Tulsa County commissioners approved a resolution Monday stating that the county “substantially complied” with state law regarding public notice requirements prior to the April 5 Vision renewal vote.
The action became necessary after county officials last month realized legal notices for the election had appeared in the Tulsa World only twice. State law requires that such notices appear in a county newspaper four times prior to a special election.
The error occurred as a result of a mix-up between county officials and the World, the parties have said previously.
It was initially believed that it would be up to a Tulsa County District Court judge to determine whether the county had “substantially complied” with public notice requirements. But the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office researched the issue and found precedent for the action taken by county commissioners Monday.
“The statutes in this case specifically talk about the substantial compliance, and it’s clear under the facts in the law that substantial compliance with the notice provisions were accomplished in this case,” said Assistant District Attorney Doug Wilson. “So the need for the declaratory judgment action was really unnecessary.”
Wilson’s opinion supporting the commissioners’ vote lists hundreds of instances in which the public was made aware of the Vision renewal vote.
“Pro-Vision forces published 925 commercials via broadcast television during the five weeks preceding the special election. They published an additional 1,688 commercials via cable television from March 1 through Election Day: April 5,” Wilson wrote. “And they published 1,728 radio advertisements during the same time period.
“In the two months leading up to the special election, Tulsa television news channels 2 (KJRH), 6 (KOTV), 8 (KTUL) and 23 (KOKI) devoted significant time to reporting on the sales tax propositions to be voted on at the election.”
Wilson said the public notice requirement was written in 1910, when the only source of news was the newspaper.
“The purpose of the notice is to give people the opportunity to show up and cast their vote, to have an idea what the election is going to be about, and if it interests them, to show up,” Wilson said.
Times have changed since then, with the proliferation of the Internet, television, radio, smartphones and other technology that keep people apprised of news, Wilson said.
“No one was cheated” in this election, he said.
Asked why commissioners did not provide time for public comments before the vote, Wilson said the commissioners were acting to preserve the will of the people as expressed in the vote.
“I think the idea for democracy is to let the people govern themselves,” he said. “So when you have an idea like the sales tax, you don’t just impose it, you put it out there as a question and you allow them to vote upon it. That was done, and by a 64 percent majority they chose that. …
“In the absence of fraud or corruption so pervasive as to taint the election, the vote of the people is to be upheld, is to be validated, it is to be sustained, and that is what the county commissioners did this morning.”
Tulsa County residents voted to approve the county’s 15-year, 0.05 percent Vision 2025 sales tax renewal. The program will fund more than $75 million in street, parks and other public facilities.
In other business, county commissioners heard from several people opposed to building a new juvenile justice center at 36th Street North and Martin Luther King Boulevard
Former state Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre and state Rep. Regina Goodwin were among those who spoke against building the facility in north Tulsa.
“Children become what they see,” McIntyre said.
Commissioner Karen Keith indicated that it was unlikely that the 57-acre site would be selected.
“I do not see this happening,” she said.
In a separate executive session, county commissioners voted to give Commissioner John Smaligo full legal authority in settlement negotiations in the Robert Bates civil lawsuit.
The county is being sued in that federal case, Burke v. Glanz.
Bates was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in the 2015 death of Eric Harris. Harris had been detained by sheriff’s deputies during a undercover operation to retrieve stolen guns when Bates, reaching for his Taser, instead shot Harris with his gun.