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City

Piedmot resident elected V.P. of state bar association

Piedmont resident Reta M. Strubhar was recently elected The Oklahoma Bar Association’s vice president.

The Oklahoma Bar Association elected retired Judge Reta M. Strubhar of Piedmont to serve as its 2011 vice president. The elections were announced at the OBA’s 106th Annual Meeting last week in Tulsa.
Strubhar will begin serving her term on Jan. 1, 2011, and officially will be sworn into office Jan. 14 at the Oklahoma Supreme Court courtroom in the State Capitol.

In 1993, Strubhar was the first woman appointed to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals since the formation of the court in 1907. In 1999, she became the first woman to be presiding judge of the court. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business education from Phillips University, a master’s degree in English from the University of Central Oklahoma and her J.D. Oklahoma City University School of Law.

She is the chairperson for the retired judges of Oklahoma and has been successful in the passage of legislation for retired judges. She is active in the Judges Helping Judges Committee, OBA Law-related Education Committee, American Inn of Court and served on the Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee. Strubhar has retained her senior status and serves as an appellate settlement conference judge for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and serves on the three-judge panel for the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court.

The office of OBA president for 2011 will be held by Deborah A. Reheard of Eufaula. This year Reheard served as OBA president-elect, a position which automatically elevates her to president on Jan. 1. She will succeed Allen Smallwood of Tulsa, who will remain on the Board of Governors for one year as immediate past president.
Cathy Christensen of Oklahoma City will serve as president-elect for 2011. She will take office as OBA president on Jan. 1, 2012.

With the election of Reheard, Christensen and Strubhar, this will mark the first time in the OBA’s 106-year history that women will hold its top three leadership positions.

Also elected to the OBA Board of Governors to represent their judicial districts are Gerald C. Dennis, Antlers; O. Christopher Meyers, Lawton, and Scott Pappas, Stillwater. Renée DeMoss of Tulsa will serve as an OBA member-at-large. They will serve three-year terms. Muskogee attorney Roy D. Tucker, who will chair the Young Lawyers Division next year, will serve a one-term on the board.

The 16,000-member Oklahoma Bar Association, headquartered in Oklahoma City, was created by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to advance the administration of justice and to foster and maintain learning, integrity, competence, public service and high standards of conduct among Oklahoma’s legal community. The 18-member Board of Governors meets monthly at locations across the state and governs the association.

Two taken to hospital following accident

Two people were transported to area hospitals following a car crash at Edmond Raod and Mustang Road on Thursday morning.

Two people were transported by ambulance to area hospitals following an auto accident at the intersection of Edmond Road and Mustang Road, shortly after 11 a.m. today.

Police say a female driver failed to yield while heading north-bound on Mustang Road and collided with a car headed east-bound on Edmond Road.  Traffic had to temporarily be rerouted along Edmond Road but police have cleared the accident scene.

Neither injuries are considered life threatening.

City in process of updating driving laws

Various new driving laws went into effect on Nov. 1 that can be difficult for local police officers to enforce. Piedmont has put items in this month’s city council agenda to help make that process simpler.

One law prohibits the use of hand-held electronic devices by teen drivers, with the possibility of having their license suspended, and another allows police officers to tow vehicles of uninsured drivers. Another law concerns times when bicyclists and motorcyclists can run red lights was also recently enacted at the state level. As the hand-held device law deals with suspending a license, it is not something that can be handled at the city level.

“If we want to enforce state laws, then we must file the tickets through the district court,” Piedmont Police Chief Jerry Koester said. “If we have a local ordinance, then we can handle it locally.”

If a Piedmont police officer were to issue a ticket over one of the new state laws, they would have to follow the same procedure that highway patrolmen follow. Most city police officers only issues tickets on violations of city ordinances.
One of the major ordinances put in place at the state level will soon be on agendas in Piedmont. The proposed city ordinance will coincide with a state law that allows police officers to tow the vehicle of an uninsured driver.

“Under the ordinance that the city is discussing this month, (the police department) would be able to impound cars of uninsured drivers, drivers under suspension, or DUI and charge an impound fee,” Koester explained. “It follows the line of the state law. The fee would go directly into the city’s general fund.”

This ordinance would also have instances where the owner of the vehicle would not have to pay the fee, such as if the car was stolen. Other area communities have adapted similar ordinances, including Bethany and Midwest City.

Changing police station plans will cost 81k

Ben Felder
News Editor

Earlier this year the city council voted to reduce the total price of a new police station, but revising the original plans will cost at least $81,000 according to recently released architectural and engineer fees.

