Question Submitted By Hofmeister, 062618 OKAG, 2018 OK AG 4

Docket Nº:2018 OK AG 4
Party Name:Question Submitted by: The Honorable Joy Hofmeister, State Superintendent of Public Education
Attorney:MIKE HUNTER ATTORNEY GENERAL OF OKLAHOMA BRYAN NEAL ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Case Date:June 26, 2018
Court:Oklahoma Attorney General Opinions
 
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2018 OK AG 4

Question Submitted by: The Honorable Joy Hofmeister, State Superintendent of Public Education

No. 2018 OK AG 4

Oklahoma Attorney General Opinions

June 26, 2018

MIKE HUNTER ATTORNEY GENERAL OF OKLAHOMA

BRYAN NEAL ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL

¶0 This office has received your request for an official Attorney General Opinion in which you, in effect, ask the following questions: 1. What effect, if any, does the enactment in 2016 of House Bill 3103 (2016 Okla. Sess. Laws ch. 356) have on the conclusions reached in Attorney General Opinion 2001-33?

2. If, based on the enactment of House Bill 3103 (2016 Okla. Sess. Laws ch. 356), Attorney General Opinion 2001-33 is no longer valid, can an otherwise ineligible member of a school district board now continue to hold a seat on the board?

3. If the answer to Question #2 is no:

(a) When does the seat of the ineligible board member become vacant?

(b) Does the ineligible board member continue to serve until a replacement is appointed?

(c) If the ineligible board member does not resign, must the school district board take action to remove the ineligible member?

(d) What are the time frames and mechanisms available to remove the ineligible board member?

4. If a school district board member is ineligible to hold a seat on the board, does the member's participation in board activities violate the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act?

I.

BACKGROUND

¶1 Public school education in Oklahoma is governed by the Oklahoma School Code, 70 O.S.2011 & Supp.2017, §§ 5-101 --5-161. Local school district boards of education ("School Boards") are the governing bodies for each school district in Oklahoma. 70 O.S.2011, § 5-106. In general, School Board members are elected, see id. § 5-107A, and are required to, among other things, complete courses of instruction on education issues both as new members and on a continuing basis. See 70 O.S.Supp.2017, §§ 5-110, 5-110.1. In 2001, this office issued an official opinion relating to the consequences of a School Board member not meeting these educational requirements. See A.G. Opin. 2001-33 (hereinafter, the "2001 Opinion").

¶2 In 2016, House Bill 3103 (hereinafter, "HB 3103") amended Sections 5-110 and 5-110.1 of Title 70, the statutes largely at issue in the 2001 Opinion. See 2016 Okla. Sess. Laws ch. 356. Because your questions involve the effect of HB 3103 on the analysis and conclusions set forth in the 2001 Opinion, it is helpful to begin with a brief summary of the previous version of Sections 5-110 and 5-110.1, the questions addressed and conclusions reached in the 2001 Opinion, and the subsequent statutory changes effected by HB 3103.

A. The Educational Instruction Requirements of Title 70, Sections 5-110 & 5-110.1.

¶3 At the time of the 2001 Opinion, Section 5-110 required a person filing "a notification and declaration of candidacy" for a School Board seat to agree in writing to complete, within 15 months of election or appointment, at least twelve hours of instruction covering certain education-related topics. 70 O.S.Supp.2000, § 5-110 (A). 1 Incumbents seeking reelection were subject to a lesser commitment of six hours of instruction within fifteen months of being elected, with an emphasis on changes in school law. Id. § 5-110(B). If a School Board member did not meet these requirements, the School Board was required to "declare the seat of such member vacant and fill the vacancy according to law." Id. § 5-110(C).

¶4 In addition to the requirements of Section 5-110, Section 5-110.1 set forth the following continuing education requirements for School Board members to meet over the course of their term: fifteen hours if elected for a five-year term, twelve hours if elected for a four-year term, and nine hours if elected for a three-year term. 70 O.S.Supp.2000, § 5-110.1 (A). Failure to meet the continuing education requirements of Section 5-110.1 would "result in the ineligibility of the member to run for reelection to the [School Board.]" Id. § 5-110.1(C).

B. The 2001 Opinion.

¶5 The 2001 Opinion addressed four questions related to the requirements of Section 5-110.1. The first question was whether a School Board member who failed to meet the continuing education requirements of Section 5-110.1 could be elected to an additional term of office. The answer consisted of two parts. First, the opinion concluded that, based on the straightforward terms of the statute, a School Board member who does not comply with Section 5-110.1 "cannot run for reelection[.]" A.G. Opin. 2001-33 at 144. Second, the opinion addressed a scenario in which an ineligible incumbent nevertheless runs for, and is elected to, another term on the School Board and such election is not successfully challenged by the deadline for protests set forth in the Oklahoma Election Code. Id. at 144-47. Because Section 5-110.1 provided that non-compliance would result only in the "ineligibility of the member to run for reelection"--in contrast to being ineligible to hold office--the opinion concluded that the reelected incumbent in this scenario may serve another term. Id. (emphasis added).

¶6 The second question asked whether, in the above scenario, the School Board would be required by law to seat the reelected incumbent once the election results were certified by the county election official. A.G. Opin. 2001-33 at 147. Here, the opinion again focused on the fact that noncompliance with Section 5-110.1 rendered the incumbent ineligible to run for reelection, but not ineligible to hold title to the office, if elected. Id. at 148-49. The opinion concluded that once reelected and in possession of "a due and proper certificate of election to an office," the incumbent "is prima facie entitled to qualify and assume the duties of such office, and the [School Board] cannot refuse to seat him or her as a board member." Id. at 151.

¶7 The third question addressed in the 2001 Opinion asked whether, in this scenario, the School Board would be required to declare the incumbent member's seat vacant under Title 51, Section 8, which provides that "[e]very office shall become vacant on the happening" of, among other things, the officer's "[c]onviction in a state or federal court of competent jurisdiction of any felony or any offense involving a violation of his official oath[.]" A.G. Opin. 2001-33 at 151 (quoting 51 O.S.1991, § 8 (emphasis in original)). Noting the requirement that School Board candidates swear to or affirm their eligibility to run for office, the opinion found that an incumbent who was ineligible to run for office based on noncompliance with Section 5-110.1--but swore or affirmed to the contrary--could be guilty of perjury. Id. at 152. It is the School Board itself that, under Title 51, Section 8, must determine whether facts exist that would render the office vacant. Id. at 152-53. If the School Board refused to do so, the remedy would be a writ of mandamus to compel its action. Id. at 153. However, before the School Board could declare the seat vacant, the opinion concluded, the purportedly ineligible seat holder must be provided with due process which, at a minimum, would include notice and an opportunity to be heard. Id. at 155 (citing Patel v. OMH Med. Ctr., Inc., 1999 OK 33, ¶ 41, 987 P.2d 1185, 1201).

¶8 The fourth and final question addressed in the 2001 Opinion is whether, if an incumbent is reelected to a School Board despite being ineligible to run under Section 5-110.1, subsequent action taken by that School Board is legitimate. A.G. Opin. 2001-33 at 155. In analyzing this question, the opinion again emphasized the difference between eligibility to run for office and eligibility to hold that office once elected. Id. at 156. Based on this distinction, the opinion concluded that an incumbent who is elected notwithstanding the failure to comply with Section 5-110.1...

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