Tahlequah Daily Press

September 11, 2013

Officials mostly quiet on retirement payoff

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — City leaders are saying very little after rumors surfaced that Street Commissioner Mike Corn was recently offered a large sum of money to resign from office.

Corn said this week he could not comment, but confirmed he has hired an attorney and is staying mum on the law -yer’s ad- vice. Corn suggested City Attorney Park Medearis might offer more insight, but Medearis called the matter a “personnel issue” and would not comment.

Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols said the rumors are part of an issue that initially surfaced more than a year ago and returned to the forefront during a recent meeting involving himself, Corn, Medearis, Assistant City Administrator Kevin Smith, and Human Resources Director Sue Stacy.

Nichols wouldn’t discuss the main focus of that meeting because of the personnel issues involved, but said it was part of a “larger discussion about the operation of the street department and some deficiencies there.”

But Nichols did address stories that have been floating around about the alleged offer to Corn to resign or retire in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars. One note sent to the Press this week suggested Corn had been offered $75,000 in taxpayer money. Nichols said he’s heard claims of six-figure amounts, but called them “rumor and conjecture.”

“A year, maybe a year and a half ago – probably no more than 18 months ago – [Corn] came and asked about the possibility of early retirement,” Nichols said. “It was discussed, and I said, ‘Well, Mike, what would make that interesting to you? What do you mean?’ He said he’d be looking for his salary and insurance to be paid. I said, ‘Well Mike, we can’t pay you for staying at home.’”

Nichols said Corn was asked to take more time and think about his request, and was told he could revisit the idea if he was still interested – but at a “lower price” than his salary and insurance. About a month later, when Corn hadn’t resumed the discussion, Nichols ap- proached him again, but Corn said he wasn’t interested, the mayor said this week.

“Then, the other day, we were having a discussion, and I did bring up the topic,” said Nichols. “I said, ‘Are you still thinking about that?’ He said he needed to talk to [his wife] Deb [Corn] and think a few things over. That’s as far as I can go into the conversation.”

Nichols said a specific monetary amount was not discussed during the recent conversation, and it was mostly “hypothetical.”

“I think we left it general: ‘If you’re still interested in it, let us know,’” said Nichols.

 “This was initiated by the commissioner a year ago, and the second time by me.”

City officials in Tahlequah have never made such a deal, Nichols confirmed.

“All of it – where the money would come from, if it would even happen – would be something the council would have to decide, not me,” said Nichols.

“School systems and other municipalities have done that before, but the city of Tahlequah never has. It’s somewhat complex because of the elected situation.”

Corn was re-elected earlier this year to his sixth term as the city’s street commissioner. He has worked for the street department for more than 40 years.

-- jnewton@tahlequahdaily