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March 22, 2014

Judge rules in Ada’s favor in annexation dispute

Ada — Ada won the first round last week in a legal fight over whether the city acted properly when it annexed land along Stonecipher Boulevard.

District Judge Tom Landrith ruled Wednesday that Ada complied with state law governing annexation. Under the law, city officials must have written permission from a majority of the landowners in a district before annexing their property.

The law also requires the city to notify the people whose property may be annexed about the proposal. In addition, the city must notify property owners if their land covers at least five acres, is used for agricultural purposes and is located next to the boundaries of the territory in question.

The city stipulated at trial that annexation notices to the adjoining landowners were sent by first-class mail, not certified mail.

Landrith ruled that the city satisfied the notification requirement because the landowners whose property was next to the land in question were told about the annexation. He also said landowners whose property lies within the district received notices via certified mail.

“There was no compelling evidence that the witnesses did not receive notice of the proposed annexation by first class mail even though they were owners of 5 acres or more used for agricultural purposes,” the judge wrote.

The ruling was the latest development in a fight that dates back to February 2013, when the city annexed the land along Stonecipher Boulevard. Several property owners affected by the annexation, including Nathan Dial, later sued the city in hopes of reversing the decision. The case went to trial in mid-January.

The lawsuit raised three key questions:

• Did the city comply with state law in annexing the property?

• Did the city satisfy the notification requirement?

• Did the Chickasaw Nation, which owns property along Stonecipher Boulevard and agreed to the annexation, have the authority to consent?

The Nation has the authority to regulate activities on its trust properties — including tribal land along Stonecipher Boulevard — unless an applicable federal rule governs their actions, according to a September 2013 letter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the Eastern Oklahoma Region, Chickasaw Agency. The letter said the annexation did not fall under a federal regulation and did not require federal oversight, since it did not change the trust status of the property.

Landrith’s ruling on Wednesday incorporated an earlier order finding that the Nation’s consent was enough to authorize the city to proceed with annexation.

The ruling was not a total victory for the city, however. The city contended at trial that the landowners could not sue over annexation, but Landrith concluded that the landowners could file suit.

Dial, who was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the ruling Thursday. The city’s legal adviser, Frank Stout, also declined to comment.

Now that Landrith has ruled, the two sides will return to court to finish the trial, said the landowners’ attorney, Jack Cadenhead of Seminole. He said the next stage of the trial will determine whether the city’s actions in annexing the property were reasonable.

“Considering that the obvious and sole reason for annexing these people’s properties was to circumvent the county commissioners from legally allowing one individual’s commercial use of a 2.45-acre tract, we believe and will argue that the Ada City Council’s actions certainly were arbitrary and selective and not a reasonable exercise of its legislative power,” Cadenhead said in an email to an Ada News reporter.

He said the trial date has not been set yet.

Reach Eric Swanson at adanewsreporter@cableone.net.

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