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Archive for: January 2012

PODCAST: Piedmont Daily, Ep. 6

Ben Felder and Greg Evans of the Piedmont-Surrey Gazette discuss the week in Piedmont sports.

PODCAST: Piedmont Daily, Ep. 5

In Episode 5 of Piedmont Daily News Editor Ben Felder discusses why the Gazette will not endorse political candidates this election and Lisa Gigstad and Darren Owens of the Piedmont Chamber of Commerce discuss the local business community.

City approves contract with Crosby

City Manager Jim Crosby

The Piedmont city council officially offered Jim Crosby a contract for employment as the city manager with an annual salary of $78,000.

The council selected Crosby to become the permanent city manager earlier this month and approved his employment agreement during Monday’s meeting.

Crosby had been serving in an interim role since October following the firing of Clark Williams. According to city staff, Williams’ annual salary was $83,000 and included a six month severance package. Crosby’s contract includes three months’ salary upon his termination by the city.

Crosby has served in city manager positions with the cities of Yukon and Norman, two communities that have experienced rapid growth over the past few decades. It was that experience that Mayor Valerie Thomerson said made him the council’s top pick after it had interviewed a total of four candidates.

Crosby has said his top priority as city manager will be to help the council resolve several key issues, such as the Williams Foods contract, and move forward on other projects, including water and streets.

Arrest made in solicitation case

On Wednesday, Jan. 18, a Piedmont police officer was dispatched to northeast Piedmont in reference to two white males soliciting magazines.

The officer checked with city hall and found there were no solicitor permits issued. The officer arrived in the area a short time later and found the two men leaving a house.

The officer made contact with the individuals and requested ID. The officer requested dispatch to check both for warrants and the dispatch advised that subject Jakob Donald Ward had an active warrant through Delware County and they wanted him picked up on that warrant.

At 12:48 p.m., the officer placed Ward under arrest and transported him to the Piedmont Police Department where he was photographed and booked into the computer. Ward was then transported to the Canadian County Sheriff office for holding.

The company the two stated they were with, Absolute Marketing, and a search stated the company was a scam. The two solicitors had told residents in northeast Piedmont they were raising money for troops.

AmeriCorps team comes to Piedmont

The ring of hammers hitting nails and buzzing electric saws have been familiar sounds in north Piedmont over the past eight months as the recovery effort following the Mar 24 tornado continues, but for those families rebuilding their homes a helping hand has arrived in the form of 10 young adults from AmeriCorps.

Arriving earlier this month and staying until March 2, the volunteers are doing everything from light construction, debris removal and other manual tasks to help tornado victims rebuild homes.

“We go from project to project,” AmeriCorps member Katy Looft said. “There are four rounds…and this is second round right now.”

Looft said her group is part of the National Civilian Community Corps arm of AmeriCorps, which assigns teams of 18- to 24-year-olds to communities in need. The group in Piedmont is based in Denver but is made up of members from across the nation.

Much of the team’s week is spent working at tornado-impacted sites, but the group has also been able to participate in local community events and visit cultural and entertainment sites across the region. Local churches, the Piedmont Service Center and Catholic Charities have helped to provide meals and entertainment and the team is lodging in an old day care facility on Northwest Expressway.

Collen Haley is part of a team from AmeriCorps that is in Piedmont for two months helping with tornado rebuilding efforts. (Ben Felder)

There are hundreds of potential sites across the country that AmeriCorps teams can travel to but the Piedmont team specifically requested this location.

“We really wanted to get some hands on construction experience,” Looft said. “We did a lot of case management stuff in our last project…this round we really wanted something different and to get our hands dirty.”

Adam Volk, another member on the AmeriCorps team, said his time in Piedmont has been eye-opening and fun.

“I come from the east coast and we don’t have tornadoes,” Volk said. “So just coming here and seeing what a tornado is capable of is impressive. My impression is tornadoes are just a wild beast, you can’t imagine what it is.”

Volk, who is from New Jersey, said his impression of Oklahoma – besides being flat – is that it’s a place with good people and good food.
“I love the wind, I love the people, the food is pretty good,” Volk said. “It’s different and every place has its own little charm.”

The team has benefited from some unusually warm weather for January and it has allowed them to spend a lot of time outside. In their off time the team has attended the weekly senior citizen meal at the Methodist church, attended the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade in Oklahoma City and is hoping to go to a Thunder game, if the right strings can be pulled.

“Everyone has been really receptive and welcoming to us,” Looft said. “We are doing a lot of work and that’s what we came here to do.”

