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Council takes no action on shopping cart ordinance

The Tahlequah City Council took no action on amending an ordinance that would prohibit shopping carts in public parks, public streets, and public sidewalks during a July 17 meeting.

Ward 4 Councilor Josh Allen brought the proposed change to the board during a July 3 meeting in which he said he spoke with the Tahlequah Police Department and looked into other municipal ordinances throughout the country on the matter of homelessness.

“This came when I ran for office, I knocked on almost every door in my ward. Consistently the number one issue was the homelessness issues that we have in our community, from all the different angles,” Allen said.

Allen added that his constituents were particularly concerned when it came to their children and the public parks in Tahlequah.

“That’s where this came from and they were very concerned of the lack of action that they felt our community, just they were concerned. They said, ‘If you get elected, please do something. I don’t know what we can do but let’s do something to help fix this,’” he said.

He told the board that if they were to take an action that would alienate a group of people, then they’re “going to lose the game.”

“I feel like right now the shopping cart ordinance, I still agree absolutely that we should not as a city condone theft of a private entity to solve an issue. I don’t agree with that [and] I don’t think that we should but at the same time I don’t want to create a problem for some of our people [who are] experiencing homelessness that we don’t need to create right now, until we have a plan in place to meet those needs,” Allen said.

Allen attends the Tahlequah Resource Outreach Team meetings and he said he had asked about purchasing collapsible grocery carts.

“Maybe if we see a shopping cart out at Norris Park, we can have a police officer stop and say, ‘Hey,’ and give them a cart, move all of their stuff over to the [collapsible] cart and then let’s take the shopping cart back to wherever they got it,” he said.

Allen suggested that the council take no action on the proposed amended ordinance until there is a solution for those who are experiencing homelessness and having a means to transport their belongings.

“Because I don’t want anyone in our community to feel like we’re doing anything but trying to solve this from every angle and if we alienate a group of people from this process then we’ve lost the battle before we started the fight,” Allen said.

Those in attendance at Monday’s meeting spoke to the board and Jonathan Hook said he’s always worked with “vulnerable populations.”

“The only effective solution that we found were truly collaborative approaches that brought all the stakeholders together to talk about their issues and work to find solutions,” Hook said.

Hook suggested that city officials reach out to leaders at the “ceremonial grounds” to ask for their input and to bring them into the conversation.

“You have resources and organizations that are providing services but that’s one group I didn’t see represented [at the TROT meeting]. It’s a great opportunity and I think that you’re really on the right track,” he said.

Kathleen McKay addressed the board and said she appreciated that there was no action on the item. She said the wording of the agenda item was “unforgivable” to her.

“Obviously you’re targeting the people who are homeless but also anything else that has wheels and a basket attached to it could be construed to be illegal in the town with that ordinance,” McKay said.

McKay asked if “we” are creating a homeless issue in Tahlequah, and across the nation. She provided a breakdown of the cost of living on a $14/hour paycheck.

She added that the city and those who attend TROT meetings need to look at rent control and mass transit.

“Eighty-six percent of their net income is going to be spent on housing and transportation,” she said.

In other business, Ward 2 Councilor Keith Baker 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.

“In 2011, we had purchased the original piping or the actual stormwater drainage,” Baker said. “The engineering plans were done in 2013 and it was bid out in 2014. We’re in 2023 [and] it has never happened.”

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

It was discussed that monies from the Street and Sidewalk fund would be a plausible use for the project as that wouldn’t affect the city’s budget with the current ongoing projects.

“I think the need as well as to right a wrong that happened so long ago that we were not a part of, but nevertheless, we need to correct this problem for those people,” Baker said.

Baker said he spoke with the engineer and said they’d have to regroup if any additional issues surfaced since 2013.

“All this is, is basically trying to start this process over again [and] make sure that if it is too large and if we can actually fit it in the budget, but the whole thing is to try to get it to that point where we can get an idea of what this is going to cost and see if we can get it in,” Baker said.

Street Commissioner Kevin Smith said the city didn’t have the funds budgeted in 2013. Considering that the project would cost close to $225,000 in 2013, Smith said there should be more discussion in the meantime.

The board agreed and wanted to explore excess funds that hadn’t been budgeted for the project. Councilors voted for directing city staff and the administration to commence final planning and beginning the bid process for the project.

A resolution that authorized an Economic Development Administration grant application was approved.

City Administrator Taylor Tannehill said the resolution was a grant opportunity to recover available funds from a 2019 flooding disaster that occurred in Cherokee County.

“In the past, the council approved the EDA grant application for a fiber project and we subsequently requested the council to change the scope of that project. However, in talking to EDA administration, they informed us that we cannot use those funds for anything but the fiber project,” Tannehill said.

According to documents supporting the agenda item, the $1.8 million grant is intended to be used to provide adequate parking and safe pathways adjacent to the building occupied by the Provalus company and for the downtown business district.

The board entered into executive session to discuss negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 201. They took no action.

What’s next

The next Tahlequah City Council meeting is Monday, Aug. 7 at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.


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