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Take Shelter Oklahoma wants Governor to release files

Tim Farley January 27th, 2014

Take Shelter Oklahoma officials intend to file a lawsuit against Gov. Mary Fallin if her office fails to release emails sought as part of an Open Records request.

Photo by Mark Hancock

Take Shelter Oklahoma, led by Oklahoma City attorney David Slane, wants all communications between the governor’s office, the State Chamber of Commerce, lawmakers and Attorney General Scott Pruitt in connection with a public school storm shelter drive and the state’s franchise tax. The deadline for receiving the communications is Friday.

“The governor has a practice of not releasing records,” Slane said during a Capitol press conference Monday. “My goal is to avoid a lawsuit. I don’t want to have to waste taxpayer dollars.”

Slane contends the open records request was made Nov. 7, but Take Shelter Oklahoma did not receive a reply from Fallin’s office until Dec. 27.

“They sent the letter saying they would comply to Tulsa and I don’t even have an office there,” the attorney said. “It’s very calculated on the governor’s part to not comply with the Open Records Act.”

Take Shelter Oklahoma, a nonprofit, is a movement that began four months after the May 2013 tornadoes ripped through southwest Oklahoma City and Moore, killing 47 people including seven children at Plaza Towers Elementary.

The group proposed to use $500 million in state revenue bonds to build storm shelters in every public school, then repay the bonds using Oklahoma’s franchise tax as its revenue source. Spending the money requires voter approval.

Slane claims the governor, Pruitt and influential members of the State Chamber of Commerce have worked jointly to defeat the storm shelter measure. Fallin has said publicly she believes storm shelters should be built by local school districts, not the state.

In January 2013, the state chamber wrote in a position paper that it opposes the franchise tax. State campaign finance records show members of the state chamber, some of its executive leadership and political action committees linked to chamber member companies made contributions to Pruitt’s re-election bid last year. Pruitt is expected to seek another term as attorney general.

Upcoming ruling
Part of the movement included an initiative petition that required 160,000 signatures from Oklahoma residents in order to place the measure before state voters.

After the initiative petition was submitted to the Oklahoma Secretary of State for approval on Sept. 18, Slane contends Pruitt changed the ballot language to emphasize the state’s franchise tax in an attempt to defeat the proposal. The nonprofit’s ballot language had focused on the critical need for storm shelters.

However, Slane and Take Shelter Oklahoma claim Pruitt failed to provide the secretary of state with a written notice of potential problems with the original ballot language until Sept. 27 – two days after the legal deadline.

Since then, Take Shelter Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit with the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeking to restore its initial version of the ballot title. The case is pending, but no hearing date has been set.

Although the group fell short obtaining the required number of signatures by its Dec. 16 deadline, the petition could be resurrected depending on the court’s decision, Slane said.

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