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Archive for: April 2012

Williams makes new offer to city concerning $1.9M contract

Jeff Williams Williams Foods owner Jeff Williams addressed the Piedmont city council Monday night and made a new offer concerning his promised $1.9 million in tax incentives. (Ben Felder)[/caption]

The elections of April 3 brought a political swing to the Piedmont city council, particularly concerning the Williams Foods grocery store tax incentive contact, and Jeff Williams said his latest offer to the city was made because he finally feels like there is a council willing to work with him.

“I have always said that if the council will work with me I will work with them,” Williams said. “This (new) council has done nothing but communicate with me and has been working with me.”

During Monday’s city council meeting when Charles Coffman, Al Gleichmann and Vernon Woods were administered their oath of office, Williams made a new offer to the city concerning the $1.9 million in tax incentives that were promised to him in a contract in 2010. Williams said the previous contract is still valid if the council should choose to go in that direction, but he is now willing to split sales tax collected from the store for 15 years with no payments of interest required.

“The previous proposal is still there but I would like to offer an option that I would think would be better for the city,” Williams said.

The new deal offered by Williams would have the city pay him 3 cents of sales tax collected for 15 years with no interest. Williams said his current projections show that 3 cents would pay him close to $1.9 million in a 15 year span, but if collections don’t equal $1.9 million after 15 years then the city would not be required to pay a penny more.

“That gives me the risk and the reward,” Williams said.

If the store performed higher than projections then Williams would receive more than $1.9 million in a 15 year span, but the city would also benefit from higher sales tax collections.

Because the council meeting agenda did not allow for discussion of the issue the council could only hear Williams’ proposal. However, the council appeared eager to hash out the details and cast a vote in the near future.

“We are all chomping at the bit to discuss it,” Mayor Valerie Thomerson said. Thomerson and City Manager Jim Crosby said after the meeting that the most recent proposal by Williams seemed to be a fair offer for the city.

“My feeling is that this is an excellent offer,” Crosby said. “I think it has been an albatross around our neck and it’s time to get it over with.”

Williams’ latest proposal would have the city make its first payment on July 1 based on sales tax collections in May. However, Williams said he would not ask for any back pay on sales tax already collected. Williams did ask the council to pay for his legal fees that he has accumulated in defending his contract over the past year. Williams said he would submit the total of his legal fees before the council votes on his latest proposal but called it a small amount.

Williams said his latest offer, which appears to be even better for the city than the previous contract, was made because he wanted to show his willingness to work with the council if they would work with him in return.

“The reason was I (now) have a council that all have returned my phone calls,” Williams said. “Not one of them has written a nasty letter or has lied in any way. I had told that other council if they would just call me we could work this out.”

Williams’ mention of “nasty letters” was in reference to letters mailed out by former council members Hoss Cooley and Jeff Davis who raised concerns with the grocery store contract and accused Williams of trying to play games with the city.

“I want to let them know that I am a part of this community,” Williams said. “I felt like (the new council) was willing to work with me on the other (contract)…which made me extremely more abatable to giving them an even better deal. I have always said it from day one, there has been no backdoor meetings. I’m putting my money where my mouth is.”

No special meeting has been scheduled as of press time but the council, city manager and mayor indicated Monday that they would like to bring the new proposal up for a vote in the coming weeks.

 

 

Traffic stop near Okarche leads to child porn charges

Allen Alden

On April 18 at approximately 1 p.m., Allen Alden, 29, was pulled over on Highway 81 near the intersection of 164th Street for speeding. Canadian County Sgt. Jeremy Johnson conducted the traffic stop and was notified by dispatch that Allen’s license was suspended and he had previously served time for possession of child pornography. Alden gave permission for Johnson to look at a laptop computer in the backseat of the car and Johnson observed images of children engaged in sexual acts with an adult male, according to a sheriff’s report.

Alden was placed under arrest and his vehicle was impounded. A warrant was obtained to perform a more detailed search of Alden’s computer and the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office’s Computer Forensics Lab discovered over 750 images of children engaged in sexual acts with adult males. Some of the children were aged as young as four-years-old and Alden was charged with Aggravated Possession of Child Pornography.

