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Courts

Young, Wallace, sheriff head group filing injunction against county commissioners on children’s center tax

By Traci Chapman

Two former commissioners are part of a group that late Friday filed a lawsuit in Canadian County District Court against current office holders David Anderson, Jack Stewart and Phil Carson concerning the .35 of one cent sales tax allocated to the county’s children’s justice center.

Long-time commissioners Don Young and Stanley Wallace, as well as Canadian County Citizens Advisory Board members John Bickerstaff, Sandra Bohannon, Mary K. Hollingsworth, Kent Mathers and Linda Ramey and Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards, are listed as plaintiffs in the injunctive action. The Board of County Commissioners is listed as a defendant, with all three current commissioners named both individually and in their roles as elected officials.

Canadian County Commissioners held a Nov. 18 joint meeting with the county excise board. Pictured from left – District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart, excise board member Lynda Ramsey, District 1 Commissioner Phil Carson, excise board member Larry Hodges and District 2 Commissioner David Anderson. (Traci Chapman/Gazette)

Filed by attorneys Mark Henricksen and Fenton Ramey, the action was brought pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act and concerned a recent hot topic surrounding the Gary E. Miller Canadian County Children’s Justice Center – the sales tax passed by voters in 1996.

Stewart said during a Nov. 25 Canadian County Republican Party meeting held to discuss the tax, commissioners requested an Oklahoma Attorney General’s Opinion concerning its legal use “after we received questions from auditors about it,” including the funding of center operations, staffing and programs. The tax, as well as contract revenues, have been used to operate the center since it opened in 2002.

The opinion was requested by Sen. Ron Justice and received by commissioners Oct. 31. In the ruling, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Assistant AG Richard Olderback stated the tax could be used only for maintenance and construction at the children’s justice center, not for day-to-day expenses, including payroll and programs.

According to Friday’s Petition, both Young and Wallace served as commissioners during the time the sales tax was presented to – and approved by – county voters.

“Donald L. Young pointed out that it was going to cost more to operate the facility than to build it, and it was discussed that the reason for the permanent tax was to provide such funding,” the petition stated. “Bond attorney and consultant Glenn Floyd made a presentation, including a lengthy and detailed analysis of long-term revenues from the proposed permanent tax increase, showing that operating funds would be available.”

Anderson, Stewart and Carson have spoken in public meetings about their inability to determine what commissioners – or the public – in 1996 envisioned for the tax’s use. In their petition, plaintiffs alleged there was no mystery about it, including “extensive public discussion and debate about the merits of the proposal and the need for provision and funding of juvenile facilities and services, with great discussion among the public as to the extent and need for such facilities and services as were proposed to be provided.”

Discussions and meetings with civic groups, video presentations and newspaper ads in Canadian County led to a public debate that “was intense and vigorous,” the petition stated. Plaintiffs alleged the public and officials alike had no doubt the permanent tax was meant to fund all of the center’s operations.

After the center was built and programs implemented, the tax was used solely for children’s center operations without issue; in December 2010, Anderson, Stewart and Carson began discussing what would become known as the “Anderson Plan,” a proposal to divert a portion of the sales tax to help fund county jail needs. Although Carson voted against the plan, it only needed the votes of Anderson and Stewart to allow it to go to voters. Residents rejected the Anderson plan in April 2011.

Following their receipt of the Oct. 31 AG’s opinion, Commissioners immediately stopped utilizing the bulk of the sales tax, opting to fund most of the center’s operations with $1.2 million in use tax; they also began a process of bringing the matter back before the voters.

“That’s why we need to get this ballot language written and get it right so we can get it to the voters as soon as possible, which is Feb. 10,” Stewart said during a Nov. 18 meeting to discuss the issue.

Carson proposed simply amending the language contained in the original resolution to include funding of operations, salaries and programs; on Dec. 4, he was overruled when Anderson and Stewart voted to authorize Assistant District Attorney Paul Hesse to draft a ballot that would require a change in the sales tax allocation in order for the center to continue operations. The resolution approved by Anderson and Stewart dictated 86 percent of both sales tax held in center accounts through the date of the vote and anything collected in the future would go to the children’s justice center, while 14 percent would be earmarked for “capital improvement needs of the county.”

Carson voted against the measure. Commissioners estimated sales tax held in abeyance now would total about $7.2 million by February.

Commissioners are set to vote on the formal ballot language at their Monday, Dec. 8 meeting. They must present a resolution to Canadian County Election Board by Dec. 10 in order to hold a Feb. 10 election on the issue.

Although Young, Wallace and the others did not specifically address the AG’s opinion in their petition, they referenced the change in how the center was funded in its wake, as well as the events in 2011.

