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Archive for: November 2011

Concerns raised over grocery store contract

A contract between the city and Williams Foods for $1.9 million in tax incentives was expected to be voted on by the city council Monday, but concerns from the interim city manager have delayed the deal.

A final contract between the city of Piedmont and Williams Foods appeared headed towards a conclusion last month but the two sides might be as far apart as they have ever been after some concerns were raised during Monday’s council meeting.

The council expressed support for a proposed contract during a previous meeting and was expected to approve the new contract between the city and grocery store for $1.9 million in incentives on Monday. However, hours before the meeting interim city manager Jim Crosby sent a memo to the council expressing some concerns with the proposed contract and those concerns were briefly discussed during the city council meeting later that evening.

Crosby said he had three main concerns about the proposed contract. The first concern was that the Piedmont Special Projects Authority would be required to approve the contract, but there is some confusion about what the authority is and what members serve on it.

“I got worried about it and asked what is the Piedmont Special Projects Authority?” Crosby said. “Nobody seemed to know what it was. In looking into this it’s an authority unto itself.”

Crosby, who was named interim city manager in October, said he has not yet been able to determine what members serve on the PSPA and isn’t even sure the last time the authority met.

“I’m in the dark, nobody seems to know about it,” Crosby said. “We are looking it up to find out who is on it and what needs to be done. Whatever we do we want to do it right.”

Crosby said he also had concerns about how the city would pay Williams. During a previous meeting the council and mayor praised the proposed contract because it would not cost the city any money. The theory was Williams Foods would be reimbursed through the sales tax collected at the store but Crosby said a closer look at the contract reveled that would not be the case.

The city collects 5 cent in sales tax with 1 cent already dedicated to the fire department, which would leave the city with 4 cents to use from the store for reimbursement. However, Crosby said the inclusion of interest in the contract would mean the city would have to pay more than it collects each month.

“In looking at the contract as presented the city would have to take more money from the General Fund than Williams is generating,” Crosby told the council in his memo. “This, in my opinion, is not acceptable and needs to be looked at more closely.”

Crosby showed the Gazette an example of the city’s reimbursement requirement according to the proposed contract for the month of September. According to Crosby, the city collected $19,847.35 in sales tax from Williams Foods in September but $3,969.47 (1 cent sales tax) is required to go to the fire department. That would leave $15,877.88 left to pay back Williams Foods but the proposed contract also includes a requirement for the city to pay interest, which Crosby said would mean an additional $8,708, bringing the total payment for September required by the city to $19,624.04. That total figure is higher than the city collects from the store after the fire department’s money is taken out of the equation and would require the city to take money out of its general fund to pay the store.

“We would have to take (money) out of the general fund to help supplement that payment and I’m not sure we are fiscally able to make these payments and keep pulling money out of the general fund,” Crosby said. “I think the council needs to take a little time to look at the (fiscal) impact before we enter into a contract. After I began to look at it, I have some great concerns that I don’t think people realize what impact this is going to make to the city.”

A third area of concern for Crosby was the lack of a dedicated account collecting the current sales tax generator from the store and whether or not the city could legally pay Williams Foods for the months of May and June of this year, which are in a previous budget year.

As Crosby expressed his concerns at the Monday meeting the council sat in quiet, many with a look of frustration that an issues that was viewed as almost over now appears far from it. The council took no action on the proposed contract and requested that the city manager and city attorney explore the matter further.

“This stuff with Jeff Williams and the grocery store should have been looked at last month,” a frustrated Councilman Vernon Woods said at the end of the meeting. “We are nowhere, again.”

(Proposed) Tax Rebate Agreement

Promissory Note

Recall effort underway against Councilman Johnson

Wade Johnson

Another recall effort is underway against a Piedmont city council member, this time it’s Ward 5 Councilman Wade Johnson was that presented with a statement of recall.

Forty-three signatures were submitted on a statement of recall to City Clerk Jennifer Smith on Nov. 28 declaring an intention to seek a recall election against Johnson. The statement of recall accuses Johnson of inaccurately representing his constituents, demonstrating a lack of preparedness at council meetings and failing to read the Williams Foods grocery store contract during his first two months as a councilman. The statement of recall also claims Johnson has voted against the advice of the city attorney and city engineer and is criticized for voting to remove Clark Williams as city manager.

