Tahlequah Daily Press


February 24, 2014

Diminutive bicycle markings were a waste of money

TAHLEQUAH — Government budgets, even at the municipal level, aren’t like household budgets. A family of four might struggle for years to save enough to buy a used car from the corner lot, while most cities can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars without batting an eyelash.

What seems like a fortune to a family is a drop in the city bucket. But still, $9,000 seems a lot for the city to spend for street stencils that will have to be replaced because they’re too small to be read by passing drivers.

The idea to stencil shared-lane markings onto certain streets where bicycles are often ridden surfaced several years ago after a local cycling group approached Mayor Jason Nichols. He made notes, cobbled together the initial draft of a map, and requested help from the street department. But the project languished on the back burner until Main Street Director Drew Haley took the bull by the horns and designed a stencil. Street Commissioner Mike Corn enlisted a contractor to do the application, which entailed a minute or two of work: laying down the stencil on the street and painting the exposed part of the asphalt.

The contractor, Terry Keys of T&K Construction, must have thought he’d won the lottery. With Corn’s approval, the city paid him $40 apiece for about 220 of the markings. Turns out Keys didn’t do the work himself: He subbed it to Jimmy Thomas II of JT’s Sealcoating, who says he charged “nowhere near” $40 apiece. Keys defines “nowhere near” as $20 per stencil, so his “windfall,” though it may be legal, is ridiculous. Where do the rest of us sign up for a gig like that?

If the work had been sufficient for its intended purpose, some people might not have felt the price was too high. But the stenciled markings are too small to be seen from passing vehicles, so the message to be mindful of cyclists will go largely unnoticed.

In a literal sense, the city just tossed $9,000 out into the street, because the markings will have to be redone.

Haley took part of the blame, though he really doesn’t deserve it. When he originally designed the stencils, the size seemed fine up close; only when he saw it on the pavement did he realize it was too small. Nichols made the same observation and also accepted some culpability.

Corn, on the other hand, apparently doesn’t share the responsibility; he claims he was only doing what Haley and Nichols told him to do. Problem is, Corn himself told Haley the markings would be too small, and Haley twice asked him to put the project on hold until a redesign could be completed. So did Nichols, but the painting went on unabated. Corn may have already made a deal with the contractor, or he may have simply been ignoring Nichols and Haley. Some observers suspect the latter is the case.

It’s no secret that Nichols and Corn tend to clash. Nichols has crossed Corn several times, for good reason; Corn clearly resents it, also perhaps for good reason. In truth, as an elected official, Corn has never taken criticism well; on occasions when the Daily Press has questioned his decisions or activities, he has called staff members here in an attempt to quash the commentary.

The animosity seems more acute since Nichols took the city helm. The mayor is  young and not part of the “good ol’ boy” network that has held sway for so long. Nichols admits he hasn’t always handled Corn the right way, but that doesn’t give Corn – or anyone else – the right to undermine the mayor and council.

Anyone who doubts this is happening need only recall the request made by the city clerk – Corn’s wife, Deb – for Nichols’ email records. The clerk declined to say why she wanted these records, but indicated she sought them on behalf of “concerned citizens.” The implication seems to be that Nichols is engaging in shady behavior. It’s an amusing concept, because if Nichols were doing something wrong, surely he wouldn’t be stupid enough to discuss it on his city email account.

If Nichols and Corn don’t like each other, that’s their business. But reporting and commenting on city government is the Press’ business – and we think anyone who’s playing games with a perceived nemesis needs to tuck in that pouty lip and start working for the betterment of this community.

While that complicated project is underway, we suggest the street department find a far cheaper way to redo the stencils, once an effective design is ready. The first attempt was a waste of money – probably over personal grudges, and frankly, due to a lack of organization.

The good ol’ boy network is still alive and well, but there are other players on the scene now, too – and they’re not going to tolerate this kind of behavior.

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