MASK MANDATE: City Council extends mask ordinance, replaces late municipal judge

Keri Thornton | Daily Press

Tahelquah Mayor Sue Catron went over some notes in the council chambers before a Thursday, Nov. 12 special meeting.

After some emotional moments during a special meeting Nov. 12, the Tahlequah City Council agreed to amend or extend the local face covering ordinance.

The status of the citywide ordinance hinges on expiration of all COVID-19 emergency declarations issued by the governor of the State of Oklahoma and the president of the United States, or repeal modification or extension by the City Council through a subsequent ordinance. The ordinance was set to expire Nov. 30.

The extension had already been discussed at an earlier meeting, but for many, the death of Municipal Judge Donn F. Baker infused the issue with new significance.

“This the second reading of this ordnance, and there is one change that has taken place since the last reading,” Mayor Sue Catron said. “If you’ll remember the last time we talked about this, we were proposing to leave that open-ended as far as a actual date for a sunset, and at this particular point, the ordinance as it is presented in your packet reflects a March 31, 2021, sunset date.”

Ward 4 Councilor Trae Ratliff made a motion to approve the change, while Ward 1 Councilor Bree Long seconded. Ward 2 Councilor Dower Combs voted against it.

During an emotional moment, the board gave its nod to temporarily appoint Rachel Dallis as acting judge in place of Baker, who passed away early Thursday morning of COVID-19.

“Obviously we need to modify that a little bit. The agreement, if you agree this evening, at this point says the term of the agreement shall commence on Nov. 12, 2020, and extend until a judge of the court is appointed and qualified pursuant to the city of Tahlequah code of ordinances,” Catron said.

The mayor said the intent is to not fill the position permanently at the moment, and they will regroup in the future.

“The loss of Donn — I’m not going to be able to make it through it — Donn was my friend, and Donn was my hero and my mentor,” Dallis said. “I talked to Donn before I accepted this position, and Donn told me he told the mayor he thought I would do great. I obviously never intended to replace Donn; I could never fill his shoes. I just want to help Donn.”

Dallis added that the community lost an icon, and there is no one who loved the law as much as Baker did.

“I don’t know how we’re going to move on, but Donn will be missed and remembered more than I think he could ever even imagine. Thank you guys for the opportunity to help,” Dallis said.

In other business, the board discussed fixing compensation for the city clerk, street commissioner, police chief, city treasurer, mayor, and councilors.

City Administrator Alan Chapman said they needed the ordinance in place to set in place the compensation of elected official before the filing period for the next regularly scheduled election.

“This is the administration’s recommendation; the only change from the first reading was to add $1,500 to the police chief’s salary to address previous requests considering longevity pay,” Chapman said.

Police Chief Nate King asked Chapman to look into a salary analysis comparison of other police chiefs, as well as longevity pay and education incentive pay, during the Nov. 2 meeting.

“I would like to request that instead of the 2 percent each year after the first year, I would request that my salary be set at $75,000 from the first year and stay that at each year,” King said. “Once again, I ask on the longevity and education pay, and what the reasoning was there as far as denial.”

Catron said it wasn’t a denial, and that the $1,500 was for just that purpose.

“But longevity would increase by $100 each year if it was the same as every other full-time contract – I mean, the other 130-some-odd employees,” King said. “I guess my question is, why wasn’t it like that, instead of just the $1,500 flat amount?”

Catron said it is difficult to have longevity pay for elected officials, since they are only in office for four-year terms.

“Well, whatever logic you need to use, but I’ve been in office for seven-plus years and plan to seek reelection again. Once again, when we set these salary amounts, we’re setting it for the position itself – probably more so than for any position in the city,” King said. “Because we’re not setting this salary for Nate King or DeAnna Hammons; we’re setting it for the next chief of police, whoever that may be.”

Chapman explained he believed the longevity was based on a $100 per year, which would amount to $1,100 at the end of a four-year term.

Ratliff moved to approve compensation for the city clerk at $49,000; street commissioner at $12,000; police chief at $75,000; and the city treasurer at $13,000. Salaries for the mayor, at $16,800, and councilors, at $6,000 each, will stay the same. The street commissioner position formerly paid over $65,000 until the recent retirement of Wayne Ryals.

What’s next

The next Tahlequah City Council regular meeting is Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.

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