Johnson was elected to office in April of this year.

The statement of recall was sent to Johnson by the city clerk on Tuesday and the councilman will have 10 days to issue an official response.

This is the second recall effort in the past year against a member of the council. A recall petition was submitted against Councilman Hoss Cooley earlier this year and an election was scheduled for February, but a county judge threw out that recall earlier this week because the petition was not submitted properly.

When asked for comment Johnson said he was waiting to make an official statement with his response to the statement of recall.

Johnson Statement of Recall

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story reported that 48 signatures were included on the statement of recall. The correct number was 43. Twenty-five signatures were required.

Judge’s order temporarily removes Davis from council

Councilman Jeff Davis has been restricted from serving on the council by Judge Gary Miller until a hearing in January. (File Photo)

A suit challenging the status of Councilman Jeff Davis was transferred from federal court to county district court this week where Judge Gary Miller approved a temporary restraining order barring Davis from serving on the council.

The restraining order, which was issued on Nov. 28, restricts Davis from serving as a member of the Piedmont city council until a hearing on Jan. 23. Davis was not in attendance at Monday’s council meeting, leaving the council with four members.

In October a lawsuit was filed by 15 individuals claiming Davis’ appointment to the city council was invalid and violated their constitutional rights. The suit was filed in United States District Court in Oklahoma’s Western District but was transferred to the District Court of Canadian County on Nov. 28, according to court records.

Mayor Valerie Thomerson administered the oath of office to Davis after she cast a tie-breaking vote over Davis’ appointment to the council but plaintiffs of the suit claim the mayor had no right to do so.

Russell Mulinix is named as the plaintiffs’ attorney and wrote in a letter to the city in October claiming Davis was inappropriately appointed to the council by Thomerson.

“The attempted appointment of Jeff Davis to the vacant (Ward 3) council seat is patently improper on multiple grounds,” Russell Mulinix, attorney for the plaintiffs, wrote in a letter to the city in October. “At the Aug. 22, 2011 meeting the matter was plainly declared an ‘impasse’ after a vote of two for Davis and two abstentions. No action occurred at the Sept. 26, 2011, meeting to appoint Davis except the mayor’s ultra vires acts and statements that she had appointed (Davis) and unilaterally administered the oath to him on the previous Friday.”

The Ward 3 council seat was left vacant following the resignation of Bill Sharp in July. During the Aug. 22 meeting the council first voted to appoint Ron Cardwell to the vacant position but the four members tied and the mayor casted a “no” vote to break the tie.

A motion was then made to appoint Jeff Davis to the vacant seat. Councilmembers Wade Johnson and Hoss Cooley voted for Davis but Vernon Woods and Larry Gage cast abstaining votes. A debate followed on what an abstention vote means but the mayor eventually declared that she was breaking the tie with a vote for Davis. Davis was later administered as Ward 3 councilman three weeks later. The lawsuit claims the mayor cannot take part in the appointment of a council member and that an abstaining vote should not be used in determining whether a particular item passed or failed.

Since his appointment, “Davis unlawfully participated in the meeting,” the lawsuit said. “The Charter expressly reserves to the councilmembers, not the mayor, the power to vote on and appoint a new councilmember when there is a vacancy in a council seat.”

The lawsuit charges the city with three counts of violating the U.S. Constitution and requests a judgment to remove Davis from the council and allow the remaining council members to fill the vacancy.

Named as plaintiffs in the suit are William Long, Brad Waller, John Simpson, Ron Hau, Donya Hau, John Bell, Mary Bell, Rus Nation, Carol Nation, Lauren Boatman, James Wimmer, Terry Wimmer, Ron Cardwell, Jacci Cardwell and Mark Simpson.

JUDGE RULES IN FAVOR OF COOLEY, THROWS OUT RECALL PETITION

Councilman Hoss Cooley won his suit against the city arguing that a recall petition filed against him was invalid. (File Photo)

A judge has ruled a petition seeking the recall of Councilman Hoss Cooley was invalid and that a recall election scheduled in three months cannot take place.