The price for a new police station in Piedmont was reduced from $1.8 million to $1.3 million.  A federal grant will pay for $1 million of the cost but the city was required to fund the remaining amount.  In an effort to reduce borrowed money the city decreased the price of the station by $600,000 but that required revising current plans to reduce the size of the station.  The city had already paid $77,513 to TAP Architecture but the revisions will cost an additional $81,000.

During last month’s city council meeting the council was asked to approve the additional funds but concern was raised over paying TAP more money.  The council requested more time to review the added expenses but city manager Clark Williams said approval is needed before he can submit a final estimate by the Dec. 31 deadline in order to be eligible for the grant.

“I needed this information so I can fill out the budget requirements for the HUD grant,” Williams said.  “Even though we have already been approved for the grant we have to submit this information.”

Williams said the city may call a special meeting this month in order to approve the expenses but he said he remains confident that everything will be in order by the end of the year deadline.

Design expenses can be refunded

According to the specifications of the HUD grant, up to 20 percent of the grant can be used to refund the city for design and engineering expenses.  That means Piedmont will be eligible to request a refund of up to $200,000 from the grant  for design fees.  If the latest amount of expenses is approved that will bring Piedmont’s total amount spent on engineering and architecture plans close to $160,000.  However, that total is likely to rise as there is still more planning needed before construction can begin on the new police station.

“We still need to hire a civil engineer for the site work to design the parking lots and approaches as well as utilities,” Williams said.  “Right now we don’t know how much it will all cost but we will work to get it under our $1.2 million budget.”

Building a great suburb during the Great Recession

Ben Felder
News Editor

Dana Baker has found her dream home.

Its a three-bedroom ranch-style house in a young subdivision on Piedmont’s south side.  It has granite counter tops, the vaulted living-room ceilings she has always wanted and is in a great school district.  The problem is Baker doesn’t have the money to buy the house and with her hours recently reduced at work she isn’t expecting to qualify for a loan anytime soon.

“I want to be in Piedmont, I have for a long time,” Baker said while attending an open house.  “This house and neighborhood would be perfect for my kids but I’m not sure we can make it work right now.”

A few years ago Baker might have been in a different situation.  She was working a good job at a retail distribution center and mortgages were still fairly easy to come by.  Today, two years since the housing bubble popped and America entered the Great Recession, the flow of people moving to growing suburbs has slowed considerably.

Piedmont is one of the fastest growing cities in the state but as a town trying to make a name for itself as Oklahoma City’s next great suburb, it has the challenge of growing during one of the worst economic times since the Great Depression.  Construction crews are still at work in different parts of town, but Piedmont is facing an economy that other suburbs like Yukon and Edmond never had to when they were in their infancy as suburban communities.

Piedmont is still considered a growing suburb but one clear sign that the recession has caught up with the town is the recent slump in new home construction.  Piedmont’s new home construction boom peaked in 2005 but has declined every year since.

Since the first of the year only 26 new housing permits have been applied for in Piedmont, four less than this time last year.  If that pace continues it will mean a fifth consecutive year of decline in local new home construction.  Over the past 14 years the month of August has been the busiest for new home permits but last August only five permits were issued.  That made August the 27 consecutive month in which permits failed to reach double-digits.

Local developer Phil Boevers has been building homes in Piedmont since 1979 and said the past few years have been the toughest he has seen.

“I’m not looking for a lot of good in the development market for at least the next two to three years,” Boevers said.  “There is a huge problem getting people financed for houses right now and that means less homes being built and less people moving to Piedmont.”

Boevers acknowledges that its not just a problem for Piedmont but for most communities looking to attract new home buyers.  Boevers said buyers are finding it harder to get credit because banks are more timid about loaning money for mortgages and housing developments.

“Banks are scared right now,” Boevers said.  “It takes a lot of collateral to do these residential deals.”

Eric Anderson is vice president of F&M Bank in Piedmont and he admits that these have been tough years for banks.

“Before 2008 we saw the best 15 years in banking history,” Anderson said.  “I grew up in the 1990s, so I’ve never seen bad times.”

Anderson moved to Piedmont when he was in junior high and has called the town home ever since.  He knows that the growth over the past few years has slowed in Piedmont but he is quick to add that the town is still growing.

“We are not doing 120 homes every year but we will probably do somewhere around 40 this year,” Anderson said.  “That’s still pretty good compared to other communities.  Piedmont is still growing.”

