The citizens were heard today at the Oklahoma Supreme Court. After the attorneys sat down, Eastern Oklahoma County Residents Paul Crouch and Frank Volpe asked to be heard, and they were allowed to speak in a move that was not unprecedented, but was unusual in a hearing at the state’s highest court.
The hearing was for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to formally ask the high court to approve their $480 million bond sale to fund the Driving Forward program to fix and build six turnpikes, including the Eastern Oklahoma County loop to join I-40 to I-44. The petitioner was OTA, represented by attorney Jered Davidson and the respondent was attorney Jerry Fent, who has lost his challenge, in a ruling from October 3, alleging the projects’ funding amounted to unconstitutional “logrolling.” However, Mr. Fent has filed for a rehearing on that issue and was at the hearing today to speak against the bond funding.
Davidson in a thorough presentation cited law, case and precedent to plead for the court to approve the bond funding. From a state question allowing the construction of turnpikes (after the original Turner Turnpike was built) that passed way back in 1954 to citing the Enabling Act that has provided for the funding since 1960, and what he called the “national favorable reputation OTA has as a sound financial entity” – Davidson made his case.
He told Referee Daniel Karim that “there is nothing new in this current bond sale, no new wrinkles no alterations from the method in which they’ve asked before.”
The thrust of Fent’s argument was the Article 2, Section 32 of the Oklahoma Constitution against monopolies.
Perpetuities – Monopolies – Primogeniture – Entailments
Perpetuities and monopolies are contrary to the genius of a free government, and shall never be allowed, nor shall the law of primogeniture or entailments ever be in force in this State.
Fent said, “A monopoly is not allowed, it is contrary to the genius of a free market, OTA should not re-fund or re-debt. Their debt has never been vested,” he argued. And he cited the law that the OTA operates contrary to the “genius of a free government.”
On rebuttal, Davidson said Article Two Section 32 of the Oklahoma Constitution indeed applies to monopolies but the prohibition is NOT toward the government but rather to citizens or corporations. In other words, monopoly behavior is not prohibited when it comes to the State of Oklahoma, in this case, the turnpike authority carrying indebtedness in perpetuity.
Following Davidson and Fent’s arguments, Referee Karim acknowledged Paul Crouch who represents Victims of Eminent Domain, a group seeking to halt the turnpike project through their land, and their neighbors’ land.
Crouch said, “I am deeply saddened at the decision by this court to side with OTA and determine their position is not logrolling. When considering the Oklahoma Constitution in this matter, you formulated your opinion. However, the citizens can also interpret the constitution … we fully understand the power of this court. We also understand the power of the people and we refuse to be silenced and minimized by the OTA.
When OTA says it wants to build turnpikes, the OTA simply states that it will build them and the people have no representation to stop it. We, the people, have been voicing our opposition in different forums, and have tried to engage the Governor through phone calls, emails and visits and we have had zero response. We’ve been told by legislators ‘we have no control over the OTA.’
In other words, we had to lawyers to get noticed and that is a shame.
Thank you for letting me speak today. My hope is that you are now aware that this issue is far bigger than simply logrolling. The OTA is not held accountable for anything. Many of us would like to invite you out to the house for a meal and good conversation, but we will be very busy; many of us will be packing possessions, looking for another place to live or planning our escape from the State of Oklahoma and the unbridled tyranny of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.”
Volpe’s comments eluded to the issue that OTA is operated by appointees, not elected officials, and that Oklahomans’ property rights are trampled when the state wants to take land in this manner. He also cites the part of the Oklahoma Constitution, Section 2 …
OTA’s Davidson responded to each citizens’ comments. At the end of the hearing, Referee Karim asked Davidson whether legislation allowed for the turnpikes, specifically the “outer loop” for Oklahoma City that encompasses the EOC. Davidson reiterated that the project was allowed through legislation in 1987. The takeaway from that question might lead one to think the court wanted confirmation that the project was not a surprise, but was passed by state lawmakers almost 30 years ago.
Next step is for Ref. Karim to prepare a report for the nine justices of the State Supreme Court. There is no word on when they might rule on the bond funding issue. Meantime, Fent expects to have a rehearing on his logrolling issue.