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Oklahoma Turnpike Authority board to evaluate court's decision

Dec. 6—The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority on Tuesday will rethink its options after a judge ruled the agency violated the Open Meeting Act, according to a board meeting agenda.

Last Thursday, Seminole County District Judge Timothy Olsen ruled in favor of 246 Norman residents who claimed in their lawsuit OTA violated the act after it did not include any mention of new turnpike projects on its Dec. 2021, January and February meeting agendas.

The court agreed with the plaintiffs' attorney, Stan Ward, and found agency officials were aware of the specifics of the plan but in a willful violation, did not include them on the agendas, The Transcript reported.

OTA announced its $5 billion, 15-year turnpike expansion program, ACCESS, during a Feb. 22 meeting even though the plans were not listen on that agenda. It intends to build a new toll road along Indian Hills and in the Lake Thunderbird Watershed in Norman.

According to the agency's Tuesday meeting agenda, the board will convene in executive session to discuss the lawsuit and a second lawsuit filed in May.

Opposition group, Pike Off OTA, claimed the agency does not have legislative approval for the east Norman toll road and that it violated the state's one-bond rule.

Pike Off attorney Rob Norman recently made arguments before the Oklahoma Supreme Court during a bond validation hearing for the agency. He stated that a bill adopted by the legislature in 1987 contains insufficient reference to the planned toll road in the watershed.

Norman cited a section of state law which authorizes that all turnpike projects are to be built under one bond issuance, not several bonds in a phased-in approach.

The high court has not yet issued an opinion on the hearing.

Because the Open Meeting Act lawsuit was a willful violation, the law states that any business conducted related to the violation is stricken, Ward recently told The Transcript.

The state's Council of Bond Oversight granted conditional approval to OTA to seek a $500 million bond for ACCESS if the court cases were dismissed or decided in OTA's favor, the Transcript reported.

A request for comment from council officials was not returned late Monday.

Whether the agency intends to appeal the court's ruling and whether the ruling will significantly delay ACCESS was not clear Monday.

OTA spokeswoman Brenda Perry Clark said staff were "still evaluating the Court's decision" in an email to The Transcript on Friday.

Clark also said the agency would comply with Judge Olen's ruling and list the ACCESS agenda items according to the court's findings.

In other business, the Tuesday agenda showed that the agency would consider adoption of its 2023 annual budget. No items related to ACCESS other than the executive session appeared on the agenda.

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