Editor's note: this article has been updated to reflect comments from OTA and the governor's office which were received after the Monday deadline.
Plaintiffs in two lawsuits against the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority have called for the resignation of two officials and plan to file a restraining order to stop the agency’s Tuesday board meeting business.
OTA announced Feb. 22 it would construct two new toll roads in Cleveland County, one along Indian Hills Road and another in the Lake Thunderbird Watershed.
District Court Judge Timothy Olsen ruled in December that the agency violated the Open Meeting Act during that meeting because it had no mention of those plans on the agenda despite contracts which were then awarded.
Plaintiff Tassie Hirschfeld and another plaintiff in the Pike Off OTA lawsuit, Amy Cerato, addressed a letter to Gov. Kevin Stitt calling for the resignation of Transportation Secretary and OTA Director Tim Gatz and the agency’s Deputy Director, Joe Echelle.
“Your Secretary of Transportation and his OTA Deputy Director have demonstrated their inability or unwillingness to follow the law and they should be replaced,” the letter reads.
The letter, released Monday, comes as OTA plans to reauthorize engineering and design contracts for its ACCESS plan, a statewide expansion of the toll road system, the agency’s Tuesday meeting agenda indicated.
Stan Ward, who represented the plaintiffs in the OMA lawsuit, said he would file a temporary restraining order “first thing” Tuesday morning – hours before the 1 p.m. OTA board meeting.
“We want to take all actions to try to save our public funds,” Ward said.
Ward’s co-counsel, Richard Labarthe, noted the timing of the meeting’s agenda items.
“They filed this within 48 hours of Judge Olsen’s final ruling,” Labarthe said.
OTA spokesperson Bryce Boyer said the agency had not yet seen the letter and could not comment, but added that the rush was to respond quickly to the judge's order.
"As for the corrective action taking place during the Jan. 3 board meeting, the OTA wants to rectify the judge’s ruling as quickly as possible," he said in an email late Monday.
Ward said the judge’s final order, called a judgment order, clearly “invalidated all those contracts.” He estimated the contracts paid thus far total at least $40 million.
Labarthe said most of the contract payouts were “incurred after they already well knew that there were these two big lawsuits.”
“They went ahead and decided to hemorrhage all this money anyway,” Labarthe said. “So, they’re terrible stewards of the public’s purse.”
In a letter dated Dec. 7, Ward demanded that OTA seek a refund from all its contractors associated with ACCESS at the request of his clients.
OTA has said it was still considering its options, at the time.
Hirschfeld said in her letter Monday the timing clearly benefitted the agency, not the people impacted by its plans.
“This precipitous action is being taken during the holiday season when many Oklahoma families are celebrating the season,” her letter read. “Moreover, it is consistent with how this whole ACCESS Oklahoma Program has been conducted.”
Ward said it came as no surprise.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “It’s a little audacious, let’s put it that way.”
Hirschfeld told The Transcript she did not expect to hear from Stitt’s office.
“He has not been willing to engage any community stakeholders on this issue,” she said. “I think when he was trying to ignore us while he was trying to get reelected, he’s definitely going to ignore after he’s been elected.”
Spokesperson for the governor's office, Carly Atchison, said the office had been closed for the holiday and that while Stitt's office received the letter late Monday, they had not reviewed it.
"Once we've had a chance to review the letter, we will respond to the media," she said in an email to The Transcript.
OTA's meeting will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the ODOT Commission Room at 200 NE 21st St. in Oklahoma City.