“Aggravated Possession of Child Pornography is charged when a suspect has over 100 images of child pornography,” said Sheriff Randall Edwards. “This charge carries up to life in prison.”

Alden has previously served time in Illinois for possession of child pornography. Alden is currently being held in Canadian County Jail with a $100,000 bond.

Sheriff Edwards said Alden had admitted to being addicted to child pornography to investigators and during an interview with a local television station.

“There is a common thread between everything I have ever heard, or read, from psychiatrists regarding child predators, they all agree that a child predator cannot ever be completely rehabilitated,” Edwards said. “Mr. Alden is literally screaming with all that is good in him for society to lock him up for life; we need to listen to him.”

Items added to proposed street repair bond

A proposed $4.5 million bond issue would spend $4.2 million on local street repair and maintenance. (Ben Felder)

City Manager Jim Crosby is hoping his $4.5 million bond issue proposal can come before Piedmont voters in August and that approval will allow the city to make some progress on local street repair and maintenance.

A first draft of the bond proposal was given to the city council in January and a revised draft was presented last week that included a few changes. While the first draft was entirely focused on road repair issues, the latest draft includes a new warning siren system and a grass rig fire truck. The new items combine for $300,000 and the total bond amount remains at $4.5 million. All of the other items previously included in the bond draft remain but the amount spent on oil and chip repair has been reduced by $250,000 and the price of a new public works building has also been reduced by $50,000.

“I haven’t gotten a lot of negative feedback,” Crosby said about the bond proposal. “I think there are people questioning what roads we are going to focus on but we are still talking about the details.”

Crosby said the addition of a new warning siren system would double the number of sirens currently located in the city and that a new grass rig fire truck would allow the fire department to have greater flexibility in fighting fires.

“We really use our grass rigs here,” Crosby said. “Our big engine (fire trucks) really can’t get off the road, they are too heavy.”

Crosby also said construction of a new public works building would allow the city to comply with federal regulations.

“This will be an office, a place to store materials and work on vehicles,” Crosby said. “We really don’t have that right now.”

Projected millage rates to pay for the proposed 20-year general obligation bond would cost a property valued at $100,000 an annual rate of $126.72 the first year, decreasing for the next 20 years to a final rate of $35.49, according to projections presented to the council. For a complete list of projected rates click on the “Bond Rates” link below.

The current bond proposal includes the following expenses:

  • ($800,000) Public works maintenance and office facility that will have two bays and a repair pit to meet Federal standards.
  • ($275,000) New motor grader for repair of roads.
  • ($115,000) New large dump truck for hauling materials to repair roads.
  • ($30,000) Smooth bore roller
  • ($90,000) New grass rig fire truck
  • ($210,000) New warning siren system complete with 10 new sirens
  • ($600,000) Repave Washington Street, Piedmont Road to Cemetery Road
  • ($600,000) Repave Edmond Road, Piedmont Road to Cemetery Road
  • ($1,780,000) Various road repairs using oil and chip and gravel base

Total: $4,500,000

CLICK TO VIEW BOND RATES

Law Day events planned this month

Residents will have an opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at the county legal system later this month during the annual Law Day event, which is a celebration of the legal system and a time when members of the legal profession provide various pro bono services.

The Canadian County Bar Association is helping to host Law Day activities on April 26 and 27, which include a free open house at the Canadian County Courthouse and county jail in El Reno on the 26th. The open house at the courthouse will run from noon to 2 p.m. and tours of the jail will begin at 2:30 p.m. All citizens from Canadian County are invited to come and see the county buildings but those wanting to tour the jail are asked to contact Sheila in the Sheriff’s office at (405) 262-4748.

Members of the Canadian County Bar will also be participating in the Ask A Lawyer program in conjunction with the statewide campaign to answer legal questions by phone.  Members will be participating from the offices of the Denton Law Firm in Mustang from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.  The number to call during that time is (405) 376-2212.

