|Posted by Johnny Joe James on August 2, 2016 at 12:35 PM|
Senator Richard Lerblance, OK
HARTSHORNE - An attorney formerly working for the city of Hartshorne wrote in a resignation letter to city council members that he believed city leadership broke an open meeting law during the June 13 regular council meeting. Further, Hartshorne-based attorney Richard C. Lerblance accused city leadership of adding a vote into minutes that did not actually take place and accused Mayor Carolyn Trueblood of suspending him as city attorney after he brought the issues to her attention.
"I feel that my legal advice has been challenged, that I was given notice of suspension for not going along with the administration's practice of doing what it wants to do in every circumstance and for calling out a serious violation of the state statutes as it relates to the city of Hartshorne," Lerblance wrote in one of the letters obtained by the News-Capital.
The attorney declined to comment when reached by the newspaper. Trueblood said letters Lerblance wrote to city officials will be discussed during a closed executive session at the regular city council meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 8. She said the city has always followed the law. "You may call OML (the Oklahoma Municipal League) and get that acknowledged," Trueblood said. "We are fine. We are A-OK; we did everything proper. OML will tell you the same thing." The News-Capital contacted the OML and was told no one could talk to media until spokesperson Nancee Morris returned to the office on Wednesday.
Letter to the mayor - Lerblance, who is the former District 7 state senator, was hired by former Hartshorne Mayor Caleb Woten and had worked as the city attorney for about a year before he abruptly resigned last week. In a letter dated July 12 and addressed to Trueblood, Lerblance said he contacted Trueblood after the June 13 city council meeting regarding the need to pass a budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year before June 24. "If you will remember that I called you on the phone after the June 13 city council meeting regarding the budget for the next fiscal year," Leblance wrote. "I asked when the council was going to pass the budget and you said it would be at the next council meeting." However, he said in the letter to Trueblood that he found a discrepancy while reviewing the minutes that were approved by the council at the July 11 council meeting.
"I read the minutes of the June 13 council meeting and item 7 in the June 13, 2016 minutes stated: "Motion was made by Destiny French, seconded by Teresa Farris to approve the 2014-2015 audit and budget. Roll call 7 ayes Tom Larsen, Destiny French, John Beauchamp, John Grove, Teresa Farris, Eddie Kelly, and Leon Mace. 1 Nathan Sparks." Sparks was not at the meeting, according to the meeting minutes recorded by the city of Hartshorne. "There was not an item 7 on the agenda of the June 13, 2016, city of Hartshorne council meeting that called for council discussion and action to approve the audit and budget," Lerblance's letter continued. "Furthermore, the minutes approved last night stated that the 2014-2015 audit and budget was approved. That is incorrect in that the budget that should be approved would be the budget for 2016-2017." He called the supposed vote a "violation of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act."
"It is obvious that the 2016-2017 budget approval was not posted on the agenda for the June 13, 2016, meeting, then the minutes of the June 13, 2016, meeting were changed to reflect that the budget was in fact voted on and passed in clear violation of the OMA (Opening Meeting Act) at the June 13 meeting," Leblance wrote. "I cannot condone the fact that after I brought this to your attention, that whoever prepared the minutes of the June 13, 2016, meeting actually included that a public vote was taken by the city council and passed the budget, even passing a budget that was for the wrong fiscal year. Based upon the actions that have taken place, it is my opinion that the budget for fiscal year 2016-2017 has not passed, that the minutes reflect an action that did not happen and that appropriate action shall be taken," Leblance wrote.
A review of the agenda for the June 13 meeting does not list plans for an audit or budget to be discussed or voted on. Hartshorne City Clerk Dawn Dunkin said the vote was taken during the "New Business" portion of the council meeting. New business during a council meeting is reserved for items that could not be foreseen a day prior to the scheduled meeting, according to Oklahoma law. Mayor Trueblood told the newspaper when asked that the vote did take place. She said the city did the right thing by voting for the budget and audit under new business because officials had no way of knowing when they were going to be able to pass the budget.
"We didn't know that our auditor for the city was coming," Trueblood said. "We needed to pass it. We would have been delinquent. We didn't have a budget to pass until the day of the meeting," Trueblood said. "We didn't even have it in our hands."
Suspension and resignation - Leblance wrote a second letter dated July 25 and addressed it to all of the city council members and to Trueblood. In it, he resigned as city attorney. He said prior to his resignation, he was suspended by Trueblood. The city attorney works at the pleasure of the mayor in Hartshorne. Leblance wrote in the letter he was told by Trueblood that he was being suspended for bringing up his concerns about the budget. "I immediately called city hall to talk to the mayor as to the reason and purpose of the suspension letter," Leblance wrote. Her response was, "The way you talked to us last Monday, telling us that the city could not spend any money."
Leblance said because he felt the city failed to pass a budget, he contacted several agencies including the OML and the Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector's office to see what the city should do next. He said they told him it was important for the city to not spend any additional money. "This motion and vote did not take place at the June meeting as reflected in the minutes," Leblance wrote about passing a budget. "I refer you to my letter dated July 12, 2016, regarding the failure to have an item listed on the agenda to be voted on by the council."
Leblance said he took his job as city attorney seriously. "I will not continue to serve as the city attorney for the city of Hartshorne under suspension until the next city council meeting," Leblance wrote. "I have lived in Hartshorne my entire life, came back to Hartshorne when I graduated from Law School and opened my practice of law to serve the people of Hartshorne and surrounding area. I have practiced law in Hartshorne for 37 years and it is an embarrassment to me personally and professionally to be suspended as the city of Hartshorne attorney for giving legal advice that I was hired to do."
This story is from the pages of the McAlester News Capitol, located in McAlester, OK
Parker Perry was the reporter for this story. He can be contacted at [email protected]
Categories: The Informer