Piedmont library looks to respond to e-reader growth

(RIGHT) Piedmont librarian Rhonda Turley helps Betty Javine checkout books from the Oklahoma City library on her Kindle. The Piedmont library does not currently check out books to e-reader devices. (Ben Felder)

Betty Javine, 83, has been an avid reader her entire life so her niece thought she had found the perfect Christmas gift last year with the Kindle e-reader. Javine wasn’t sure at first if the device was a suitable replacement for her books but the Surrey Hills resident quickly discovered a lot to like in a an e-reader for a person like herself.

“I loved it,” Javine said. “I don’t have to hold a big book and I take it when I have an appointment somewhere or when I am going to have to wait. I take it with me all the time.”

At her age, Javine might not fit the expected profile of an e-reader user, but the use of reading tablets is quickly becoming a device that is transcending generations. Javine has praised the Kindle so much that her 78-year-old brother even got one.

The growth of e-readers is good news for readers who enjoy the convenience of fitting thousands of books into their pocket or purse, but it’s become a challenge for book sellers and libraries. Rhonda Turley of the Piedmont Public Library says she has seen an explosion of e-reader use locally from small children to older adults, like Javine. The Piedmont library doesn’t yet offer e-reader users the ability to check books out on their device, which is something many other libraries are beginning to offer, but Turley said those days are not far away.

Turley said the Oklahoma Department of Libraries offers a program for local libraries to offer e-books but the price it very high. The Piedmont library’s book supplier has recently offered its own e-book licenses at a fraction of the cost and Turley said she is waiting to find out more information before moving forward.

“Hopefully in the next two months they will be able to give me the full details and we can decide if it’s what we want to do,” Turley said.

Either way, Turley said she understands the importance for libraries to embrace new technology in an effort to remain relevant.

“(The growth) has been unexpected,” Turley said. “Last Christmas, I think there was a huge demand for e-books because everyone got e-readers for Christmas a year ago and again this year.”

During the American Library Association conference held this week in Dallas, one of the largest digital book distributors, OverDrive, released its yearly statistics, which showed significant growth in the area of e-books. The company charted 35 million digital titles checked out at libraries in 2011, representing an increase of 107 percent.

Whether it’s good news or bad for local libraries like Piedmont Turley wasn’t sure.

“I don’t know that it’s either one,” Turley said. “It’s maybe bad for the printed page, for publishers. But it also represents an opportunity for (libraries).”

Libraries are still trying to work out the details in e-book checkouts. Many publishers want to impose a limit on the number of times an e-book can be checked out in an effort to mimic the ware-and-tare a printed book would experience. But, of course, an e-book never fades, gets lost or is susceptible to spilled coffee.

Javine currently uses her Kindle to check out e-books from the Oklahoma City library and said she would do the same in Piedmont once it starts to offer the service. But the Piedmont library hasn’t completely lost Javine’s business, which was evident last week when she stopped by the library to return 10 printed books she had checked out.

“(The Kindle) doesn’t offer everything that I want and I’ll continue to go to the library and get books,” Javine said. “But the Kindle is so convenient.”

Johnson recall election set for June 26

The city council set a recall election for June 26 for Councilman Wade Johnson after certifying 169 signatures seeking his ouster from the council. (File Photo)

During its Monday meeting the city council certified a recall election for Councilman Wade Johnson to be held June 26.

The council voted 4-0 – Johnson abstained – to schedule the election as dictated by the city charter.

“I’m against this thing altogether,” Councilman Hoss Cooley, who successfully fought against a recall effort against him last year, said before voting in favor of the election. “But if it’s done correctly and our city charter says we have to set that date, I will say yes.”

The city certified 169 signatures on a petition seeking recall election for Johnson. According to the charter, 134 signatures – 30 percent of those in the ward that voted in the last governor’s election – were needed and the charter instructs the council to set an election for the next available date during its next regular meeting following the certification of the petition. According to the county election board, the next available date for an election is June 26.

Johnson has defended his record as councilman and has raised concerns with the certification process. Mayor Valerie Thomerson began discussion on the recall election by asking City Attorney Tom Ferguson if he believed the certification process was valid. Ferguson said he had closely reviewed the process and believed it was legal and according to the city charter.

PODCAST: Piedmont Daily, Ep. 4

Ben Felder interviews Mayor Valerie Thomerson.

Judge rules in favor of Davis

Judge Gary Miller of the Canadian County District Court ruled in favor of Jeff Davis by saying he was a valid member of the Piedmont city council. Davis was congratulated by his attorney following the Monday hearing. (Ben Felder)

Following a Monday hearing, a county judge ruled that Jeff Davis was a valid member of the city council and had been properly appointed, and Davis was back to performing his duties as Ward 3 represented later that night at the council’s regular meeting.