A petition seeking Cooley’s recall was submitted and certified by the city clerk in September and the city council set a recall election for Feb. 14, 2012. But Cooley challenged the validity of the recall petition and filed a suit against the city. A hearing was held on Tuesday in front of District Judge Gary Miller who said the petitions were not properly submitted because each copy did not have an attached signature from the person soliciting the petition, as required by the city charter.

“If the city charter is the vehicle in which you attempt to remove an elected official…then compliance with that charter, I think, is mandatory,” Miller said before ruling in Cooley’s favor. “What I see does not appear to substantially comply with the city charter. “

A crowd of 14 persons was in attendance at the Canadian County Courthouse in El Reno, including several Piedmont residents that had circulated the petition. One member of the audience shouted at Miller as he exited the courtroom but no other outburst took place and the rest of the crown quietly exited the courtroom without further incident.

In the courthouse lobby several members of the recall effort said they had lost on a technicality and did everything City Attorney Tom Ferguson said was required. Ferguson was present at the hearing in defense of the city and attorney Russell Mulinix defended the citizens that had circulated the petition.

After the hearing Cooley said he was pleased with the judge’s ruling and defended his actions as a councilman.

“I didn’t do anything wrong and I obviously agree with the ruling,” Cooley said.

Cooley is up for reelection in April and said he had not yet decided if he would seek reelection, but felt challenging the recall was the right thing to do.

During the hearing Cooley’s attorney made the argument that enough people had requested that their names be removed from the petition that it no longer made it valid. However, Miller ruled against the argument because the requests for removal came after the city clerk had certified the petition, which Miller said made the petition official.

Church impressed by his first year

Craig Church finished his first season at Piedmont with a 6-5 record and a trip to the playoffs. While Church and the Wildcats were aiming for the second round, most of the blue and gold faithful are more than happy with where Piedmont landed this season.

“(My first season) has been good,” Church said. “The adjustment period for the kids was helped a lot by me being here in the spring. It helped me get a feel for the kids, parents and the community. I enjoyed my first year here and I’m looking forward to the future.”

This season had a lot of memorable moments for the Wildcats, but two games stand out for Church. Both showed the coaching staff what the team was able to do and how it could overcome adversity.

“(My favorite game) is a tie between Elgin and Elk City,” Church explained. “Elgin because that was when we finally played like the coaching staff knew we were capable of and Elk City because the kids knew they had a challenge they needed to meet to keep their goals alive. They overcame that challenge. Those two games definitely stand out for me.”

What impressed Church most about Piedmont wasn’t the on the field performances, but the kids behind the numbers. Their hard work and dedication to the program is why Church knows Piedmont is set up for years of success.

“These kids are really flexible,” Church said. “It never seemed like anything threw them off. We threw a lot of different challenges at them and they adapted well. Practice schedules, in practice challenges; the things they did encourages us for the future. They can adapt to change.”

The attitudes of the Piedmont players always impressed Church. The team was faced with many obstacles this season but stayed on track with each new challenge.

“The kid’s attitude during the playoffs was good,” Church said. “I think the resilience showed up. There were a variety of times when it was slipping away or they were getting momentum and the kids found a way to stay in the game. The disappointment the kids had was, as much as anything, a reflection of their expectations. Their goal was to win in the playoffs. That was a theme they bought into. They didn’t want to just show up and go home, they wanted to move on.

“Our senior leadership was extremely important (to what we did this year). Whether you are talking about a guy like Collin (Bricker), who willingly moved into a new position or Blake Robinson who moved to defensive tackle, a position he had never played. That illustrated to me that these guys were willing to do anything it took to win. That type of mind-set going into a season is very important. The younger players see older guys say ‘it’s not about me’ and be able to go without is very special. I felt these seniors were a big key to our future. Being able to walk up to them and say ‘the team needs you elsewhere’ and them doing it is big. The seniors desire to win, with a whatever it takes coach, attitude is what you need to win.”

The loss of any senior class is difficult, but the attitude of this year’s group will be difficult to replace. The most difficult positions to replace will be the quarterback, tailback and free safety, Church said.

However, Church said he is more than confident guys will step up to the task next year.