Anderson said banks are a little more careful about loaning money than they might have been in the past but he said there is still money to loan and interest rates are at historic lows.  However, there are less people looking to buy a new home right now as the recession continues to linger and Anderson said he has seen a change in mind-set by many people over the past few years.

“It seems like since the end of 2008 our loan totals have kind of gone down and our deposit totals have gone up,” Anderson said.  “People are saving more and spending less.  It’s a great time to borrow money, the incentive is there, but everyone seems like they are holding back a little bit.”

Consumer confidence is still relatively low but Anderson believes that is starting to change.  When people begin to purchase new homes again he sees Piedmont as one of the most attractive communities in the region, but besides residential growth he believes more retail development is also a key to Piedmont’s future success.

“Over the past five years we have seen a kind of retail growing boom so to speak,” Anderson said.  “Infrastructure is kind of a big thing for our commercial growth and the city is working on that.  I think this grocery store is going to be the first domino to fall to spur more retail.”

Anderson, as well as most Piedmont residents, are hopeful that the new Williams Food grocery store will spur more retail and business growth, but city officials are banking on it.  A year-long struggle resulted in a new store breaking ground in August and with a projected opening date of March 2011 the city believes Williams Food will be the start of even more development.

No one can deny that Piedmont has faced its share of economic challenges but for mayor Mike Fina that’s just the scenario that every municipality has to face.

“There is one universal problem that every community faces,” Fina said.  “That is funding and whether a city’s tax dollars can fund city services.”

Raising Piedmont’s tax revenue has been the goal for city hall and is the reason Fina said he was so aggressive in bringing a grocery store to town.  City officials have not been shy about the fact that they believe the new grocery store will be the ignition that will finally light a fire of retail business in Piedmont.  Piedmont residents have been vocal about their desire for more retail and businesses but for that to happen Fina said it has required an aggressive approach.

“We have always taken a conservative approach to our projects and budget so its natural that citizens take a conservative approach to new ideas,” Fina said.  “When it comes to moving forward its really about a mindset.  Right now there is a national mindset that is timid but I think we have an energy and culture in Piedmont that wants to move forward and is ready for growth.”

Fina is hoping that an energetic citizen base and forward-thinking leaders will lead Piedmont out of the recession, but he understands that the process for doing that is different than it was in the past.

“For many years all these cities were growing and all passing bond issues and the first answer was always yes,” Fina said.  “Now its always no.”

A voting public that is beginning to become more concerned about spending by its city, state and federal leaders means government officials are challenged with the dilemma of how to cut costs while increasing services.  Fina said the city is looking to expand its services but has also maintained a level of fiscal responsibility while other suburban cities are facing major budget cuts.

“We have been fortunate that although we have been in an economic slowdown we haven’t fallen too behind in our tax dollars,” Fina said.  “We haven’t had some of the natural problem that other communities have had like furloughed employees.”

Attracting new business to Piedmont will mean more sales-tax revenue but it will also help create a higher quality of life for residents that want more shops and restaurants in their community.  However, the real driving force behind Piedmont’s growth has been its school district and while a recession has stunted economic growth, a well performing school district will always attract new families that are looking to raise their kids in a perceived better school district.

“The silver lining to me in Piedmont is the school district,” Boevers said.

“Our anchor right now is the school system,” Anderson said.

“We will continue to grow because parents want to put their kids in our schools,” Fina said.

Nearly every city leader agrees that despite the challenges Piedmont has faced over the past few years the one advantage it has over many other communities is a high performing school district.  The Piedmont Public School district has continued to see solid growth every year and while the district has not been immune to budget tightening ,it has remained aggressive in building for the future with the construction of a new elementary school and plans for more facilities in the near future.

The challenges are real for Piedmont but so is the potential.  These are tough days for any community and as Piedmont attempts to grow it will face hurdles that other communities didn’t have to in their early days as a growing suburb.  Views differ on how long it will take Piedmont to rebound from the recession but most city leaders and residents say there is a bright future for Piedmont, no matter how long it might take.

“I think everyone is willing to take a leap to help Piedmont grow,” Anderson said.  “Where there is a will a lot of times we will find a way.”

Fire service expands with switch to full time

Andy Logan is a 12-year member of the Piedmont Fire Department, serving as fire chief since July 1. Logan describes himself as a “hometown guy” and was raised in Piedmont where he and his wife continue to live and raise their two children.

