council of bond meeting august

A woman holds a sign Tuesday in protest of Oklahoma Turnpike Authority plans at the Council of Bond meeting.

The Council of Bond Oversight granted conditional approval for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to issue revenue bonds for new turnpike projects pending the outcome of two lawsuits.

The council decided Tuesday that OTA will not be allowed to issue a $500 million bond sale until two ongoing district court lawsuits are “dismissed or decided” in favor of the agency. The council also gave its approval on a second condition if the Oklahoma Supreme Court decides to validate those bonds.

As part of its $5 billion, 15-year long range ACCESS program, OTA plans to construct two new toll roads in Norman: one along Indian Hills Road and a second in the Lake Thunderbird Watershed, which is the subject of a lawsuit. Residents who filed the suit accused OTA of not following proper bond procedure and claim the east Norman turnpike is not authorized according to state statute, which does not include a description of that project.

Council spokesman Tim Allen told The Transcript after Tuesday’s meeting that “all conditions must be met” before the agency can issue bonds to start any turnpike projects. On May 4, the council gave approval to OTA to seek a $200 million line of credit for ACCESS with the condition it could not use any of the funds on projects in a lawsuit.

While the line of credit would have allowed OTA to start some turnpike projects, Tuesday’s decision precludes the agency from selling bonds to start those projects.

“This is basically an all or nothing deal,” Allen said. “There’s not a way to carve that (litigated projects) out.”

Both lawsuits were filed in May, but it was the Open Meeting Act lawsuit after the May 4 meeting that prohibited OTA from using any of the $200 million line of revolving credit. Stan Ward’s nearly 200 clients claimed in their lawsuit that OTA violated the Open Meeting Act after the agency did not sufficiently inform the public on its January and February meeting agendas.

OTA found it could not use any of the funds from the line of credit following the filing of that open meeting lawsuit, a memo to the council reads.

“The mere allegations raised in this litigation contractually precluded the OTA from drawing on the $200 million line of credit,” it reads. “OTA had not made any draws on the line of credit.”

Instead, OTA’s board rescinded the line of credit during its June meeting and voted to seek council approval to issue $500 million in bonds pending the outcome of the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling.

OTA has argued in its motions to dismiss the lawsuits that the state’s high court is the exclusive venue to hear disputes, according to state law.

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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