A lawsuit had been filed against the city claiming that Davis was inproperly voted on and appointed Ward 3 councilman following the resignation of Bill Sharp. A temporary restraining order preventing Davis from serving on the council was approved by a county judge in November pending Monday’s hearing. During the hearing Judge Gary Miller said he believed Davis was properly voted on to become Ward 3 councilman; however he did raise some concerns that Davis was properly sworn in by the mayor. Miller told the city it would need to handle the proper swearing in of Davis on on its own terms but Miller did not rule that Davis’ previous actions as a councilman was invalid.

In September the council voted two in favor of Davis’ appointment with two abstentions, which was interpreted as a tie by the city attorney and the mayor later appointed Davis after she said she was casting the tie-breaking vote in his favor.

Russell Mulinix representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit opened Monday’s hearing by stating his clients believed the process for installing Davis was invalid.

“For my clients, it’s not about Jeff Davis, it’s about the process,” Mulinix said in his opening statement. “This council seat will be up for election on April 3 (filing begins Feb. 5-7)…so this is about to cure itself by way of an election, as it should in my clients view.”

Mulinix also argued that the mayor, who broke a tie to appoint Davis, is not a valid voting member of the council and holds little power.

“(The) mayor is more of a ceremonial type of position,” Mulinix said.

Ferguson, representing the city, which was named as the defendant in the case, followed with his opening remarks and said it was his view that the mayor was within her rights to not only break the tie vote but to also administer the oath to Davis.

“(The plaintiffs) would have the court believe the mayor is nothing more than a ceremonial person…that’s not correct,” Ferguson said. “(The city charter) defines the qualifications, duties and powers of mayor…the power of the mayor and job of the mayor are far more than ceremonial. The mayor signs all contracts, makes appointments to various boards.”

Ferguson also quoted the charter as stating the mayor has the ability to vote in the case of the tie and argued that the vote for Davis qualified as an appropriate tie-breaking vote by the mayor.

The final opening remarks came from Gabe Bass who represented Davis in the case. Bass reiterated many of the points made by Ferguson and also said it would not be acceptable to simply let the seat remain vacant until the April election, as recommended by Mulinix, because the council will face many significant issues before the election.

A 45-minute video was entered as evidence by Mulinix and viewed by the court showing the August 2011 council meeting when the vote concerning Davis’ appointment was taken and the September 2011 meeting when Davis was announced by the mayor as a council member.

Councilman Larry Gage was also called as a witness and said he believed the city charter had been violated by the mayor.

“Basically I feel like the voter’s rights have been broken,” Gage said from the stand. “I don’t believe that the (mayor’s) actions were appropriate.”

Following Gage’s testimony, Bass asked Judge Miller for a decision based on the evidence presented. Miller said it was his belief that the mayor’s tie-breaking vote was valid and that Davis was a valid member of the council. However, he recommended that the city administer a new oath of office to Davis in a public setting.

“This was important for me because it’s important to my constituents that they be represented,” Davis said following the hearing.

Monday’s meeting

Following the hearing the mayor said she was in discussions with city attorney Ferguson about what the best process would be to re-administer the oath of office to Davis, per the judge’s recommendation. It was determined by the city attorney that Davis’ oath of office was not required to take place in a public meeting and Davis was sworn in shortly before the Monday council meeting.

Thomerson said one reason the oath was not administered during the council meeting was because it was not listed as an agenda item. It could have been added under new business with a 4/5 council vote but the mayor had doubts that could be achieved.
“Sometime (Monday) afternoon I had an opportunity to discuss our situation with Mayor Pro-Tem Larry Gage, and although he disagreed with the Judge’s ruling, he agreed that the City needed to move forward as quickly as possible to address Judge Miller’s concern about the oath of office for Mr. Davis,” Thomerson said in an email to the Gazette. “I also asked Mr. Woods if he would allow this item to be brought forward under “New Business” and he stated that he ‘would do nothing to help’ me or resolve this situation. So giving the oath of office to Mr. Davis at the Council meeting was moot as we knew we couldn’t get a 4/5 majority required under New Business.”

Thomerson said the city attorney advised that the oath could be administered before the council meeting and Davis was administer the oath in the presence of the mayor, City Clerk Jennifer Smith, city Manager Jim Crosby, the city attorney and Councilman Gage.

Davis will serve as councilman of Ward 3 until the seat is up for reelection in April. Following Monday’s court hearing Davis said he was planning to seek reelection in April.

This story was last updated on Jan. 24.

VIDEO: Conversation with the candidates

Election day for Piedmont School Board Seat No. 2 is quickly approaching and two candidates are vying for you vote on Feb. 14. This week the Piedmont-Surrey Gazette filmed two interviews with both candidates – Bobby Williamson and Laura King-Reed – that covered questions from readers and other issues important to the candidates.

Below are both interviews (the interview with King-Reed is delivered in two parts). In the next few weeks look for more election coverage on PiedmontToday.com and in the Gazette.

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