Court decision in Stillwater Savings & Loan Association vs. …