The Oklahoman is very sorry they actually reported some news…
1:02 PM EDT on October 8, 2013
In Sunday's newspaper, The Oklahoman published a front page, above-the-fold story about the (totally legal) business dealings of Oklahoma County Assessor Leonard Sullivan and Oklahoma County Commission Ray Vaughn. Apparently, the two public officials do not pay any property taxes on commercial buildings they own because they lease out the space to local non-profits.
What nice guys, huh?
From a Randy Ellis report in Sunday's paper:
2 officials’ property tax exempt
County assessor, commissioner both lease buildings to nonprofit groups
Oklahoma County Assessor Leonard Sullivan and County Commissioner Ray Vaughn both get a tax break that many Oklahomans would envy.
Sullivan and his wife receive $42,000 a year in lease payments from a commercial building in Oklahoma City they own, but pay no property taxes on the building.
Vaughn is part of a family limited liability corporation that is receiving $209,000 in lease payments over 41 months for use of an Edmond building it owns. Vaughn's group doesn't pay property taxes on its building, either.
And it is all perfectly legal.
What's their secret?
Both men lease their properties to tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations...
For Sullivan and Vaughn, owning income-producing properties in Oklahoma County that are tax exempt could be politically awkward, since property taxes help pay for a majority of their office expenses and their $105,262 annual salaries. As assessor, Sullivan also is responsible for determining the market values of properties in the county for tax purposes.
Sullivan became irritated when asked about the situation.
“I'm going to give them notice tomorrow to move out of the building,” Sullivan said. “I'm doing a charity deal already and you're trying to find a nasty story to do about me.”
So, you're saying public officials are (legally) taking advantage of a system that they help supervise and enforce? Shocker! Maybe next week's big Sunday story will be about energy company CEOs getting rich while legally laying off employees.
The expose didn't sit too well with the Oklahoma "Good Ole' Boy Network" (a.k.a. the people who The Oklahoman has historically gone out of its way to protect for 110 years). Not too long after the report was published, it mysteriously disappeared from the front of NewsOK.com. This Tuesday morning, just two days after the original article was published, the paper tucked away an apology and retraction on Page 2. It's a new low in an impressive series of new lows for the paper that comically refers to itself as "The State's Most Trusted News."
Check it out:
From the publisher ...
We have published The Oklahoman 365 days per year for 110 years. Thousands of elements and hundreds of employees come together to bring you news stories, photos, graphics, sports scores, obituaries, advertising and more.
Many judgment calls go into this daily equation, and we are hopeful that more often than not our judgment is sound. But it wasn’t Sunday morning when we gave front-page billing to the story about two elected officials and tax exemptions for property owners who lease to nonprofit entities.
As reported in the story, Oklahoma County Assessor Leonard Sullivan and County Commissioner Ray Vaughn did not violate any laws; the referenced exemptions are legal, and their actions were not particularly newsworthy. Our placement on the first page of Sunday’s edition did not comport with the worthiness of the story and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
This was a poor decision on our part and it is our responsibility to our community, and ourselves, to say so. We are mindful of the Purpose Statement below which we publish every day and intend to live by.
Commissioner Vaughn and Assessor Sullivan have been gracious about the article and have our apologies.
So let me get this straight. The Oklahoman's publisher, Chris Reen, is apologizing for having an experienced reporter go out and actually perform investigative enterprise journalism on a subject the public should know more about? Uhm, okay? Is he concerned about the taxes going up on his $500,000+ home or something? I could see him doing that if the story was libelous or defamatory, but everything in it was supported by facts and public records. And contrary to what Reen said, the story was "particularly newsworthy." I live in Oklahoma County and had no clue these sort of tax breaks existed. It's interesting (an eye-opening) to know that county officials not only knew about the incentives, but figured out a way to (legally) benefit from them.
All that being said, I'm not going to be too hard on the paper for bowing down to the Oklahoma "Good Ole' Boy Network". For one, I don't want my property taxes to go up either. Randy Ellis and the editor who approved the story should be ashamed for dragging Sullivan's name through the mud. The Oklahoma County Assessor is a nice, fair and kind man who would never abuse the system or a pointlessly raise a fledgling blogger's property taxes.
Plus, we've had to issue a retraction or remove a post a time or two over the years. The first time was when we made fun of Larry Nichols for being mean to Spencer. We took down the article after the The Devon Energy CEO threatened to crush us with his rare collection of Spanish gold coins. The other time was when we published those pics of Joleen Chaney and Emily Sutton sunbathing in the French Riviera. Technically the whole experience was from a weird dream I had, but the post and retraction seemed real... very real.
Anyway, here's a link to the original article. I get some weird red error message warning me that the article is "unapproved" and in "edit" mode. That probably means it won't be up for too much longer. Go check it out.
Update: That was fast. The NewsOK.com web cleaners have already removed the "unapproved" story. Here is what the page looked like: