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The Logan County disputed zone finale

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Those wishing to understand the devastating impact of a well-meaning but overreaching federal law should read a peer-reviewed paper by Guthrie City Councilman and UCO professor John Wood. Wood’s publication appears in the fall 2013 Oklahoma edition of The Oklahoma Politics Journal. You may read it at hd31.org/634.

State Reprenstative Jason Murphey

State Reprenstative Jason Murphey

Wood produced this research project entitled, “Domestic Terrorists vs. Blackmailers: Unresolved Conflict Between Municipalities and Rural Water Districts” after observing the costly effects of federal legislation upon the 10-year legal war between the City of Guthrie and Logan County Rural Water District Number 1. 

Wood’s paper demonstrates how the federal law is creating these conflicts all across the nation as government entities use millions in taxpayer funds to fuel legal wars over water. 

The federal law incents attorneys to use their sophisticated legal knowledge to frame the debate in a way so that lay board members will become boxed into a litigation-heavy approach and thus become dependent upon the services of the attorneys. I have even heard of some board members being warned that if they don’t engage in legal action, they might be personally liable for “not fulfilling their fiduciary duty” to the board of their government entity. You can only imagine the chilling impact this has on the pool of potential and qualified board members when they become fearful that their personal property might be at risk if they don’t support a costly legal action against a neighboring government entity – on the taxpayers’ dime.

There are very few winners in these conflicts; in our case, I believe the only winners are the out-of-town attorneys who collect hundreds of thousands in legal bills. Even if one side prevails, it’s hard to see a settlement substantially outweighing the legal fees. Worse, the burden for paying that settlement could lie upon the backs of local property owners who live in the City of Guthrie and whose property taxes could go up. 

What can we do about this? We probably can’t change the federal law. The federal government is in complete and hopeless disarray and is far removed from our ability to reform and fix. 

Local residents, however, can and must become involved in local elections. Candidates for local government positions should be vetted on their willingness to put aside pointless legal fights. Both city and water board elections take place with just a small fraction of eligible votes. Of the 2,700 eligible water board voters, only about 30 show up to vote at the board’s annual elections in January of each year. Likewise, in the last Guthrie municipal elections, only 768 of an estimated 5,200 eligible voters visited the polls. 

It’s not unrealistic to suggest that just a few more voters and a handful of conscientious candidates could permanently end the destructive insanity brought about by the legal wars. 

As I bring this series to a close, I feel it important to note that I have recently been contacted by officials from Logan County Rural Water District 1 and they have expressed what I believe to be a heartfelt desire to end the legal wrangling once and for all. I intend to keep you updated.

Next week I will write about my planned legislation to prohibit the practice by which Logan County officials are currently seeking to logroll a tax increase with the extension of two already existing taxes into a single, combined vote which deprives some voters of the choice to defeat an unnecessary new tax.

Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions. 

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