Oklahoma residents who accused the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) of hiding plans about a $15 Billion turnpike expansion got a big win this week.
On December 1, 2022 Judge Timothy Olsen found the OTA to be in willful violation of the Open Meeting Act. This means all actions taken at the January 25 and February 22 OTA meetings for the proposed ACCESS Oklahoma turnpikes are invalid.
At the Friday press release, lead attorney for the case, Stan Ward, said the court’s decision “sends the right message to all state agencies, not just the OTA […] We know the fight is probably not over for good, but we are here for the long run and we intend to win.”
What is the Open Meeting Act?
The Open Meeting Act’s stated policy is to “facilitate an informed citizenry’s understanding of the governmental processes” by informing them of business the government will be conducting in advance. Meeting agendas must be “worded in plain language, directly stating the purpose of the meeting” and contain all planned business.
How did the OTA violate the Open Meeting Act?
Court records for the case show that the OTA agendas in question intended to mislead the public about the taking of Plaintiffs’ property and the property of hundreds of others in the path of the unannounced turnpike expansion.
Ultimately the court found via summary judgment that “that the actions [taken by OTA] were willful” and encompassed “conscious, purposeful violations of law.” Judge Olsen’s decision states “the OTA agendas in this case are clearly deceptively vague and misleading.”
Lead Attorney Stan Ward speaks on the cases outcome
“We hope that ACCESS Oklahoma will get our message. If you are going to have a turnpike and you decide that’s in the best interest of Oklahoma let ‘we the people’ and in particular the people that are adversely impacted by the decision know in advance so that we can speak to our legislators and our representatives”
The Open Meeting Act Case decided via Summary Judgement
Trials occur when there are issues of fact in dispute. In this instance there were no issues of fact in dispute. Ultimately the case boiled down to arguments that:
- did the OTA agendas give reasonable notice to the public of the business to be conducted? (NO)
- were those violations willful? (YES)
This ruling forces OTA to start the process over meaning all decisions since the ACCESS Oklahoma announcement on Feb. 22, including awarded engineering contracts, are invalid.
Norman Transcript “Olsen noted the agenda appeared to do just the opposite of informing the public.”
The Oklahoman “Judge rules Oklahoma Turnpike Authority ‘willfully’ violated open meetings law”
State Impact NPR “The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority has lost the first of several impending court decisions”
News 9 “JUDGE SAYS OTA ‘WILLFULLY VIOLATED’ STATE LAW”
KFOR News 4 “Very good news : Plaintiffs react to ruling that OTA violated Open Meeting Act”
KOCO News 5 “Access Oklahoma opposers react to ruling on OTA violations”
The Bond Buyer “Judge slams Oklahoma Turnpike Authority for Open Meeting Act violations”
OSCN Download the Courts Decision for CV-2022-1905
OU Daily “Oklahoma Turnpike Authority Ruled Against In Norman Turnpike Expansion”
KFOR Flashpoint (beginning at 17:21) “Flash Point December 4th 2022”