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Public interests can conflict with economic interests, often in a gray area

Stress can exist between journalists as well as the public wanting to know details of downtown development and the developers, who sometimes wish silence would prevail as long as possible.
by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: August 26, 2014 at 4:00 pm •  Published: August 25, 2014

The team putting the redevelopment together asked me to hold my story for two weeks to allow them time to get a new equity partner. They made a persuasive case that premature publicity could have caused other partners to back out of the project, killing it altogether. I agreed and reported the story two weeks later when a new equity partner was secured. A decade later, all of the participants in the deal, including the city, seem quite happy with its outcome.

Other deals, however, demand thorough and timely reporting – with great risk to the public if such deals are not fleshed out in advance.

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber in 2008 sought more than $1 million in upfront payments to Tennessee-based Spheris in exchange for creating a 1,000-employee, work-at-home transcription operation with an average salary of $36,000.

The company, however, had losses totaling $2.8 million two years earlier. I reported that loss, the company’s instability, and the questions were brought up when the incentives were up for a final vote by the Oklahoma City Economic Development Trust.

The deal never advanced any further. Spheris filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy less than two years later and its assets were sold in a public auction.

Maybe both sides of this debate are correct. It’s a balancing act that if anything will get more difficult.

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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