On November 14, the Oklahoma Supreme. Court ruled that Judge Emily Maxwell did not have the jurisdiction over the 2% lodging tax litigation to enter her June 20, 2023, order granting summary judgment on behalf of the county commissioners and the hospital.
“We were disappointed in the Supreme Courts ruling, obviously. But, we also realize, this has been a challenging and complex case from day one and we believe all parties have been represented well. We also believe Judge Maxwell has represented her court well." hospital President and CEO, Brian Whitfield said.
“This is merely a procedural setback with no substance at this point. We believe and are optimistic we will prevail on the merits of this case and ultimately, the taxpayers will get a new hospital.” Whitfield said.
The fight over a 2% increase to the current 3% lodging tax began in January 2023 when incorporators of Hochatown filed suit to challenge the validity of the ballot measure. In its lawsuit, among other procedural deficiencies, Hochatown incorporators allege that the McCurtain County Board of County Commissions ("BOCC") failed to follow the law with regards to publication requirements. Namely, the incorporators allege the ballot was not published four consecutive weeks in a newspaper.
At the hearing for its motion for summary judgment, both the BOCC and hospital argued that the law was substantially complied with. During the campaign, the hospital used newspaper ads, billboards, signs, social media and held two Town Hall meetings. The tax passed by over 65% of the vote overall, and passed in all 30 precincts - including Hochatown.
The June 20 ruling by Judge Maxwell agreed the law was substantially complied with and found the vote was valid.
“This has been a fight with a select few who began their fight with the county over incorporating Hochatown. The hospital and taxpayer is merely collateral damage in an attempt to settle the score." Whitfield said.
He continued, "As the President and CEO of this hospital, I have reached across the isles to bring resolution to this matter. The true opposers of this new hospital have hidden behind a Dallas, Texas man’s name for nearly a year now and have little to no courage to face local voters. We believe the courts will ultimately see this, too, and consider the will of the people.”
The Supreme Court of Oklahoma will now return the case back to Maxwell's court where she is expected to re-enter her ruling for summary judgment and the case will go back to the higher court. The higher court will ultimately decide whether the tax is collected when they take the case up on appeal.
For additional questions, please email the hospital's Public Information Officer, Kayla Manginell, at firstname.lastname@example.org.