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  • University and banking interests influenced Lindsey St. construction project behind the scenes

    University and banking interests influenced Lindsey St. construction project behind the scenes

    Email records from 2013 to 2015 show that University of Oklahoma President David Boren, along with members of Norman’s banking and real estate community sought to influence the Lindsey Street Improvement Project from its beginning.

    In an email to Norman City Manager Steve Lewis, President Boren says, “I was disappointed to hear about the staff recommendations on Lindsey Street which was discussed this morning. I was hoping that we would have a chance to talk with the Federal Highway Administration and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation at the highest levels before moving further.”

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    Boren went on to express concerns regarding traffic, saying “To try to make it into an arterial highway with a very high traffic count will create an enormous bottleneck with bumper to bumper traffic through the surrounding neighborhoods and the campus. I certainly cannot support it.”

    Later in the same email, Boren makes reference to the need for avoiding violations the Open Meetings Act:

    I would hope that if there are to be any discussions of the issue with City Council members that I would be allowed to attend to present the university’s point of view and that great care would be taken not to violate the open meeting law since this is an issue of such great public importance.

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    In an email to city manager Steve Lewis, local banker Chuck Thompson says President Boren gave positive feedback on the design, “but wants to talk to people much higher up the ladder.”  Thompson indicates he counseled Boren and other stakeholders on the need for taking a more cautious approach to setting up meetings with the city’s elected officials.

    In a later email, Thompson writes to OU Executive Vice President Nicholas Hathaway:

    Nick,
    Not a good way to start. I caught the (not so veiled) reference in the DLB email below that the City might try to skirt the open meetings law and have the Council presentation of the staff report out of the public’s eye. I specifically remember the City Manager stating that the presentation to Council will be an open meeting with the full Council and that anyone that wants to attend is welcome.

    Thompson later tells City Manager Steve Lewis, “I shared that as City Manager it might be presumptuous for you to outstep the Mayor or other elected officials in arranging meetings with Washington.”  He goes on to ask Lewis to share with him his prior emails with Boren.

    Lewis emails Boren to inform him he is scheduling meetings with ODOT, ACOG, and federal agencies.

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    According to the lindseystreetnorman.com website: “Two major construction projects are underway that will greatly impact the traffic patterns of West Lindsey Street in Norman. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is re-configuring both the Highway 9 and Lindsey Street exits in the largest single contract in the state’s history.

    According to invoices from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the total estimated cost of the project is $20,893,944.71.  Norman’s share of that totals $ 1,422,615.42.

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    Since the Lindsey Street construction project began, several West Lindsey Street merchants have suffered losses, forced to close or relocate.

    Email records were obtained through an Open Records Act request through the City of Norman.

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