Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

May 7, 2014

Some say Tahlequah councilor has conflict on Basin deal

TAHLEQUAH — Ward 1 Councilor Diane Weston this week was asked to step aside from her involvement in the city’s attempts to purchase 19 structures and associated properties near Basin Avenue.

Councilors met at length behind closed doors Monday evening to discuss the real estate negotiations ongoing with Century 21 Wright Real Estate, which is listing the properties for owner John and Geneva King.

But when the council returned from its executive session, Jasen Wright asked to speak, and said Weston “should have already or should now disclose” that she has an active real estate license for a local firm.

“It is requested that Councilor Weston withdraw from discussions and abstain from a vote regarding this real estate matter due to possible conflict of interest or perception of bias as a representative of the real estate profession,” Wright said.

After a short silence, Weston responded: “I’ll agree to that.”

Mayor Jason Nichols then tried to clarify.

“OK – to remove yourself from the situation?” Nichols asked Weston.

Weston responded with a “yes.”

Ward 4 Councilor Linda Spyres said she didn’t understand the request.

“She’s not involved in the numbers or anything like that. She’s not involved – you and [City Attorney] Park [Medearis] are doing this, right?” Spyres asked Nichols. “With Wright Real Estate? I don’t understand this. We all know that she works for another real estate company, but... .”

Wright told councilors Weston is required to disclose her involvement with a real estate company because it “gives her an advantage.”

“In the last meeting, she did make the motion to turn down this property, and she has also made some statements as to the value of the property,” Wright said.

Medearis told councilors that being affiliated with a competing real estate company doesn’t necessarily require a councilor to abstain.

“I think it’s more of a voluntary thing” to abstain, Medearis said.

Local resident Jim Smythe then addressed councilors and expressed his “concern” over the proposal to buy the property with taxpayer money.

“It appears that in this particular instance, if you don’t maintain your property, and you wait, eventually, the city will buy it, because it’s just a nuisance,” said Smythe. “I agree wholeheartedly with wanting to see it become a greenbelt area, but I don’t think purchasing it at a particularly outrageous price is a prudent use of municipal money.”

Smythe also pointed to the possibility of soil contamination in the area.

Nichols then responded that the environmental concerns raised last month “are probably greatly exaggerated.”

But he also said the city will be responsible for any contamination that might be in the area, if it did result from the use of incinerators to burn solid waste.

Nichols said the seller has presented the council with a new offer “that has alleviated the concern regarding the appraisal.” He called attempts to buy the area a “22-year effort” that would make the community “proud.”

“To remain indecisive ... is not something I’m willing to do,” Nichols said. “One way or the other, I’m committed to getting this property, not simply waiting. I’m interested in hearing other ideas – whatever we’ve got to do, whatever arrangement can be made. This property is invaluable to the city of Tahlequah. One way or another, we need to get hold of those structures and that property.”


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