Ethical domain: Stillwater (OK) News Press, 11/15/05

Letter to the Editor

By Ted Nelson, Stillwater

The meeting held by OSU [Oklahoma State University] officials Nov. 10 for residents of Stillwater was predictably attended primarily by residents of the some 400 houses in the area pictured in the Nov. 5 News Press as property required for an expanded athletic complex.

They were obviously scared as hell over what might happen to them with the confiscation of their homes, the destruction of their neighborhood and the uprooting of their very lives.

Most of them had been oblivious to the planning process which had been going on for months, despite the affirmation of the presenters that some 20 “public” meetings had been conducted in a careful process of developing the plan presented.

This was happening soon after the highly-publicized and fractious Supreme Court case regarding the Connecticut eminent domain action versus homeowners.

Matters were (as is often the case in these kinds of efforts) made worse by numerous rumors and assumptions about how and when the acquisition of property by OSU would take place. There had been stories (undocumented) circulating over the weekend about heavy-handed takeovers with stingy compensation and sudden eviction of owners of recent taking of tracts by the university.

This disturbed crowd was then subjected to 90 minutes of a professional tutorial on campus planning which, at this time in their disturbed lives, was of tertiary interest, at best; and possibly demeaning.

These people who have lived much of their lives in the houses being taken were much afraid they were being had. The process which could be taking place is imagined something like this. 1. Public announcement to the real estate world that these homes are doomed. 2. Property values erode. 3. Appraisals are made at “Fair Market Value” 4. The choices appear to be: (A) Accept what is offered believing that it will be far from adequate to even buy an equivalent property (which will be extremely difficult to find in this city. Or (B) Enter expensive litigation which could result in eviction long before the outcome is determined, but certainly at risk of substantial legal costs and an unknown outcome.

Some of these troubled folks are of a mind to stop it. They cannot see how the “public good” is served by awarding their homes to use by transient athletes. They are hoping for ways to prevent the taking of their neighborhood. This posture is understandable, but the chances of this endeavor succeeding are practically nil. What the state wants, the state will get. But ALL U.S. citizens are entitled to “Fair and Just Compensation” when their property must be taken for the “public good” as determined by elected and appointed officials.

Fair and just compensation has not always been provided in all other cases of eminent domain, but citizens of Oklahoma in general and OSU fans in particular have a moral obligation to see to it that those who now live in and/or own property taken here are fully compensated, not just for the “fair market value” of their real estate but to provide for better housing in a better neighborhood, moving expenses and something for this major disruption of their lives.

This manner of compensation will be expensive. OSU might have to either search out more donations or scale down the area to be taken for some years. But neither the university nor the city nor the state can benefit in the long run by abusing the eminent domain privileges to treat some citizens in a cheap or shoddy fashion.

Stillwater News Press: www.stwnewspress.com