Uncovered trust indenture shows city, county, both have stake in Expo Center

May 15—A decades old document uncovered after lawsuits between two local governments were filed earlier this year is expected to lead to the dismissal of the lawsuits.

The initial lawsuit was filed in January 2024 in Pittsburg County District Court. McAlester City Attorney John T. Hammons filed the action asking the court to rule in the city's favor over more $32,000 in unpaid stormwater fees at the Southeast Expo Center.

A countersuit was filed in April by Pittsburg County Commissioners, seeking the judgment of more than $750,000 from the city of McAlester for alleged breach of contract involving a lease agreement, contending the city let the Expo Center building and property deteriorate during the approximately 20 years the city operated the facility.

McAlester City Councilors voted Tuesday to dismiss their lawsuit against the county commissioners following an executive session.

Voting to dismiss the lawsuit was Mayor John Browne, Ward 2 Councilman Justin Few, Ward 3 Councilman Chris Stone, and Ward 5 Councilman Billy Boatright.

After the meeting, Hammons explained the reasoning for the dismissal.

"In preparation for the lawsuit, we've determined that the county does not in fact own the Expo," Hammons said. "In reality, it is owned by a joint city/county trust. So, we own it, and they own it together. So, we can't sue them for the stormwater fees because we don't own it, and they can't countersue us for the damaged building because they don't own the building either."

Ross Selman, Chairman of the Pittsburg County Commissioners, said he hates the situation had to come to the point of lawsuits being filed.

"I hate anybody suing anybody," Selman said." Especially the city and county because we need to be working together and help make it better for our people instead of being worried about ourselves."

Documents provided to the News-Capital from the Pittsburg County Clerk's Office show the Pittsburg County Regional Exposition Authority was formed in June 1993 with the authority agreeing to use the Southeast Expo Center for "the use and benefit of the City of McAlester, Oklahoma, and the County of Pittsburg, Oklahoma."

The document states the trust's board is to be comprised of nine members, five from the city of McAlester and four from Pittsburg County with all board members serving four-year terms.

Gene Walker, Tex Cope, Mark Brickman, Lynn Edwards, Brad Fenton, Bob Miller, Don Lewis, Charlie Naush, and Howard Burger were the first nine members of the board, the document shows.

Hammons said both the city and the county have tentatively agreed to start the process of bringing the Board back in line with the original trust documents and that it would be up to the Board to decide what to do on the issue of the stormwater fee.

"It was a shock to us," McAlester City Manager David Andren said. "When we read that trust indenture, it was eye opening, but we'll make it work."

"There's an end in sight," Hammons said.