OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma's treasurer and secretary of state have filed motions to dismiss a lawsuit against them and others that challenges the appropriation of $2 million in public funds to a private, nonprofit livestock show.
State Treasurer Ken Miller and Secretary of State Glenn Coffee filed the motions in Oklahoma County District Court, seeking to have a lawsuit filed by state Reps. Mike Reynolds and Mike Ritze dropped. A separate motion to dismiss the suit was filed by Carol McFarland, interim director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, and Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, allege in the lawsuit that the appropriation to the Oklahoma Youth Expo livestock show is an inappropriate use of taxpayer money and is unconstitutional. The suit also names Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese and members of the Board of Agriculture.
A general appropriations bill adopted by the Legislature in May included appropriations to the Agriculture Department, the lawsuit says, but doesn't include a specific $2 million appropriation to the Youth Expo or mention the expo by name. In fact, according to the suit, the measure doesn't list an appropriation of any kind to the livestock show.
Miller, Coffee and McFarland claim in their motions filed last week that they are immune from the lawsuit and are not "a necessary or proper party to these actions." Each of the statewide officials is represented by Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office.
"High-level government executives and officials must feel free to act on their discretional decisions as they see fit, without being subject to influence by the threat of harassing suit," the motions state. "Such officials are generally accorded immunity from suit, as long as they are acting in good faith and not in a willful and wanton manner."
The attorney general's office has also filed a motion to permit the late filing of the state officials' respective motions to dismiss the case. The motion says their responses were filed about a week late "through inadvertence and an honest mistake."
Andrew Karim, the attorney for state Reps. Reynolds and Ritze, had no comment on the case Tuesday. A hearing is scheduled on Nov. 29 before District Judge Bill Graves.
The two state lawmakers originally asked a judge to block the appropriation but pulled that request after Reese, a former member of the livestock show's board of directors, told The Associated Press that the money had already been appropriated.
Reese said the appropriation was made in August in accordance with guidelines that authorize a public-private partnership between the state and private entities to help farmers and ranchers promote agriculture-related endeavors.
Gov. Mary Fallin supports the Youth Expo appropriation, according to spokesman Alex Weintz. In a statement, Weintz said the expo supports the mission of the Department of Agriculture and that the state is allowed under its constitution to contract with it.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the Youth Expo has no enforceable claim for the state to appropriate money to it and that agriculture officials have no legal authority to enter into an agreement to operate the livestock show. The suit also seeks a full accounting of all money paid to the Youth Expo in recent years.
The 10-day livestock show attracts exhibitors, educators and families from all of Oklahoma's 77 counties and has a $24 million economic impact on Oklahoma City, according to its website. The next event is scheduled for March 16-26.