For Immediate Release
by MMH President & CEO, Brian Whitfield
IDABEL, OK - On Tuesday, McCurtain Memorial Hospital was informed by its attorneys that Judge Emily Maxwell ruled in favor of the hospital regarding the 2% lodging tax litigation before her court.
In January and February of this year, respectively, litigation was filed in McCurtain County that quickly escalated to the Oklahoma Supreme Court when attorneys representing parties in Hochatown sought an injunction to stop the collection of the 2% lodging tax that was passed in November 2022 in the mid-term general election. Judge Maxwell denied the injunction and an appeal was filed with the higher court. That injunction was granted by the Oklahoma Supreme Court pending disposition of the case.
Both sides presented motions for summary judgment in the case. A hearing on the dispositive motions was set for June 7 originally but was continued until June 14. At the hearing, both sides argued why their motions should be granted.
Opposing counsel argued that the Board of County Commissioners failed to comply with Oklahoma law in that the proposition for a 2% lodging tax was not properly published in a newspaper for four consecutive weeks. The hospital argued that while the proposition was not published for four consecutive weeks, the proposition received an abundant amount of publicity prior to the mid-term general election. The hospital presented evidence that the proposition was aired on social media, radio ads, billboards and even in news articles.
In her ruling today, Judge Maxwell said, "The Court finds voters in McCurtain County were aware of the General Mid-Term Election that took place on November 8, 2022, evidenced by voter turnout. Said voter turnout was greater in 2022 than the previous two (2) General Mid-Term Elections."
The Court pointed out that the proposition was published in both the McCurtain Gazette an in the Southeast Times, respectively, but acknowledged that it was not ran four consecutive weeks.
The Court ruled that substantial compliance was adhered too and that substantial compliance was the standard, not strict compliance. In her ruling, Judge Maxwell reiterated the courts position that substantial compliance occurred as evidenced by not just voter turnout but by the fact, "[T]he proposition was passed in every precinct and was approved by over sixty-five percent (65%) of the overall vote."
Hospital president and CEO, Brian Whitfield, called close to forty department heads and leaders within the hospital shortly after word came that a ruling was made in the case to deliver the news.
"This has been an emotional rollercoaster for this hospital." Whitfield said. "We worked our tails off to inform the public and ask for their support on this new hospital and they showed up for us." he continued.
"We have spent money we did not have fighting for what was right and ensuring that the voters' voice was heard. The voters in this county screamed loudly when they passed the tax in November and Judge Maxwell protected that voice today when she said the will of the people matters." Whitfield concluded.
The hospital's management board president, Kendra Gross, was involved in the lodging tax campaign from day one and the court acknowledged her efforts in publishing the proposition in at least one of many weekly columns she published in the McCurtain Gazette. Gross has been vigilant in her work not only as a board member but in her support for the community and the hospital.
"This is the best news I have heard all year." Gross exclaimed when the news came.
The hospital will now move forward in informing the Oklahoma Tax Commission of the courts ruling. We hope to be able to update the public once a decision is made to begin collecting the 2% lodging tax or further proceedings, soon. View Judge Maxwell's complete order here: