The state Tourism and Recreation Department will not provide a copy of a contract to sell more than 1,000 acres of state park land at Lake Texoma to a private developer, although experts say the document should be subject to the state's open records law.
The contract, penned in 2008 by state tourism officials with Oklahoma City-based Pointe Vista Development, is for the sale of 1,022 acres of land in Lake Texoma State Park that includes a public campground with panoramic lake views in Marshall County.
Although the Tourism Department voted at a public meeting in 2008 to approve the sale, agency officials say the sale agreement is confidential and cannot be released without Pointe Vista's consent.
Oklahoma's Open Records Act states that most contracts involving taxpayer money and public land are public documents, said Joey Senat, an advocate for open records with the organization FOI Oklahoma Inc. and an associate professor for Oklahoma State University's School of Media and Strategic Communications.
“I don't see how the state can keep secret a contract to develop taxpayer-owned property,” Senat said.
Tulsa Attorney J. Schaad Titus, who has handled cases involving the Open Records Act, said that the document should be available to the public.
“I am unaware of anything specifically in the Open Records Act that lets them do that,” he said.
Although the state can withhold information relating to appraisals of real state, the contract itself should be public, Titus said.
Titus, who reviewed the confidentially clause in the agreement, said the state should be able to release a redacted version of the document if there is sensitive information relating to the sale price of the land.
Pointe Vista, led by Chaparral Energy CEO Mark Fischer and former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon, already has finalized the purchase of 758 acres of park land at Lake Texoma for $14.6 million. Plans call for the construction of a four-star hotel where a now-demolished state lodge once stood. However, construction has yet to begin.
The sale of the additional 1,022 acres of land to Pointe Vista, negotiated with the Tourism Department in 2008, has yet to be finalized because Pointe Vista has not completed an environmental impact study required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to transfer some of the land that is held by the federal government.
Hardy Watkins, who was Tourism Department director at the time the agency negotiated the agreement with Pointe Vista, said he could not recall specifics about the terms of the deal.