Court documents indicate Oklahoma’s OETA could sever ties with foundation

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The Oklahoma public television network has asked a district court to affirm its right to dissolve its relationship with its fundraising foundation.

The state-owned Oklahoma Educational Television Authority  also delivered an eviction notice to the OETA Foundation, which shares leased space in its building, which was first reported by the Daily Oklahoman. The notice orders the foundation to leave the premises by Jan. 13.

“It is unfortunate we had to take this action,” said OETA Board Chair Garrett King in a statement. “We were left with no other option after the OETA Foundation began changing locks, attempting to make alterations to OETA’s building, denying access to part of OETA’s building, interfering with day to day operations and attempting to hack OETA’s computer network.”

The foundation is disputing the eviction notice, according to a document obtained by Current. In a Dec. 29 letter to King, President Daphne Dowdy wrote, “OETA has no right to demand that the foundation vacate the premises and, as such, the foundation will not do so.”

OETA’s two Dec. 21 filings with the District Court of Oklahoma County respond to the foundation’s Dec. 6 petition, which  revealed an acrimonious battle between leaders of the pubcasting network and its fundraising nonprofit.

The public broadcaster filed a motion to dismiss the foundation’s petition, and a counterclaim disagreeing with the foundation’s allegations.

The motion to dismiss said that foundation board members are “attempting a coup to expand their role” in responsibilities “far beyond their fundraising mission.” It said the foundation’s petition was based on “a fictitious legal argument.”

“It is unheard of for an institutionally related foundation, established to support its benefitting institution’s mission, to interfere in or unduly influence the operating and managerial affairs of the institution before providing support,” the motion said.

The counterclaim said that the foundation has “made lavish improvements” to its office space in OETA headquarters, and denied station employees access to that area by posting signs that read, “ONLY OETA FOUNDATION EMPLOYEES ALLOWED PAST THIS POINT.”

Quarreling between OETA and foundation leaders, extensively detailed in the first petition, is affecting staff throughout the building, according to OETA’s counterclaim. It described how a foundation employee “accosted” an OETA employee “walking toward the only vending machine available in the building,” in an attempt to prevent access.

The document also said that on Dec. 12 and 13, locksmiths and carpenters arrived at the OETA building to work on locks and measure for doors that would “prevent OETA staff from access to certain locations.”

OETA has asked the court to declare that it has the right to:

  • Terminate its agreement with the foundation;
  • Designate and enter into an agreement with another nonprofit fundraising foundation; and
  • Request that funds, assets and property of the foundation be transferred to that other nonprofit.

OETA also requested a complete accounting from the foundation of all funds and property dating to Jan. 1, 2013.

In his statement, King said OETA leaders had made “earnest, good faith attempts” over two years to resolve “longstanding and complex differences” with the foundation. He criticized the nonprofit for opting to “use donor dollars to pursue frivolous legal work and lawsuits, to engage in duplicative and unauthorized activities and to attempt undue influence over the operation of a state agency.”

In response to OETA’s court filings, Dowdy told Current, “The foundation’s sole interest is to raise money and support OETA and public educational television in Oklahoma. It has done that job very well and will continue to do so.”

Read the latest court documents:

This post was updated with comments from King.

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