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City officials hear from FOP president

The Tahlequah City Council, during an Aug. 7 meeting, heard from local law enforcement amid negotiations with the FOP contract.

During public comment, Tahlequah Police Lt. Dexter Scott, who is also president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 201, came before the board on behalf of the men and woman of the TPD.

“They are the men and woman that protect this great city. I call them brothers and sisters not because they are blood, but because we are a family,” Scott said.

Scott said those with the TPD were not in attendance at Monday’s meeting because of the crisis on homelessness, overdoses with Fentanyl, or, jokingly, the roundabout.

“We are here because of a crisis of law enforcement being lost right here in this great city. Believe it or not, the last three years we have endured some of the most extreme avenues in one’s career. One might say this problem is across the country and you’re right it is, but you have to ask yourself, what power do you have to fix our hometown,” he said.

Scott said as officers worked throughout the pandemic to serve the citizens and the city, it cost one of them their career.

“[Officer Brian Jordan] attracted COVID-19 during the pandemic while working. He can no longer work in law enforcement because of the damage to his lungs,” he said.

The lieutenant spoke on how the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of McGirt v. Oklahoma affected the department with every case, arrest, or report made by a Tahlequah police officer.

“That is just a couple of changes made right here in the heart of this great state,” he said. “One we might have forgotten about, defunding the police. Who would have thought three years ago we’d be having this conversation. I would have never imagined this issue arising in this great city, let alone when I started my career in 2007.”

Additionally, Scott said there have been over 123 years of law enforcement experience lost since May 2022 and the cost for a new officer is close to $20,000, not including the training or experience.

“Why is someone not asking, ‘Wow, we could use an officer who is already established and trained,’” he said. “A budget for a different body within this town that provides similar services has increased 23 percent over the last three years. We have only increased by 9 [percent], why?”

Scott advised the board to be involved and to reach out to him or any officer and administrator within the department.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news but if this is an issue that’s not addressed by someone who cares about this city, we have a long road ahead of us,” he said.

Scott’s discussion came shortly before the council entered into another executive session to discuss the negotiations with the FOP, something that’s been discussed among city officials since February 2023.

“We would like more than anything for the council to be informed of the process of negotiations. A lot of people believe that they can’t conversate with the FOP, that’s not accurate. You can conversate but you just can’t persuade them or give them deals because they vote a certain way,” Scott said.

Scott said his ultimate goal for speaking before the council Monday evening was for them to remember what the department has faced within the last three years; COVID-19, the McGirt ruling, and defunding police.

“It still affects us today and we as law enforcement, some of the people I work with are closer to me than family. We rely on each other and it’s who you count on. We’re going on since February to negotiate a contract,” he said.

The board took no action on negotiations with the FOP.

It was also during public comment when local resident Cathy Cott ask that the city finish the current road project before beginning a new one.

"I feel very sorry for the people who live on Cedar Avenue. I feel sorry for the people who live off of West Fourth Street. They have to go through there to get to school, to get home," she said.

She added that ongoing construction to Cedar Avenue doesn't appear it could be completed anytime soon.

"I just ask that we stop ripping the streets up until the streets that are torn up are repaired," Cott said.

In other business, Ward 2 Councilor Keith Baker wanted to get ahead of an issue pertaining to construction on Ross Street and City Administrator Taylor Tannehill advised that project could take up to four months to complete.

“Where they’re at is beginning curb and gutter on Ross Street this week. The timeline on that is 60 days or less and then they go into the actual paving of the road portion, which is another 60 days or less for that part of the project,” Tannehill said.

In hopes of speeding the project along, the engineer, Greg Armstrong, with Holloway, Updike and Bellen, said their options are limited but possible.

“Right now they’re just pouring and pouring the concrete by hand with a trowel and the other option is they can bring in a paving machine up here and slip on that thing, curb/gutter – laying altogether all the way down,” Armstrong said.

While the option of using a paving machine would cut the project time in half, Armstrong said residents living along Ross Street would have to find other places to park their vehicles for three days as those areas of their driveways would need time to cure.

“That would take some coordination, some discussion with the homeowners on that street to see if they’re willing to find other parking for three days,” he said. “This would speed that project up immensely if the people that live on that street are willing to do that.”

City officials discussed that matter and Mayor Suzanne Myers said they would need to consider if there were any homeowners who are disabled, and how those three days would affect them.

“We don’t know if there are any people in those homes that are disabled and we have to, it’s a great option,” Myers said.

Tannehill said there would still be one lane on Ross Street open for drivers to travel on while construction is being done.

“It’s not going to block off the entire street,” he said.

Tannehill also advised that if there were specific residents who would have to have access to those driveways, the city could let the contractors know to “skip” those sections.

“If there is an individual that needs entrance into their driveway, we could tell [the contractors] to only do half of that and then ‘jump’ over that one and hand-form it later so they can always have access,” Armstrong said.

The board approved for the mayor to enter into an agreement with Kelly Engineering & Associates for services for the White Avenue project.

During a July 17 meeting, Councilor Baker had asked for the city staff and the administration to commence final planning and to begin the bid process for the White Avenue roadway and drainage improvement project, and to identify funding sources.

Baker had said he would like to see the project, which has already been engineered, get to the implementation stages.

Tannehill spoke with the original engineer about material the city has on hand for the project and property the city purchased since engineering plans were done in 2013.

“I’ve asked him to prepare a proposal to update those plans with the material we have on hand and also, the previous plans did not include a curb and gutter section for the entire stretch of that project,” Tannehill said.

The agreement for engineering services will cost $59,000 for roadway design and $9,300 for stormwater detention design. Tannehill said those funds will be from the Street and Sidewalk fund.

Councilors approved an ordinance that would amend the Tahlequah City Code. City Attorney John Tyler Hammons said the current version of the code is outdated.

“As you read the current version of the code, the code would have a reader believe that the effective tax rate is 3.75 [percent]. That is in fact not correct, the effective rate is 3.25 [percent] for sales tax. The code would seem to indicate that the use tax rate is 2 percent, that’s not correct. It’s 3.25 [percent], matching the sales tax rate,” Hammons said.

The city attorney clarified that the amended ordinance does not add a new tax nor extend a tax.

The board took no action on matters related to a court case involving the city and Springwater, LLC nor action related to the employment of the city’s planning and development director.

What’s next

The next Tahlequah City Council meeting is Monday, Sept. 4 at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.


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