“One of the major things we are going to address this off season is mental toughness,” Church said. “We had a lot of repeated mistakes. Whether it was penalties or discipline issues on the field, there were situations where we were making mistakes that were hurting us. We have to get more sound. They did a great job of stepping up and making plays, but we had to overcome a lot of self-inflicted injuries. We’re going to work on that this off season.”

School district preparing to launch new Web app

A demo of what a new Web app could look like when released by the school district next month.

Piedmont Public Schools is preparing to release a new cellphone and tablet application that will offer district parents additional information and breaking news about the district.

And it won’t cost the district a cent.

“This is going to cost us nothing,” Superintendent James White said. “It’s just another way to better communicate with parents and others in our district.”

The school board approved a service agreement with School Connect last week, a company that specializes in apps for Android and Apple devices that presents a variety of school information, ranging from calendars, news updates, grades and email lists. Nearly 35 school districts in Oklahoma are already utilizing the free app and Piedmont is hoping to unveil its own app through School Connect next month.

The app is free for the district and patrons but does display advertising on the screen. White said the school district will have the opportunity to reject an advertisement that it might disagree with but he doesn’t expect any problems.

Understanding Thanks

It has been four years since Mayor Valerie Thomerson received a kidney transplant and she says its been a journey of truly understanding thanks. (Photo by Ben Felder)

Mayor Valerie Thomerson has an evolving perspective of what it means to be thankful.

As the recipient of a kidney transplant she believes she is on “borrowed time” and calls the past four years a journey of growth that has given her a new vision of what it means to have faith, hope and love.

But, most of all, she says she has learned what it means to be thankful and that part of being truly thankful is a willingness to give back to others.

Thomerson has been a polarizing figure at times during her first year as mayor, as is often the case for political leaders in small towns like Piedmont. But beyond the decisions she has made and the policy she has enacted, Thomerson said she is motivated by a desire to give back.

“It’s part of what made me (run for mayor),” Thomerson said. “Regardless of what I do for the city – good, bad or indifferent – it’s about trying to share something that Sarah gave me.”

Sarah is a name that evokes tears from Thomerson nearly every time she speaks it. Sarah Gigstad, the mother of two children and a fellow church member at Deer Creek Church of Christ, was in many ways nothing more than a fellow church member for Thomerson just a few years ago. But

the two actually shared a connection that went much further than just sitting a few pews apart during Sunday service.

Both Thomerson and Gigstad had fathers that had retired from the Air Force. Both spent part of their childhood in Japan and had even attended the same school in Germany. Their two paths finally crossed in Oklahoma and Thomerson doesn’t believe there is any coincidence to it.

“I love to tell people that Sarah has followed me my entire life,” Thomerson said. “It’s too ironic to be just coincidence. I truly believe God allowed her to catch up with me when I needed her the most.”

A changed life

Four years ago Thomerson and her husband were living in Texas but were in the process of moving back to Oklahoma. An interstate move, new house and new job had Thomerson expecting some pretty big changes, but nothing like what was about to take place.

Over the span of several weeks Thomerson began to notice some changes in her health. She was growing more fatigued, something she originally chalked up to being older. But the list of symptoms she was experiencing just grew bigger. Thomerson was lucky to get more than two straight hours of sleep at night, she had nearly lost her entire appetite and felt like everything had a metal taste, her memory became extremely short-term and she would experience dizzy spells and constantly feel lightheaded.

One night the pain became just too much and after rocking in the fetal position for several hours, Thomerson pulled herself out of bed at 4 a.m. and drove to the emergency room.

The RN couldn’t believe Thomerson’s blood pressure reading and had even thought the machine might be broken. But her blood pressure was extremely high and a doctor felt her symptoms warranted a visit from a renal specialist that very quickly determined Thomerson was suffering from End-Stage Renal Disease. Thomerson’s kidneys were shutting down and the outlook was grim.

“We don’t know why my kidneys failed,” Thomerson said. “Just six month earlier I was perfectly healthy and everything appeared fine.”

The search for a donor

The next day Thomerson underwent surgery to have a catheter put in for dialyses, and in what seemed like an instant, her life was completely changed.

“It was certainly life changing,” Thomerson said. “I finally decided to resign from my job because of my health. I couldn’t do the 40 hours a week.”

