Tensions were high among officials and employees with a specific agenda item during a five-hour Tahlequah City Council meeting on June 7.
Newly elected Ward 2 Councilor Keith Baker wanted to bring some issues to the table that had to do with daily operations, administration and its communication, or lack thereof.
“This may sound like a version of ‘Mr. Smith [Goes] to Washington,’ and I apologize for that, but before I was sworn in we bought the First Baptist Church. That building is located near downtown [and] I’m not sure it was bid out correctly,” said Baker.
The councilor added he had received calls in regard to the administration being difficult to work with. He said county officials felt they were asked to overstep their bounds, and believed that was against state statute.
“I’ve also been told that we plan on moving a public official — our city clerk — from this office or from City Hall, if I’m correct,” said Baker. “Now, I personally don’t get it. I don’t know why the city clerk should need to be in another office besides this one. I think this one is perfectly fine and if you don’t want to move, I don’t think she should have to move.”
Baker went on to say that he felt he wasn’t included when it came to the proposed budget.
“It has been said at other [meetings] that the budget was worked on as a group and got input from everyone. I never was asked and I don’t think some of you were asked, but then again you’re going to be able to say that if you were or not,” he said.
Ward 3 Councilor Stephen Highers said while it was a great year financially for the city, he didn’t feel like everyone was “at the table” when it came to decision making.
“I can agree with you, as well, because just like you said, it’s been said the budget wasn’t made in the vacuum and it might not have been made in the vacuum in City Hall, but I wasn’t ever asked until I got the budget how I felt about it,” he said.
Mayor Sue Catron asked to interject in regard to the budget comments and said she was under the impression that a draft budget was put together when officials met with each councilor.
“Then we had our first public hearing which was your first opportunity to publicly say, ‘I really want to make something different,’ but you had the opportunity anytime between [now] and the first sharing it with you in that meeting to call and say, ‘I’ve got this kind of concern,’” said Catron.
Catron asked Highers if he felt he couldn’t bring up his concerns, since she felt that they gave him the opportunity to speak up.
“Do you feel that you should be involved in all of the meetings with the department heads as we’re putting together that draft budget?” Catron asked. “I don’t know what you did with the previous mayor when you got involved with the budget process, but I kind of feel like I’ve tried to keep you involved and informed with the budget process.”
Baker chimed in, stating it was never asked of the councilors to give their input to his knowledge. Catron said that was the purpose of having those private meetings with each councilor.
Baker stated he voiced his concerns during those meetings and was told there wasn’t any room for his suggestion on adding a full-time firefighter position to the fire department. Baker said if the city is in a strong financial position then there should be no issue with adding the position.
However, Catron said the General Fund revenue is what funds salaries since that is what comes in year after year. The purchase of the old Baptist Church was used with one-time funds as part of the CARES Act.
Baker said he has a hard time telling people that the city bought a church, but they can’t give someone a job. The mayor asked Baker if they were having that conversation because he “didn’t get his way.”
“We’ve got hard decisions and we have to make those, and sometimes I really do think that people are getting bullied and they don’t need to be bullied,” said Baker. “They need someone to stand up for them and I have no problem doing that.”
Catron said she wasn’t aware of anyone being bullied, unless Baker took her comment as one that was considered bullying.
City Clerk DeAnna Hammons approached the podium and said the mayor was mistaken when she said she wasn’t aware of anyone being bullied. Hammons said Catron told her she had to move her office from City Hall to the Armory, and that she didn’t have a choice in the matter.
Hammons said she was told other employees didn’t like her and didn’t like her hours.
“That’s, to me, bullying, and you do not need to threaten anyone. There is so many people here at the city that is working diligently to try and make the city work, and you’re making it incredibly difficult with the way you’re running things for each department,” said Hammons.
Catron acknowledged there were two issues that she thought were good opportunities for Hammons to move offices.
After a lengthy discussion among councilors, officials, and employees; it was agreed to vote on whether Hammons will keep her office at City Hall or move to the Armory. That will be voted on during the mid-month meeting.
The board took no action after spending two hours in executive session to discuss potential legal issues related to the Tahlequah City Hospital Authority.
The next Tahlequah City Council meeting is Monday, June 21 at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.