Also, in celebration of Law Day, the Gary E. Miller – Children’s Justice Center, will host an open house on May 7 from Noon to 2 p.m.

To ask questions about the Law Day activities, please call Canadian County’s Law Day Chair John Paul Jordan at the Jordan Law Firm, at (405) 222-8721.

FELDER: Voters were looking for direction

Ben Felder

Ben Felder, news editor

You live by the grocery store and you die by the grocery store; isn’t that how the saying goes?

New city leaders were voted into office last year because of a level of mistrust the public had with the Williams Foods tax incentive plan. Part of that mistrust came from misinformation but these candidates ran on a platform of being against the deal as it stood and voters said they agreed.

However, it was the classic political blunder for those elected to the council of taking the issue you were elected into office on and not knowing when to let it go. A year later the council was still playing games when it came to the grocery store contract and the same voters were now tired of the issue and ready to put it behind them.

I’ve written before that I don’t mind the council delaying the grocery store incentive deal. It’s what they campaigned on and voters gave them a mandate to at least explore the issue further. But after a while it became clear that at the very least the council was incapable of working with one of the city’s largest business leaders, and at worst was using the issue as a political pawn.

Continuing to make Williams Foods a political issue backfired and a year after a wave of change hit city hall another shift in the political current is taking place.

While the line used to open this column is not really a common phrase used in politics, here is one that is:

“If you are not growing, you’re dying.”

To me that line pretty much sums up a simple truth in almost every area of life, whether it be business, relationships, and yes, even politics and city government.

People want to move forward because we understand that remaining in the status quo is never really a good option. Yes, we all are challenged with change to some degree and there are times in our lives when keeping things exactly the way they are sounds good. But the truth is change is one of the only constants in life and we are either changing for the better or for the worse.

Last year members of the council campaigned on the idea that the changes taking place in Piedmont were for the worse and the direction of the city needed to be changed. There has been some change in direction with the hiring of a new city manager, of which early returns seem promising. But for the most part a new vision failed to be created.

Voters gave city leaders a chance to change course but it quickly became evident that we were just standing still during a time when action was needed on a long list of issues facing the community.

Last year voters felt there needed to be a change in direction. This year voters are simply looking for a direction to head in.

While the grocery store contract might have been the defining issue of the election, it isn’t the magic bullet to solving our problems. The citys not broke, at least not according to the budget, city manager and the accounting firm that works for the city. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t face financial challenges. We need prioritizing in the budget and we need economic growth, something that’s difficult to do when you basically tell one of your largest business owners to “take a hike.”

Piedmont needs to address utility rates, develop a clear plan of action when it comes to roads and there is still the matter of completing the city’s new police station. All these issues and more will not be settled with approval of the Williams Foods grocery store contract and it’s going to take vision, communication and compromise to meet our challenges.

I can sometimes be rather cynical about things but deep down and I’m an optimist. So much so that sometimes my wife says it drives her crazy and I have had at least one former newspaper boss tell me my optimism in life is one of my biggest weaknesses as a journalist. All I know is that I tend to believe in people and I tend to hold out hope that even when things look pretty bad there is also a decent chance our community, nation or world can find a way through.

I know a lot of people are cynical about things in Piedmont right now and often times you can’t really blame them. But what Piedmont needs right now is faith in its future. I’m talking about some kind of blind faith without accountability placed on our leaders. Instead, I am not talking about a faith in our future that believes with healthy debate, cooperation and a clear goal in mind we can move Piedmont forward.

This week someone handed me a letter they received in the mail. It was an unsigned letter criticizing the newly elected council and predicting the demise of the city if Williams is given tax incentives. It reeked of the negativity we saw last year and it was once again a criticism of the direction the city was headed in without offering any real alternative.

I would probably have written this column no matter what the results were this month concerning the city council election and I don’t want this to be taken as a total criticism of the council. I do think the council failed to deliver on some of the promises it made last year and I don’t believe the incoming members are going to bring instant healing. There will be mistakes made and our leaders should be held to the highest level of accountability, but what excites me about the city right now is that we appear to be headed towards the creation of a vision and moving in a direction forward.

