POSTED ON OCTOBER 31, 2007:
A Week of Lawsuit Frivolity
One judge throws out HB1804 challenge and another judge, Jenks' suit against Mayor Taylor
Praise for Taylor. "It's really kind of silly-what they were trying to get the Mayor to do is discretionary. This lawsuit was frivolous," said Councilor Bill Christiansen.
As it turns out, the City of Jenks really can't make the City of Tulsa accept a bridge on its side of the river if it doesn't want to.
At least, that's how the opponents of the proposed private toll bridge understand last week's dismissal of the lawsuit against Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor and Public Works Director Charles Hardt.
Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland filed the lawsuit about two weeks earlier in an effort to compel Taylor to sign an engineering services contract, which would have been the first step in the process for design work for the Tulsa-side of the bridge.
He said the contract had been on her desk since April 26, and her neglect to sign it was a stall tactic to slow or halt construction of the bridge Infrastructure Ventures, Inc. has contracted with the Arkansas River Bridge Authority (ARBA) to build.
According to IVI's agreement with the authority, which is comprised of the cities of Jenks and Bixby, IVI would build the bridge, but it would be owned by ARBA, while IVI leased it for 75 years, keeping the majority of the toll revenues (for a fuller explanation of the five-year-and-counting South Tulsa Bridge Saga, see the Oct. 18-24 UTW cover story "Troubled Bridge" at HYPERLINK "http://www.urbantulsa.com"; www.urbantulsa.com).
Earlier this year, both Taylor and Tulsa City Councilor Bill Christiansen, in whose district the bridge would connect, publicly opposed the plan and proposed a publicly-built toll bridge instead, the revenues from which would be split between Tulsa and Jenks in proportion to their populations.
Tulsa County District Judge Rebecca Nightingale heard the opposing sides' arguments last week.
Jenks City Attorney Stephen Oakley contended that it was Taylor and Hardt's "ministerial duty" to sign off on the contract, while Tulsa Interim City Attorney Deirdre Dexter argued that signing it would be a "discretionary act."
Hardt testified that he declined to sign off on the permit because Jenks and IVI had failed to adequately address the lack of infrastructure necessary to handle the increased traffic flow from the bridge, flood plan issues pertaining to the location of the bridge and the bridge's proposed location at 121st and Yale Ave. conflicting with the City of Tulsa's own plans for use of the land in question.
At the conclusion of the closing arguments, without taking recess, Nightingale immediately ruled that she was dismissing the lawsuit, finding that Tulsa city officials' decisions to sign or not sign the contract allowing the bridge construction are "discretionary," not "ministerial."
"I commend the Mayor for fighting this battle," Christiansen later told UTW.
"It's really kind of silly--what they were trying to get the Mayor to do is discretionary. This lawsuit was frivolous," he added.
Free and Clear
Jenks and IVI's attempts to appeal the decision notwithstanding, as Christiansen sees it, Nightingale's ruling amounts to final victory for the forces opposed to the private toll bridge proposal.
The South Tulsa Citizens Coalition--a group of residents from Christiansen's district--has opposed the bridge since shortly after it was announced in 2004, and currently has its own lawsuit in the Oklahoma Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of IVI's contract with ARBA.
Whatever the Supreme Court rules, Christiansen said Nightingale's ruling confirms that, if a bridge is built connecting Jenks to Tulsa, it will have to be done on terms agreeable to the City of Tulsa, regardless of what agreements have been made between Jenks and IVI.
And Tulsa's terms have already been announced--the bridge would be a publicly-financed, built and operated toll bridge, and IVI won't be involved.
"That's the way I understand (the ruling)," the Councilor said.
"I'm very happy about it. We have to have the best interests of the city of Tulsa in mind," he also said.
One of Christiansen's main objections to the bridge is the strain it would place on Tulsa's infrastructure.
"To think they would dump all that traffic on our roads--at the end of the day, it comes down to the amount of traffic that would be coming into Tulsa over the bridge and the amount of street repair it would require to accommodate that. There's no way the city of Tulsa can come up with the $72 million needed for that without being a major participant in the toll revenue," he said.
"I would hope that the private bridge people would get out of the bridge deal. The pie is not big enough to split between Jenks, Tulsa and the private bridge people," Christiansen added.
IVI President and CEO Bill Bacon did not return telephone calls, but in a past interview, he pointed to the millions of dollars IVI has already invested in the project for preliminary studies and other preparations for the bridge construction.
"We gave the opportunity for the state, municipalities and the county to do it and no one stepped up. Now, we've invested millions of dollars in this and we have a valid contract with ARBA and we're prepared to honor our commitment," he said.
Christiansen, however, sees it from the Tulsa taxpayers' point of view. "They made a business decision to take on that risk, they lost, and the citizens of Tulsa should not have to bail them out. They should cut their losses," he said.
Michael Covey, spokesman for the STCC, said Nightingale's ruling could potentially be the final nail in the IVI bridge's coffin, but he's also not going to bank on that being the end of it--he wants to see the coffin lowered into the ground and buried.
"We're still going to continue with the Supreme Court fight," he said.
"These are all politicians deciding not to let the IVI bridge connect in Tulsa, and they're up for re-election and could change their minds," Covey added.
Jenks City Attorney Stephen Oakley also did not return telephone calls.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A18334