When it comes to traffic control, pedestrian safety should always be a key concern. That’s no doubt what prompted NSU Police Chief Clint Vernon a few months ago to ask the Tahlequah City Council to lower the speed limit on campus to 20 mph.

The request – or at least, the response to it – has apparently been a source of confusion for many Tahlequah residents, especially those who live near or work at NSU.

Based on the dialogue at the council meeting, most people believed Vernon’s intent was to lower the speed limit only during peak traffic hours. Although those hours weren’t specified, drivers understandably assumed that in the wee hours of the morning – say, 6:30 a.m. – the 20 mph mandate wouldn’t necessarily be enforced. Some had the impression that the lower speed limit would apply to a smaller patch of road, or only during peak traffic hours.

Turns out that was a faulty assumption. Dozens of NSU employees got stopped on their way to work, even when the streets were relatively empty of students on foot. To the credit of the NSU officers, most of the surprised offenders got off with a friendly warning, presumably until next time. A few did get tickets, though, during times when they didn’t expect to.

But now, at least, if there IS a next time, drivers can’t say they misunderstood the rules, nor can they insist they weren’t warned.

At Monday evening’s city council meeting, the Tahlequah City Council made a sensible move by clarifying the speed control issue. The city’s action was taken partly at the behest of NSU itself.

Nancy Garber, NSU Public Relations director, said at a previous city council meeting that the campus police had been writing tickets any time of the day, based on officer discretion. Some speeders had grumbled about police being encouraged to write tickets to collect more revenue, but that simply wasn’t the case. In the first place, proceeds from tickets don’t go to NSU itself; in the second place, the university certainly doesn’t want to get a reputation as a “speed trap.”

Garber also said NSU officials planned to revisit the issue and ask that the speed limit change be modified. As it stands now, the speed limit of 20 mph – reduced from its original 30 mph – was amended to be in effect only from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. A 25 mph speed limit will be enforced at other times. And the speed raises to 30 past either margin of the campus on Grand Avenue.

This seems more in keeping with the original proposal, more practical – and most importantly, quite clear. All that remains now is for the signs to reflect the reality.

The city councilors also disengaged themselves from another political hot potato when they unanimously approved the Tourism Council’s request to rescind the agent change for oversight of disbursement of the hotel/motel tax proceeds.

As specified on the ballot voters approved in 1987 for the city tax, the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce was to act as oversight agent for all funds spent by the Tourism Council. Evidently, though, some Tourism officials wanted more control over their money, and asked City Attorney Park Medearis to find a loophole that would allow them to dump the Chamber and opt for another agent – perhaps the City Council itself.

There were several problems with that plan, but two were especially glaring: First, that’s not what voters intended, and second, a member of the Tourism Council – Jack Spears – happens to be Ward 2 city councilor. Regardless of Spears’ good intentions, that constitutes a conflict of interest, or at least the possibility of one.

For his part, DeGeorge doesn’t seem inclined to give up on his intention to send the Chamber packing. During the meeting, he claimed the Chamber has always spent money “the way they wanted,” and that the Tourism Council has had to “watch and try to make sure what’s done is right.” He also pointed out audits have not been conducted as specified when the hotel/motel tax was established, and the Chamber “should be ashamed.”

Those insinuations were patently unfair, and Mayor Ken Purdy was dead-on when he jumped to the defense of the Chamber, responding, “That’s quite unfair. I don’t think the Chamber has done anything [wrong], and I know the city has done nothing to be ashamed of. Oversights happen.”

Indeed they do, and this particular one – the failure to perform an audit – is just as much the Tourism Council leadership’s fault as it is the Chamber’s, or the city council’s. Until recently, that “leadership” would have included DeGeorge as chairman.

The switch to Linda Spyres as Tourism Council chair could be the key to dissipating the controversy. Spyres, who owns a travel agency, is well-suited to the position, and in her able hands, the Tourism Council should be able to get on with the business at hand – promoting Tahlequah.

The message to the malcontents should be just as clear as the one to drivers passing through the NSU campus: Let’s move on.


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