OTA Rally State Capitol

Protesters hold signs as they gather in the fourth floor rotunda during the Go Away OTA Rally, wednesday, March 23, 2022, at the Oklahoma State Capitol. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

Norman is without a District 3 representative on the Oklahoma Transportation Commission ahead of a vote on proposed turnpike projects, public records indicate.

Local resident Dave Moore sent a letter to the commission and asked that members cease making any “critical decisions” until a representative is seated in District 3. The district encompasses several counties, including Cleveland, Coal, Garvin, Hughes, Johnston, Lincoln, McClain, Pottawatomie, Pontotoc and Seminole.

The letter is dated July 5 and comes after District 3 Commissioner T.W. Shannon resigned in March to pursue a bid for U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe’s seat.

Weeks earlier, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority announced plans to construct two new toll roads in Norman — one through the Lake Thunderbird watershed, and a second along Indian Hills Road. The ACCESS plan is a 15-year statewide expansion of state’s the toll road network.

The commission will vote on the ACCESS plan – three new proposed turnpike projects — during its 11 a.m. Monday meeting.

“Without a District 3 Commissioner who understands the particularities of the toll road proposals, and with District 3 being the most affected district in the state, it is difficult to regard decisions made by the Commissioner concerning District 3 to be informed, fair or impartial,” Moore’s letter reads. “I urge you to delay decisions regarding toll road routes in District 3 until such time as a commissioner is appointed and allowed to become fully informed on the complex issues involved.”

Moore had not received a response by late Friday.

The District 3 seat is filled by the Oklahoma Speaker of the House, according to OTA spokesperson Brenda Perry.

A spokesman for Speaker of the House Charles McCall said in an email that the appointment would soon be filled.

“The speaker is required to make hundreds of appointments a year to several state boards and commissions. While this is a recent vacancy, it is an important role that has been prioritized,” spokesperson John Estus said.

Perry said the board is designed to act based on a quorum and an at-large member who fills in for vacant commissioners.

“Decisions to table actions by the commission rest with the commission chairman,” Perry said. “The commission is designed to make decisions without all members present as long as a quorum is met. The at-large member is in place to represent any of the eight districts. In this case, the at-large member lives in District 3.”

Perry also noted that the Transportation Commission has limited approval when it comes to turnpikes.

“The only decision made by the Transportation Commission related to the turnpike projects is to confirm the proposed routes do not conflict with state highways and that connections between the two systems will be made if and when built.”

According to the roster of commissioners, the at-large member is Gene McKown.

“That’s a disingenuous answer,” Moore said. “District 3 is the most affected by all this, and we don’t have a commissioner. If all we need is an at-large commissioner, then why not cancel all the other commissioners and just have the one at-large guy?”

How commissioners are appointed

The Oklahoma Transportation Commission is composed of one at-large member and one member from each of the eight transportation department districts of the state. The members of the Commission are appointed in three different capacities according to the districts, according to Perry.

Districts 1 and 4 are appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the state Senate, districts 2 and 3 by the Speaker of the House, and districts 5-8 and an at large member by the governor.

“Each member shall serve at the pleasure of his or her appointing authority and may be removed or replaced without cause,” Perry said in an email. “Appointed by the Governor, the Director of the Department serves as an ex officio member of the Commission, voting only in case of a tie.”

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at mwood@normantranscript.com or 405-416-4420.

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