Tahlequah Daily Press


June 30, 2014

New chamber head needs to be free from scandal’s taint

TAHLEQUAH — Every time another layer is peeled off the unfolding saga of the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce embezzlement case, those going through the records hope they might see a light at the end of the tunnel. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Since January 2012, someone with access to chamber funds made 780 cash withdrawals from ATMs at the Hard Rock in Tulsa, the Cherokee Nation’s Tahlequah casino, Tulsa banks and convenience stores and other ATMs, for a staggering total of nearly $270,000. That’s not even counting purchases made at places like Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, various restaurants and bars, and convenience stores.

In terms of total dollars, this will be one of the largest embezzlement scams in local history. And if the chatter on social media and through emails and phone calls to the Daily Press are any indication, the rage is escalating with each new revelation.

Chamber board members aren’t saying much, because an OSBI probe is ongoing. Though they’re making documents available to the Press, they’re throwing up a few roadblocks, some of which may be necessary. But asking an entity to pay 25 cents a page for copies of records to which the local public should have easy access is a little hard to swallow – especially when the chamber owes money to the entity being charged.

Board President Stan Young last week made a comment to FOX23 –  probably out of sheer frustration – that openly suggested a culprit. No official blame has been assigned by investigators, but board members, both past and present, are talking off the record in various forums, and they’re pointing fingers.

The board’s first official act was to fire Tourism Director Kate Kelly, who appears to be the whistle-blower. The public will likely never know exactly why her employment was terminated, because that information is protected under privacy laws. But thus far, no evidence has surfaced to suggest she ever had access to any funds. Sources say board members believe Kelly suspected something was rotten at the chamber several months before she finally told a tourism board member, and their displeasure at her delay prompted their action. But if that’s the case, she is not the only one who should be released from her official position.

A number of folks in the business community are murmuring that the chamber should start with a clean slate, with all new board members and employees. They find it hard to believe this many intelligent, well-meaning local leaders could be fooled to this degree. Getting anyone to say that openly is another matter. Most board members are prominent people, with deep ties to the community – including past and present service on other boards. Some are embarrassed, and rightly so; others appear to be defiant. Either way, the widespread hope is that they – and those who follow them – have learned an important lesson about blind trust.

Whom they hire as their next director will be telling. One board member suggested they eliminate the tourism post and pay the next director a little more, which sounds like a good idea. The new director should be able to prove he or she has at least a bachelor’s degree in business or a related field, as well as several years’ experience. It might also be wise to pick a candidate who wasn’t born and raised here, to stave off the stench of the “good ol’ boy” network. And above all, the director should be required to live in Cherokee County as long as he or she holds the job.

Certain factions are jockeying for position, and someone with prior chamber affiliation will likely be held up as an ideal candidate. Succumbing to that pressure would be a colossal mistake on part of board members, and they can’t afford another one of those. Even if they keep their seats, the next director should be completely free from the taint of this scandal. Only then can the chamber begin to rebuild – an undertaking that will take lots of time and talent, and a spotless record for the person at its helm.

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  • Tourism Council and chamber should cut the proverbial cord

    They are defined by two separate purposes and operate under two distinctive sets of bylaws, but years of conflicting opinions have left lingering questions and confusion over the relationship between the decades-old Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce and the younger Tahlequah Area Tourism Council.

    July 30, 2014

  • NSU needs to be more candid when its plans go awry

    Many area residents were disappointed to learn this week that the NSU Fitness Center, and its all-important indoor lap pool, won’t open next month, as originally announced.
    This latest delay is no surprise.

    July 28, 2014

  • Higher premiums a just reward for drunken drivers

    Over the past several years, Oklahoma has slipped in many of the polls that count. This week, we learned Tulsa is No. 4 on a list of cities with high rates of fatal DUI accidents. Is anyone really surprised?

    July 25, 2014

  • Maybe it’s time to think about having another BalloonFest

    The 18th annual BalloonFest was the last one held, in 2010. In summer 2011, when the Daily Press staff hadn’t heard anything about the much-anticipated event, we started asking questions.

    July 23, 2014

  • If you see a drunken driver, take the time to call in a report

    If you see something, say something. You’ve heard the warning, and seen it imprinted on placards at airports. In the wake of 9/11, it became a national mantra, mainly aimed at spotting potential terrorist activities. But it’s good advice anytime, and for any reason, even at the local level.

    July 14, 2014

  • City officials should stop squabbling and try to work together

    It’s bad enough that the Chamber of Commerce scandal has given Tahlequah a black eye. But if the bickering among city officials doesn’t stop, the community will have a complete set of shiners for its public face.

    July 11, 2014

  • Only full disclosure will restore trust in the chamber

    Despite pressure from some quarters, neither the Press nor anyone else who values full disclosure will be clamming up until all the facts are known, and those who are responsible meet with justice.

    July 10, 2014

  • Only full disclosure will restore trust in the chamber

    A few board members for the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce are saying they’ve heard nothing but positive things lately – about the chamber itself, and presumably, about themselves.

    July 9, 2014

  • Employer-sponsored insurance may now be a ‘hostage’ situation

    When the fallout settles from the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, many Americans might decide they’re better off with health insurance that doesn’t come from their boss.

    July 7, 2014

  • With confidence in Congress at 7 percent, time for a new slate

    Note to Congress: We don’t like you. Not at all.
    A Gallup poll released Monday, June 30 confirmed what most of us already know: the American public is disgusted with the House and Senate. The survey recorded the lowest level of confidence since Gallup began asking the question in 1991: a whopping 7 percent. That’s not a typographical error; it’s a single digit.

    July 2, 2014


Do you think "blue laws" related to Sunday alcohol sales in Oklahoma should be relaxed? Choose the option that most closely reflects your opinion.

Alcoholic drinks should be sold Sundays in restaurants and bars, and liquor stores should be open.
Alcoholic drinks should be sold Sundays in restaurants and bars only; liquor stores should stay closed.
Liquor stores should be open Sundays, but drinks should not be served anywhere on Sundays.
The law should remain as it is now; liquor stores should be closed, and drinks should be served on Sundays according to county option.
No alcohol should be sold or served publicly on Sundays.
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