It could be that sometime over the next several months and years you disagree with the direction the city is headed in. If you pay even some attention to local policy issues I can almost guarantee that will be the case. But my challenge to you is to get involved and express your thoughts on how the city can do better when it comes to moving forward.

There will be those that offer blind criticism and predict doom and gloom for the city but we can’t afford to go along with those that offer no alternative and simply want to keep the status quo.

The city is either moving forwards or backwards. There is no middle ground.

 

Gazette receives first place honors in state newspaper contest

The Piedmont-Surrey Gazette was notified this week that it had won first place honors in two categories of the Oklahoma Press Association Better Newspaper Contest.

Competing among other weekly newspapers across the state, the Gazette took top honors in the categories of News Content and Layout & Design. The Gazette also placed second through fourth in the categories of In-Depth Enterprise and News Writing.

The Better Newspaper Contest reviewed issues from 2011 and part of 2010. Dominate news stories in the Gazette over the past year include the May 24 tornado and recovery effort, city council and mayoral elections, political debate over a tax incentive for Williams Foods grocery store and a variety of other news stories. The Gazette also underwent a redesign of its print product.

Awards will officially be presented to newspapers at the OPA’s awards banquet June 8 in Midwest City.

Truck and trailer stolen from Piedmont driveway

A Piedmont man woke up Tuesday morning to find his truck and trailer missing from his driveway in the 6000 block of Skyler Ridge Road.

Police received a call at 6:30 a.m. that a 2012 Ford F350 black over tan truck had been stolen, along with the trailer it was hitched to. The trailer and construction equipment inside are estimated to be close to $100,000 in value. The owner of the truck said he had last seen his vehicle at 10 p.m. the night before.

Police said the truck had a personalized license plate that reads “IRONMAN.”

Anyone with information related to this case is asked to contact the Piedmont Police Department at (405) 373-1334.

Council lacks the numbers to meet Tuesday

A special meeting of the Piedmont city council was cancelled Tuesday night after a quorum failed to be reached as three members were not in attendance.

Mayor Valerie Thomerson called off the meeting at 6:40 p.m. as councilmen Hoss Cooley, Jeff Davis and Wade Johnson were not present. Cooley and Davis lost reelection bids earlier this month and Tuesday’s meeting was the last one scheduled before new members of the council are sworn in. A city official said Johnson’s absent was expected as he was out of town.

On the agenda for Monday’s meeting was a business item to allow former mayors Mike Fina and George Fina to administer the oath of office to Vernon Woods, who was reelected to the council this month. The agenda also included an executive session to discuss a proposed contract for Williams Foods grocery store.

The council’s next scheduled meeting is April 23.

Upgrade to warning sirens included in bond proposal

Piedmont's five warning sirens (not pictured) do not cover the entire community and are often in need of repair. (File Photo)

The five warning sirens in Piedmont are tested each Saturday at noon and at least one of those tests each month will typically uncover a siren that isn’t working.

“About 25 percent of the time,” Piedmont Emergency Management Director Boyd Maser said when asked how often sirens are found to be dysfunctional. “That gives us a 75 percent chance during a storm that they are going to work.”

Those aren’t comforting odds, especially for a community that discovered last year how devastating a tornado can be. However, depending on where you live in Piedmont, there is no guarantee you would hear the sirens even if they all were working properly.

“We’ve got a huge area that wouldn’t be able to hear the ones that we got,” Maser said.

The city council is currently reviewing a proposed $4.5 million bond from the city manager that mostly covers road repairs, but it also includes $210,000 to replace the city’s current sirens and add five more, each with more than double the audible range as the current sirens.

Each siren would cost close to $20,000 and have an acoustic range of 5,700 feet. According to a memo from Fire Chief Andy Logan to City Manager Jim Crosby, the placement of the 10 sirens is expected to serve the developed areas of the city, along with areas that are expected to be developed in the future.

“Currently, the number of homes that are able to hear our outdoor warning system is decreased due to the location of the current sirens, the acoustic performance of the sirens and the unreliability of the sirens actually sounding,” the memo stated.

