Oklahoma City attorney David Slane contended that passage of the 2009 MAPS 3 package was unconstitutional based on a state law that restricts voters from approving multiple projects with a single-ballot question.
Slane, known for taking often-unpopular stances on controversial issues, claims the ballot language violated the state’s so-called “single subject” law since it provided funds for eight separate projects. The Oklahoma City Council later approved a non-binding resolution identifying the projects, which were promoted in detail prior to the election.
Thursday, Slane sent a letter to Mayor Mick Cornett and Municipal Counselor Ken Jordan and requested a meeting to “work collaboratively to make this resolution and initiative legal.”
Cornett declined to comment, referring questions to the city's legal department.
Slane pointed to previous Oklahoma Supreme Court decisions that rendered “various laws of this same nature are unconstitutional … It appears the purpose of the rule is to avoid log rolling whereby a legislator or taxpaying citizen would cast an all or nothing vote.”
Most notably, the Oklahoma Legislature’s approval of a tort reform measure was ruled invalid because it violated the single-subject rule. Governor Mary Fallin has called for a special session to address the problem.
Possible court challenge
Slane warned city officials in his letter that he will file a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court if they fail to meet with him and his legal team next week.
“Make no mistake, should you decide to not attempt to fix this, I am prepared to take action through the courts to render MAPS 3 unconstitutional and to seek a restraining order to stop the collection of sales tax and all future allocation of the $777 million in taxpayer revenue,” he wrote.
City Manager Jim Couch responded that city officials did not violate the single-subject law, and that the issue was vetted in detail prior to the December 2009 election. The question put before voters was whether to approve a one-cent sales tax extension for unspecified capital improvement projects.
“I feel confident about the ballot language and how we put MAPS 3 together,” he said. “I’m confident it was legal then, and I’m just as confident that it’s legal today.”
However, Couch acknowledged the situation “would be messy” if a legal challenge is filed and a restraining order granted.
Because the eight projects were not voted on separately, Slane suggested any construction project would be considered a capital improvement.
“You could call a car wash a capital improvement,” he said.
Slane suggested one solution could focus on a new election allowing residents to cast votes on the eight separate projects.
The plurality of projects listed on the MAPS 3 ballot is the crux of the legal challenge.
“What they (city officials) are saying is semantics. They know it’s not a single subject since there was more than one project,” Slane said. “I think the city attorney’s office absolutely saw that and advised them they ought not to do it. Why not have eight votes?”
The 2009 ballot language wasn’t the first time OKC officials provided voters with an all-or-nothing proposition. The same scenario occurred with the original MAPS election in 1993 and the MAPS for Kids election in 2001.
“The mayor and city council were well aware of this on the basis of news reports regarding MAPS 1 and the legal opinion it likely violated,” Slane wrote in his letter. “Then, in similar fashion, MAPS for Kids rendered the same effect and MAPS 3 followed suit identically.”
Slane pointed out that Cornett publicly commented that the council was giving voters the all-or-nothing question.
“This is the process they (voters) are going to be comfortable with,” Cornett said in September 2009.
Cornett, who is seeking a fourth term as OKC’s mayor, could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
Fear of failure
During this week’s OKC council meeting, Ward 2 Councilman and mayoral candidate Ed Shadid (pictured at top) quizzed Jordan about the single-subject rule. He also asked why the council did not place each MAPS 3 project on the ballot for individual consideration.
“That was a policy decision,” Jordan replied, referring to the option council members selected.
Slane and Shadid both said council members in 2009 orchestrated the ballot in that way because they feared one or more of the proposed projects would fail.
Shadid said the potential legal challenge is not fodder for his campaign, nor did he work in concert with Slane to draft the letter.
“I have no opinion about his (Slane’s) chances with this. That’s not my deal. I’m not interested in a lawsuit,” the councilman said. “I can’t control other people.”
Shadid acknowledged he’s more concerned about Cornett’s continued attempts to mislead the public.
“He created a political all-or-nothing while also creating a ballot that gets us past the Supreme Court cases. He has misled the public by omission by not telling them that each project could have been voted on separately,” he said.