. .You likely saw my recent press release about the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision to halt the collection of the 2% additional lodging tax that was passed by voters in November to construct a new hospital and equip it. Many have asked me why, in my opinion, did the Oklahoma Supreme Court even intervene?
The courts ruling had nothing to do with anything that Judge Maxwell got wrong on March 8 at the local hearing when Hochatown asked for a temporary halt to stop the collection of the tax. At that hearing, one would have needed to be there because the case was made by Hochatown’s lawyers that an injunction needed to be issued because of the undue burden this would bring on not only tax payers - but the Oklahoma Tax Commission - if the tax was being collected and later might need to be refunded (if the vote was rendered invalid).
The argument was, “If this goes on for six months to a year, and is later to be found to be invalid, it would create a burden to refund all of the tax payers,” the lawyers argued.
Judge Maxwell made it clear that she was confused as to why there was an assumption that the case would sit on her desk for “six or so month…” and made it clear that this could be resolved very, very quickly. The fact is, that was not good enough. The Hochatown lawyers immediately sought an appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
justice rarely, if ever, moves quickly. Fact of the matter is, in criminal and civil cases, there are certain time limits that give allowances for things like discovery (exchanging evidence), time to file motions and pleadings and ultimately, time allotted for a trial. But here, on that day, all attorneys for all sides agreed they would work quickly to get the matter resolved and openly discussed how one side, if all agreed, would get certain scheduling prepared to speed the process.
So why the hurry?
One could argue that the tax was to begin being collected this Saturday, April 1 and to even wait till the June 7 hearing could cause significant hardship on the Tax Commission and tax payers. Or, one could argue, too, that all of this was calculated.
In the state of Oklahoma, a county cannot impose a lodging tax on a municipality or incorporated area that already has a lodging tax in place. In this instance, the county (by and through voters) levied the new 2% additional lodging tax before Hochatown incorporated but here’s the kicker: Just what if all of this was an attempt to halt the lodging tax that voters passed overwhelmingly only to give Hochatown time to pass their own lodging tax and provided that this passes in Hochatown, could it negate the 2% the county levied? One could make a case that the county tax existed first; but did it? Does anything in the code prevent Hochatown from exploiting the court system only to buy time to get their own lodging tax passed? They’re incorporated now and if they vote to pass their own lodging tax, can the county’s lodging tax be assessed?
All questions for a lawyer and someone smarter than me but certainly the buzz I am hearing from many who are close to this matter. I think it is a poor strategy ultimately no matter how clever it seems today because I cannot imagine a court anywhere in the country that would not see the calculation in this effort to abuse judicial process for Hochatown’s own gain.
I would submit to you that any sort of an attempt would outrage voters but equally I would present that up to this point, the mayor and her friend has cared less about the voters and what they want. I cannot help but laugh when I hear that the mayors motives are misunderstood. One explanation for this lawsuit was because she felt it is unfair that the lodging tax applies to Hochatown and not the towns of Idabel, Broken Bow and other incorporated areas. Really? Did she miss the part where the tax was levied before she even had a town? Had she been an incorporated town on Election Day back in November, the tax could not have been levied against Hochatown either if they had an existing lodging tax.
all of this out of the equation, one must continue to ask, “If you believe so passionately that this tax was wrong and not properly passed, why didn’t YOU sign your name to the lawsuit?” Or, Why is it that YOU and your comrade purposely kept your name off of the lawsuit? Why did you have to use an Oklahoma City businessman who has never lived here to be the front-runner for you? And, when he bowed out because he didn’t fully know all of the facts, why did you drag up another businessman who lives in Dallas, Texas and owns a couple cabins? I think people as a whole, while upset over all of this, would respect the process a whole lot more if thee wasn’t such deception involved in it.
I noticed that on April 4, Hochatown will hold elections for all new trustees or, perhaps, re-elect those they elected back in January. Either way, I am not sure there are enough voting people in the entire incorporated area to make a difference in those elections or to hold their townsmen or mayor accountable. I also do not suspect that those attempting to overthrow an election will develop a conscience over the weekend, either. I feel terrible for the residents and business owners in Hochatown who have reached out expressing how that they had no part in any of this and that they did not and do not support this suit. It is very unfortunate that such a new town with such great potential to do many great things for its people and the county as a whole is so focused on this. The very first (female I might add) mayor of the town has an opportunity here to leave a legacy behind that she did the most good during her tenure. But, if she doesn’t change course, she will be known and history will remember that it was the 2 that took the 2 from 30,000+ residents of this county.
Justifying to do so cannot be excused by the ridiculous notion that she will build her own hospital in Hochatown. Navigationally, can you imagine the nightmare? Why not come to the table and let’s work together to build a new hospital in McCurtain County as voters planned and let’s look at a stand-alone ER model in Hochatown that can deal with emergencies? And, if an acute inpatient stay is needed, they can always come to MMH or transfer elsewhere if appropriate? There are so many opportunities that will benefit all of McCurtain County that will not tear a community apart or, benefit only a few.
It’s never too late to do what’s right. If there was ever a time to lay pride aside, its now.