Tahlequah Daily Press

May 19, 2014

Property appraisal the only way to end the Basin brouhahau


TAHLEQUAH — Maybe Tahlequah residents should take up a collection to buy a couple of packages of “big boy” and “big girl” underpants, because we have some folks in city government who could use a pair or two.

Not long ago, Street Commissioner Mike Corn was in the hot seat, because on several occasions, he fell short of the mark as a steward for city monies. Documents provided to the Daily Press by different sources proved it – and despite rumors to the contrary, the incriminating papers did not come from Mayor Jason Nichols.

The most recent brouhaha involves the possible acquisition of land on Basin to transform into a “greenbelt” for the city. It’s clear Tahlequah residents want to see such spaces carved out; had that not been the case, the normally cautious voters here would not have approved a sales tax with about $1 million earmarked for the project. But now, the plans may be bogged down in red tape, misinformation, and a whisper campaign that appears politically motivated. Allegations of corruption and cronyism are being bandied about, and the Press has been asked to investigate nebulous connections among the parties involved.

We’d be happy to do it, too, if we had any information to go on. We only have a couple of anonymous phone calls and unsigned letters detailing accusations for which we’ve seen no evidence. We’ve been asked to “write an editorial” about “clandestine meetings” among the parties involved in the land transaction – the mayor, the property owners, the real estate agency. We’re also hearing rumors that some elected officials are trying to drum up support for a “recall election” against one or more of their compatriots.

The focus of concern seems to be the possibility that the land Mayor Jason Nichols wants to acquire may have been contaminated by an incinerator the city operated there decades ago. Some folks suspect there’s a sweetheart deal in the offing that won’t serve the city’s best interests. The property is now owned by John and Geneva King – the parents of Police Chief Nate King, by the way, before anyone accuses the Press of trying to cover up that information. And no offense to the King family, but the Basin area is anything but “royal.” This eyesore has been joked about for years as the “ghetto” of Tahlequah, so turning it into a greenbelt is a good idea.

The “concerned citizen” who wrote the unsigned letter says he or she will be requesting an EPA evaluation of the pollution. That’s a good idea, too, but we’re not so sure the “citizen” is on the mark by claiming the city “is not responsible for remedying the problem.” Sources at the Department of Environmental Quality have indicated if the city caused the pollution, it might have to pay for the abatement, regardless of whose name is on the property deed. But there’s no reason why city officials can’t get these details ironed out before proceeding with the land buy.

The Kings aren’t going to give away their land, nor is Wright Real Estate going to bow out of its commission. And there’s nothing wrong with these folks making a reasonable profit. But what is “reasonable”? The “concerned citizen” implies a conspiracy to overpay that will benefit a select few, but again, no one hiding behind the cloak of anonymity has seen fit to provide documentation to bolster the claim.

One way to settle this flap is to hire an independent appraiser – one not affiliated with any elected official, or the Wrights or the Kings – and find out what the property is worth. Any pollution should be factored into the equation.

In the meantime, city officials need to settle down and put an end to the back-biting and mud-slinging. And if anyone has proof of ulterior motives, he or she should bring it forward and let us expose it. If not, the question Rodney King asked so many years ago in the wake of the Los Angeles riots should be applied: “Can’t we all just get along?”