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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Judge finds for Chamber

  • District Judge Cynthia Ashwood-Ferrell has implemented a temporary injunction order on behalf of the Shawnee chamber of commerce.


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  • District Judge Cynthia Ashwood-Ferrell has implemented a temporary injunction order on behalf of the Shawnee chamber of commerce.
    Thursday morning Ashwood-Ferrell heard the emergency hearing on the temporary restraining order that the Greater Shawnee Area Chamber of Commerce filed against the city. The chamber filed the restraining order after the city commission voted to sever the 1994 contract, which created the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) during a special called meeting.
    This temporary injunction leaves the terms of the existing contract in effect. The city cannot transfer the funds of the Hotel Occupancy Surcharge to another entity.
    During the hearing, only one witness was called to testify - chamber President Nancy Keith.
    Keith testified that she was never advised by any city commission that she wasn’t promoting tourism adequately. She also testified that the budget is prepared each year, along with expenditures, and that no one has ever objected to those either.
    No list of grievances was ever received, nor did the chamber receive any notice about the city’s intent to terminate the contract, Keith said during testimony.
    She added that the land purchase north of I-40, which is still intended to become a visitors center, was not opposed by the city. City Manager Brian McDougal, who sits on the chamber’s board of directors by virtue of his position, voted for the land purchase initially, Keith testified.
    Keith testified that before 2012, she heard only one comment from one commissioner in 2011. She called it a “friendly conversation.”
    During cross-examination with City Attorney Mary Ann Karns, Keith testified that the 1994 contract between the city and the chamber was never approved by the then city commission. Nor was the plan to pay off the note on the land purchase early.
    Keith conceded that she did meet with commissioners Billy J. Collier and Pam Stephens, McDougal and Karns. She maintained however, that the issues with the land purchase did not come up during that meeting.
    The chamber of commerce has $118,000 committed, either verbally or through a contract, for next year, Keith said during testimony. She added that not maintaining these contracts would not only make the chamber look bad, but also the city of Shawnee.
    After Keith’s testimony, Karns made a motion for the judge to dismiss the request for an emergency restraining order, on the grounds that the chamber could not show that terminating the contract would cause irreparable harm.
    “Their only real showing of harm is that this would make everybody look bad,” Karns said. “Well that’s speculative, at best,” she added.
    Ashwood-Ferrell overruled, and asked for closing arguments.
    Joe Vorndran gave closing arguments on behalf of the chamber.
    “There are a litany of issues that come into play here,” Vorndran said.
    Page 2 of 2 - He outlined that the city was unable to give evidence that declaratory relief for the chamber was improper. He added that Resolution 5848, passed by the city commission in 1994, included a provision for a contract between the city commission and chamber.
    “If ever there’s a ratification, that would be it,” Vorndran said.
    Vorndran added that terminating this contract would cause irreparable harm, not only to the chamber, but to the city as well.
    “There’s been no evidence entered – by the defendant – that no harm would be done,” he said.
    He explained that since the chamber would not be able to maintain the contracts they’ve entered into for 2013, that would put a bad light on Shawnee and make conventions, and other tourism vehicles, hesitant to work with Shawnee.
    “That’s the type of irreparable harm testified by the plaintiff,” Vorndran said.
    “They have spent public money on their land,” Karns said during her closing arguments. “By itself that’s a sufficient breach.”
    Karns also said that entity’s which contract with the city are subject to the same rules.
    “There are a lot of restrictions in the law about what the city can spend its money on, and those same restrictions apply to those the city contracts with,” she said.
    After a break, Ashwood-Ferrell ruled in favor of the chamber.
    “There are some damages that cannot be remedied with money, and that’s what irreparable harm is,” she said.
    Ashwood-Ferrell did not comment on the land purchase.
    “Those are issues that are most appropriate in the resolution of the underlying dispute,” she said.
    As a part of the emergency injunction, the chamber is prohibited from selling or mortgaging the land. The chamber is further required to continue paying the monthly payments, but not pay any extra toward the principle.
    The chamber is also required to post a $25,000 bond, as included in Oklahoma law.
    “We think the judge made the right ruling for the right reason,” Mike Clover, counsel for the chamber, said. “I hope the chamber and the city can move forward.”
    “We maintain it was never the intent of the chamber to control or own anything, but rather do what we were tasked to do by the city during the last 18 years,” Keith said in a statement. “We remain committed to providing professional leadership to the CVB and continuing working with the city for the benefit of our community.”
    Karns was unavailable for comment Thursday.

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