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PM NewsBrief: Jan. 17, 2023

This is the KGOU PM NewsBrief for Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.

OTA lawsuits update

Last month, the OTA was found in violation of the state’s Open Meeting Act because of vague wording in its meeting agendas that authorized contracts for the controversial ACCESS Oklahoma project. Now, the fallout from that lawsuit has led to the agency getting sued — again.

The new lawsuit claims the OTA didn’t properly remedy its actions after losing the Open Meeting suit. The OTA revamped its agenda wording and re-voted on the contacts earlier this month. But the filing attorneys say the $42 million in contract payments that had already been made can’t be ratified because the contracts themselves are voided by the ruling. Attorneys Alexey Tarasov and Stan Ward:

"They should have entered into brand new contracts with companies in compliance with the Open Meeting Acts," said Tarasov.

"And therein lies why we wanted it done the correct way, because people who have protest can then come forward and be heard and they can protest to their state representatives and their state senators. Well, we never got that chance," said Ward.

To complicate things more, the OTA filed an appeal last week with the state’s supreme court to re-decide whether it had violated the Open Meeting Act.

USDA launches new school meal partnership in Oklahoma

Some Oklahoma school districts now have the chance to provide more nutritious meals to students by partnering with local farmers and ranchers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is launching a $3 million partnership with Oklahoma to help select schools serve students locally-grown food. Under the Local Food for Schools program, the state will work with Langston University and Oklahoma State University to help farmers and ranchers connect with schools in their area.

Doug and Amy Ratzlaff are cattle ranchers in Enid who have signed up to participate in the program. Amy says partnering with local schools to serve their beef products allows them to teach students where their food comes from.

“We get an opportunity to talk about raising the cattle on our pasture and the process that it takes to feed them and to care for them and even the process of breaking ice in the wintertime and just the production that goes into it.”

School districts must participate in the National School Lunch Program to be eligible.

Epic Charter School’s lawsuit update

The state Auditor and Inspector says the amount of money stolen by Epic Charter School’s co-founders and former CFO is millions of dollars more than what was first thought. StateImpact’s Beth Wallis reports.

In a budget hearing last week in front of a state Senate subcommittee, state Auditor Cindy Byrd said over $30 million had been misused, but that number will “drastically increase,” based on discussion with prosecutors and federal agencies.

The co-founders, Ben Harris and David Chaney, and former CFO Josh Brock were charged last year with felony racketeering and embezzlement, among other fraud-related charges. OSBI found the trio had illegally pocketed millions of taxpayer dollars and spent money intended for students on personal expenses and political donations.

Newly elected Attorney General Gentner Drummond announced last week his office would reassume control of the Epic case. And with the announcement the IRS had launched its own Epic investigation, a federal case may be on the horizon.

Oil company allegedly steals water from OKC, damages wildlife refuge

Oklahoma City has filed a lawsuit against an oil company for stealing the city’s water and harming protected lands at the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge.

Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge is a swath of Oklahoma City land between Bethany and Yukon. It offers a scenic area for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking and bird watching.

But the city says an oil company damaged the wetland refuge—leaving trash, cutting down trees and altering the landscape—to install an illegal water pipe. The company, Revolution Resources, operates a well site at the Wiley Post Airport in Bethany, where they started drilling last spring. The city alleges that Revolution piped water from the North Canadian River in the wildlife refuge to its drilling site, even after city officials and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board said it couldn’t.

Last week, the city filed a lawsuit against Revolution for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

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