After consulting with doctors, specialists and her family, Thomerson made the decision to pursue a kidney transplant. There was some hope that a new kidney might work but the diagnosis was still grim. When Thomerson moved to Piedmont during the ordeal the home she and her husband had built was specially designed to allow easy access for a wheel chair, a preemptive move in case a life of dialyses was in Thomerson’s future.

Members of Thomerson’s family performed tests to determine if they were a match but the right kidney was never found. Medicare covered the testing but only allowed one test at a time, making the ordeal especially trying.

“It was amazing just by sharing my story the number of people that offered to donate,” Thomerson said.

One person that offered to donate was the closing agent on Thomerson’s house, but a test resulted in yet another negative match.

“We all struggled because we just didn’t know if I was going to make it,” Thomerson said. “Faith plays a huge part of that, at least it did for me. When I went into the hospital I really felt like God had a plan for me. I just knew God wasn’t done with me and I knew there was something that I needed to do, and maybe I was being naive, but I really felt like I would make it.”

As Thomerson continued to search for a match and shared her story with others, Gigstad woud come up to her at church and ask when she was going to let her test.

“Sarah would always come up to me and say ‘when are you going to test me, when are you going to test me?’” Thomerson said. “I asked Sarah why she would want to do this and her answer never changed: ‘God gave me two healthy kidneys and you need one.’”

After continuing to ask about testing Thomerson finally provided Gigstad with the number to call about taking the test. Gigstad got tested and it was determined she was a match.

“She had two small children and she risked her life for me?” Thomerson said. “That’s beyond humbling.”

Both Thomerson and Gigstad underwent surgery and doctors said they couldn’t have asked for better results. What normally takes 45 minutes to remove a kidney took just 13, and once the kidney was placed inside Thomerson it was immediately accepted.

“She had exactly what I needed, no more, no less,” Thomerson said.

A new meaning

Of course transplant surgery is no easy fix and a long road to recovery follows with the risk that the new organ might be rejected. Thomerson was filled with plenty of emotions following the surgery but she particularly remembers a night in the hospital when she was awake with thoughts about what God had planned for her life. Thomerson’s mind was spinning about the meaning God might have for her new life and a nurse walked in and ended up offering some life-changing advice.

“(The nurse) told me maybe (God) doesn’t want something for me to do but maybe I was going through this to help someone else,” Thomerson said. “I was like, that’s it. Ever since then I have done a lot of speaking for a kidney organization and tried to find ways to help others that are going through what I went through.”

Thomerson believes that her faith has played an important part in her recovery and says the experience was one that gave her a new perspective on almost every aspect of life.

“I don’t see how people could get through (this) without that faith,” Thomerson said. “I have truly learned the value of faith, hope and love…to a far greater level than I would have ever considered. Faith kept me alive…hope was hoping I get a kidney and that I am doing the right things to stay alive, and then there is that faith that sooner or later God is going to give me what I need. And he did.”

Thomerson and Gigstad share a connection beyond a kidney and the two have become close friends over the years. They have even teamed up for speaking engagements about organ donation and what it is like for both the donor and the recipient.

“I feel Sarah with me,” Thomerson said. “It’s an emotional connection, but I do feel Sarah with me. It is my kidney, but it is and it isn’t.”

Being thankful

Since her surgery on June 18, 2007, Thomerson said she has experienced a lot of emotions and has even just recently begun to gain a new perspective on what it means to be thankful.

“When you get the transplant you are thankful, but honestly, it’s not the same…you are still in survival mode,” Thomerson said. “You are in shock that you actually got a transplant, so you are on this elevated high. The first year after the transplant is about getting your health back. There is such a sense of obligation, at least there was for me, to take care of yourself; to do things just right.

“The second year you start to breathe a little bit easier and that thankfulness level rises.”

Part of Thomerson’s sense of thankfulness comes from the gift of a new life. She says her enjoyment of little things is much higher and her perspective on what is truly important has also changed.

“It makes me appreciative to know that I am here in this world to enjoy a sunrise, to enjoy a sunset, to enjoy the laughter of children,” Thomerson said. “I can enjoy another anniversary with my husband and the wind in my face on a motorcycle.

