Norman-area residents allege Open Meetings Act violations in lawsuit against Oklahoma Turnpike Authority
Nearly 200 residents are listed as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority that alleges the agency violated Oklahoma’s Open Meetings Act by using vague wording in its meeting agendas and public documents.
Feb. 22, the OTA announced its ACCESS Oklahoma plan, which would construct new turnpike extensions in Oklahoma and Cleveland Counties. The South Extension route is set in east Norman and bumps up to the west side of Lake Thunderbird, and the East-West Connector route goes through the north side of Norman, connecting to Moore and Newcastle.
A newly formed opposition group, Pike Off OTA, estimates around 665 homes would be demolished for the project.
The lawsuit — the second suit filed since the turnpike announcement — points to wording from January and February agenda items referring to the projects as “certain turnpike projects” and “Special Project 65” or “SP65.” It also lists a Project Status Report document referring to it as “ACCESS Bond Project.”
According to the suit filed by Norman attorney Stan Ward — who is also listed as a plaintiff — not only did the agenda fail to reference the projects in simple, direct language, but the meetings’ minutes also left out identifying details on the projects.
Norman Ward 5 Councilmember Rarchar Tortorello, whose ward includes much of the proposed South Extension, said the lawsuit is an attempt to “correct [an] injustice.”
“As a state entity, they owe it to the citizens, the constituents, to speak plainly and clearly, articulate the scope of the project. And they have not done that,” Tortorello said. “There’s a reason why they have these agenda items published, it’s so the citizens can read and understand what’s to be discussed. And so when they use terms that are so vague as to include the overreaching of authority, that does no good for the state’s own citizens.”
The suit requests the OTA be permanently restrained from taking any property from owners, and the OTA be mandated to provide “actual notice” to anyone adversely impacted by construction of any turnpikes.
OTA spokesperson James Poling said the agency’s legal team is reviewing the suit and had no further comment.