“…Commissioners abruptly ceased the authorized stream of funding from the dedicated sales tax and announced they would henceforth fund the juvenile facilities and services at a reduced interim level until some future modification proposal might later be submitted to a vote of Canadian County citizens,” the petition stated.

In filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs requested the court enter and injunction, which could force Anderson, Stewart and Carson to utilize the sales tax as it has been historically used. In requesting relief, Young, Wallace and the others stated, “Any attempts to restrict or divert such funding stream are improper and unlawful and should not be allowed to continue.”

Attempts to reach Stewart for comment were not successful as of late Friday.

Judge paves way for Boevers’ dismissal of Fina lawsuit

Traci Chapman
editor@piedmontnewsonline.com

Canadian County District Court Judge Gary Miller on Oct. 7 issued a ruling paving the way for a dismissal of the libel lawsuit filed against developer Phil Boevers by former Piedmont Mayor Mike Fina.

The ruling was filed with the court via a Memorandum Opinion, issued in response to the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Boevers. Motions for Summary Judgment are routinely filed by parties in civil cases requesting a judge dismiss some or all of the claims in a lawsuit before it goes to trial.

In the Oct. 7 memorandum, filed with the court clerk’s office Oct. 8, Miller stated the crux of the lawsuit was whether Fina had a legal right to bring an action against Boevers for statements the developer allegedly made during Fina’s mayoral re-election campaign. Boevers maintained his statements were “political speech,” protected by both the state and federal Constitutions. Read more →

Local developers sue City of Piedmont in Federal court

By Matt Montgomery
editor@piedmontnewsonline.com

Local developers Cindy Boevers and Reta Strubhar have filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District against the City of Piedmont, three councilmen and two planning commissioners. The defendants named in the lawsuit are the City of Piedmont, Piedmont city councilmen Donnie Robinson, Al Gleichmann and Charles Coffman, Piedmont planning commissioners Ron Cardwell and Eric Berger.

In the complaint filed last Friday, Strubhar and Boevers (“Developers”) say they have suffered damages resulting from the Piedmont city council not voting on an agenda item to approve a preliminary plat for “Magnolia Meadows,” a property owned by “Developers.” Read more →

Local developers file Federal lawsuit against City of Piedmont

By Matt Montgomery
editor@piedmontnewsonline.com

Local developers Cindy Boevers and Reta Strubhar have filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma against the City of Piedmont, three councilmen and two planning commissioners. The defendants named in the lawsuit are the City of Piedmont, Piedmont city councilmen Donnie Robinson, Al Gleichmann and Charles Coffman, and Piedmont planning commissioners Ron Cardwell and Eric Berger.

In the complaint filed last Friday, Strubhar and Boevers (“Developers”) allege they have suffered damages resulting from the Piedmont city council not voting on an agenda item to approve a preliminary plat for “Magnolia Meadows,” a property owned by “Developers.” Read more →

Judge denies motion to dismiss 5 defendants in Boevers’ libel/slander case

Ron Cardwell

Mike Fina

Vernon Woods

Donnie Robinson

By Matt Montgomery
editor@piedmontnewsonline.com

Editor’s note: The Piedmont-Surrey Gazette could not locate a photograph for William Long. The story below is just the result in a motion to dismiss in a lawsuit filed by local developer Phil Boevers against numerous parties. The case is ongoing and The Gazette will update information as the case progresses.

Canadian County District Judge Gary E. Miller denied a motion to dismiss defendants Mike Fina, Vernon Woods, Ron Cardwell, William Long and Donnie Robinson (FWCLR) as “defendants” in the Phil Boevers libel/slander case, Friday morning.

In legal documents filed in Canadian County District Court (CJ-2012-46), attorneys for the defendants wrote in their conclusion “The amended petition must be dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff has failed to provide even a modicum of facts for the court to determine, under the most liberal of standards, which Plaintiff could prevail in its suit. Over two years have passed since Plaintiff filed the Jan. 19, 2012, Petition, and naming FWCLR defendants 2 1/2 years later is too late.”

Attorneys representing the five defendants made arguments to the judge, but most specifically wanted the judge to consider the statute of limitations in this case, before he made his ruling. The attorneys for the defendants cited several cases in their brief to the court including, Kanuebbe v. McCuistion and Graves v. Foster.

In his conclusion, Judge Miller said to the attorneys, “Based upon the pleas that you have filed, at this time, I’m going to find that there is a possibility that when a party has deliberately hidden their identity, then that changes the statue of limitations. Based upon that, I am going to deny the motion to dismiss.”

Boevers’ attorneys said they were pleased with the judge’s decision to deny the five defendants a dismissal as “defendants” from the lawsuit.

For more information about the libel/slander lawsuit, visit the archives of www.piedmontnewsonline.com or visit oscn.net and click “search dockets.” Then find Canadian County and type in case number CJ-2012-46.

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