“The whole idea of a transplant is for you to go back and live your life, but for me it’s so much more. Every day I live past that transplant is borrowed time and it is a gift.”

Thomerson said her renewed perspective has even transferred into her work as mayor.

“Sometimes I shrug my shoulders and say how does that really fit in the big picture?” Thomerson said. “Yes, I can get upset and stress about things, but it’s not a life or death issue. But I still want to do my best and I still want to do what’s right.”

Thomerson said she has also grown more patient and picks her battles more carefully.

“It’s helped me to pick which battle to fight and which battle to let go,” Thomerson said. “I think that’s probably one of the best gifts this transplant has given me; figuring out what’s truly important.

“So many petty things that go on in our world are simply not important…so why should I let that affect the joy of my day?”

Former Piedmont resident appearing on game show

Johnny Hochgraefe, a former resident of Piedmont, will be a contestant on the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” this week. (Courtesy of Valleycrest Productions Ltd.)Johnny Hochgraefe, a former resident of Piedmont, will be a contestant on the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” this week.

Hochgraefe, who now lives in Los Angeles, graduated from Piedmont High School in 1988. The show has already been taped and will air on Nov. 21 and Nov. 22 on KOCB at noon.

Hochgraefe, 41, describes himself as a game show aficionado and has appeared on four different shows, including “The Weakest Link” in 2002 where he won $19,000. Hochgraefe said if he won he would travel to South America and Asia and donate to charity.

AT&T begins 4G service in Piedmont

AT&T customers in the Oklahoma City metro, including Piedmont, saw their network upgraded over the weekend when AT&T rolled out its new 4G LTE Network.

“The 4G LTE Network is the fastest available anywhere,” Ryan Stafford, Director of AT&T sales for Oklahoma, said. “This network enables our customers to do more. The network allows us to be able to provide speeds roughly ten times faster than 3G. The download and upload speeds are a lot faster.”

Stafford explained that AT&T hasn’t had to build any new towers for the network, as they have been upgrading equipment in existing towers. He said that customers should see very similar coverage, with the possibility of improvements in some areas.

The network was finished midway through last week, but officially launched on Sunday, Nov. 20. Certain new devices can already take advantage of the new network capabilities. 4G is the fourth generation of wireless development. Prices for AT&T plans will not increase with this network upgrade.

PHS recognized for ACT increases

Piedmont High School has spent the last five years working to increase the number of students who take the ACT and help them post higher scores. That hard work has paid off and the school was recently recognized by ACT, Inc.

Piedmont High School was notified last week that it had received the 2011 College Readiness Award. Piedmont is one of a handful of schools across the state to receive the honor and is the only high school in Canadian County to receive the award.

The award is issued to schools that show significant increases in ACT scores while also increasing the number of students taking the test over the past five years.

Only 5 percent of Oklahoma schools were given the honor, according to a letter from ACT Regional Manager Karen Pennell.

“We are always pushing more kids to take the test and giving them better opportunities to prepare for it,” Piedmont Principal Todd Glasgow said.

Some of the steps taken by the school over the past five years have been to hire an ACT instructor to provide test prep lessons, hold review nights before ACT test dates and increase the number of advanced placement (AP) classes offered.

“(Five years ago) there was seven AP classes offered and now there are 14,” Glasgow said. “It really increases their knowledge, thinking skills, all those things because they go deeper into the subjects.”

Piedmont Superintendent James White and Piedmont High School Principal Todd Glasgow present the 2011 College Readiness Award, which was recently given to PHS for its five years of ACT improvement. (Photo by Ben Felder)

Piedmont improved its average ACT score by 1.5 points last year and had at least 15 students earn a 30, or higher. Glasgow said that kind of increase has resulted in many high schools from across the state calling him to ask for advice on improving their own ACT scores.

“This award is nice recognition,” Glasgow said. “But this is an award because of everyone’s hard work; students and teachers both.”

Superintendent James White said it is becoming more important to encourage students to take the ACT because most colleges use it as an entrance exam.

“When you encourage more kids to take it you might get (lower) scores,” White said. “But this is showing that more kids are taking it (in Piedmont) and many are doing really well.”

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