The city’s current sirens are over 50 years old and while it is not uncommon for repairs to be needed, the current sirens only have a range of up to half a mile, well short of how far the new sirens would reach.

The sirens are used during severe weather as a way to warn residents to take shelter. Emergency management officials are able to activate the sirens, but so can police as one of the department’s vehicles is outfitted with a radio that can trigger the city’s sirens. Police turned on the sirens last May when a massive tornado was approaching the city. Despite destroying hundreds of homes across the community, the relatively low amount of injuries and fatalities was credited to a day full of warnings from emergency and weather officials.

Last week another major storm approached Piedmont with conditions ripe for another tornado. Even though no tornado touched down in Piedmont the sirens were activated, but with the current state of the sirens not every resident would have been able to hear.

“It’s something we need to address,” Maser said. “I just hope the citizens realize its importance.”

Piedmont prepares for another council race

Ward 5 voters will have the chance in June to keep the status quo, return to a former councilman or elect a newcomer to the Piedmont city council.

Current councilman Wade Johnson, former councilman Donnie Robinson and Kevin Hopkins have filed with the Canadian County Election Board for the Ward 5 race. Following a successful recall petition with 169 signatures against Johnson, the council scheduled the election for June 26.

Councilman Wade Johnson

The recall against Johnson comes a year after he was elected to the city council but the councilman has filed a lawsuit against the city disputing the validity of the recall petition, specifically questioning the work of the city clerk in the certification process. Motivation behind the recall petition stemmed from Johnson’s votes and opinion on a proposed tax incentive plan for Williams Foods grocery store, which Johnson has expressed opposition towards. However, a city council election on April 3 saw the election of three candidates who ran on a platform of support for the grocery store contract, indicating the public might be ready to put the contentious issues behind the city.

Johnson was voted into office after beating Donnie Robinson in April 2011. However, Robinson is seeking a return to the council seat he had previously held for 11 years.

“We didn’t finish things,” Robinson said. “We didn’t finish the review and the direction on the comprehensive plan. We need to get back on track and have someone research grants for the city. There are a lot of things left to be done.”

Robinson, 61, has also served as mayor of Piedmont following the resignation of Greg Banta. Robinson moved to Piedmont in 1984, is a member of the Piedmont Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame and currently works as a company underwriter and marketing director for Union Mutual Insurance Company in Piedmont.

Donnie Robinson

Robinson said he had considered running for the Ward 5 seat when he heard there was going to be a recall election and finally decided to file because he had a lot of experience to offer the city. While he said the recent city council elections did not influence his decision to run, Robinson said he could offer valuable experience at a time when there are many new faces on the council and working at city hall.

“I just feel like I can bring experience that will be positive for Piedmont,” Robinson said. “I want to represent my ward. But you also represent every citizen in your town.”

Besides the familiar faces from last year’s Ward 5 ballot, Hopkins, 45, has also thrown his hat into the race. Hopkins, who is married to former Piedmont Chamber of Commerce executive director Paisley Hopkins, is a Highway Superintendent for Oklahoma County District 2 and was previously a director of land development for the homebuilding firm Home Creations. Hopkins believes his experience in building and maintenance would serve him well on the city council.

“I’ve spent the last 10 years in the type of business that gives me a unique insight into the challenges facing a growing Piedmont,” Hopkins said in a release announcing his candidacy. “Good roads and rooftops go hand in hand in attracting those new businesses that will help ease the cost of growth on the current residents.”

Kevin Hopkins

Hopkins has also served on the Norman city council from 1999 to 2005, was named Mayor Pro Tem three times and was named Norman’s chair of the emergency response task force.

Echoing the platform of many who ran for the council earlier this month, Hopkins said the recent council squabbles had stunted the city’s progress.

“In a time when many are questioning the current leadership and a general fatigue from all of the infighting that has split our city into warring camps, I want to offer a qualified, truly independent choice,” Hopkins said. “I can be that honest broker on the city council, unattached to any group and free to lead.”

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