The slick print ads and television commercials that have been a hallmark of the fight will cease, at least for a time, Oklahoma Gazette has learned.
Amid a pending federal lawsuit, the tribes have inundated the airwaves with commercials and infomercials revolving around their dispute with the city of Oklahoma City, which hopes to eventually draw water from Sardis Lake in southeastern Oklahoma; the Oklahoma Water Resources Board; Gov. Mary Fallin; and others.
City and state officials also have engaged in a PR battle, albeit on a much smaller scale.
The truce is part of an effort to give some breathing room to a 19-member task force consisting of members selected by the tribes, Oklahoma City and the state to hammer out a compromise on the water issue, those familiar with the agreement said.
Mike Burrage, lead attorney for the tribes, said both sides agreed to temporarily suspend their ad campaigns.
The parties have been undergoing mediation for the past few months via court-appointed mediator and Duke University law professor Francis McGovern.
On May 7, McGovern filed a report to the court stating that he is convening a public-private task force to discuss and attempt to resolve the issues. The task force’s deliberations will be confidential, stated a joint news release from Fallin, Choctaw Nation Chief Gregory Pyle and Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby.
“Water rights and water security are linked to both economic and quality-of-life issues. Our hope is that this new task force will help to pave the way toward an agreement that is fair and beneficial to all relevant parties,” the joint statement read.
Task force members were chosen by the four principal parties in the case — Fallin, Pyle, Anoatubby, and Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch — and approved by McGovern.
In addition to the four principals, members of the task force are: Choctaw Nation Assistant Chief Gary Batton, Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett, Samuel Noble Roberts Foundation President Mike Cawley, Secretary of State Glenn Coffee, OGE CEO Pete Delaney, Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy member Pennie Embry and Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer head Amy Ford.
Also on the panel are Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm, Oklahoma City University President Robert Henry, Hitch Enterprises Chairman Jason Hitch, Choctaw Nation legislative advocate Brian McClain, Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon, Devon Energy CEO Larry Nichols, investor Mike Samis, and CEO of American Fidelity’s trust and investment management group David Thompson.