Ben Felder
News Editor

Signs of Piedmont’s growth over the years have been new schools, businesses and homes, but the city is also trying to expand its services and after approval from Piedmont voters in 2009 the fire department was able to go full time.

“A lot of people now refer to it as full time but this thing has been full time for a long time, just without pay” Andy Logan, Piedmont fire chief said. “But this is a big step that will allow us to really build for the future and our growth.”

Logan, a 12-year veteran of the fire department, is now one of two full time staff members on the department along with assistant chief Jarrott Dowdy.  Passage of a one-cent sales tax last year has allowed the department to fund two full time positions and pay many of its volunteers when they are on duty.  The transition to full time officially took place on July 1 and Logan said it couldn’t have come a moment too soon.

“As far as growth in call volume alone its been ridiculous,” Logan said.  “When I came on in 1995 we ran a total of 135 calls.  Last year we ran 368 calls.  So, that right there tells you how much we have grown.”

In addition to higher call volume the department has had to keep up with increases in training requirements and maintenance.  Now there is always a at least one firefighter at the station between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and a firefighter on duty within the city limits after hours. Logan said the result has been faster response times to fires and medical calls but it has also allowed the department to focus on other needs.

“We can stay on top of maintenance a lot better,” Logan said.  “We find things sooner that can be repaired cheaply before they become a major expense.”

Logan said the department is also able to better participate in a national fire reporting system that is required by the government and also spend more time in public education programs including visits to local schools to teach fire safety.

Logan said the community’s support for a fire sales tax has resulted in a safer Piedmont but plans continue to be in the works for expanding the fire service even further as additional revenue comes in.  A short-term goal for Logan is  to staff the fire station with at least two firefighters 24 hours a day and over the long-term adding even more firefighters.

“That will happen with more revenue,” Logan said about future expansion.  “We are right now only looking at projections because we have never done this before.  But its coming, its coming quick.

“The transition has been working great.  We are building towards the future.  In no way is this the perfect scenario but its a step.  I feel like the department, city and the citizens are all on the same page and headed in the same direction.”

How Your Fire Department Works

State law only allows cities to field 911 emergency calls with a 24 hour center.  Currently any 911 calls made in Piedmont are routed to Yukon who will dispatch the emergency call to the on duty firefighter.

A total of 17 volunteers and two staff positions makeup the department with plans to expand as revenue increases.  Piedmont firefighters are dispatched to fire and medical calls but volunteers are prohibited by state law to ignore traffic laws on the way to a fire.  Its an inconvenience that Logan said can only be addressed by adding more on-duty members of the department.

Logan said the department has a strong relationship with several other departments that can provide mutual aide in the event of a large emergency.  Depending on what part of town a call is in departments from Deer Creek, Oklahoma City, Okarche or Cashion will assist the Piedmont Fire Department.

Koester back as police chief

Piedmont Police Chief Jerry Koester

Ben Felder

News Editor

A personnel switch on May 3 in the Piedmont Police Department made former assistant police chief Bill Ward the new chief and former chief Jerry Koester the new assistant.  Effective this week another change was made that put things back the way they were.

“All I can really say is it was a personnel matter and we don’t discuss those,” Clark Williams, city manager said.  “As with any position at the city there was a six month probationary period which applied to (Ward) in this case.”

Koester, who became police chief in 2006, hired Ward as his assistant and later stepped down to assistant chief because of the scheduling benefits.  Koester declined to comment on the reason for the switch but did say although he was not expecting to become chief again the decision was made to offer him the job and he accepted.

Ward is now the assistant chief which is a 25 hour a week position.  He was not on duty earlier this week and not available for comment.

Grocery store fight leads to ground breaking

<strong>Ben Felder</strong>
<em>News Editor</em>

Nobody said the grocery business was suppose to be easy but Jeff Williams admits that the journey to breaking ground on a new grocery store in Piedmont was one of the toughest challenges of his career.

Williams, who owns Williams Food grocery stores, would have preferred to have a new store on Piedmont Road well underway, but fights at city hall, lawsuits and attack ads have made the process feel more like a political campaign rather than an attempt to sell groceries.

“Its been a big time struggle, but what a bunch of positives we have here,” Williams said following a ground breaking ceremony last week.  “Whatever happened in the past its just one of those things that you have to deal with.  We wanted to stay out of the mud and let the lawyers handle all that.”

Construction is now underway with a projected opening of March 2011.  Williams said the store will be a state-of-the-art facility that utilizes energy efficient methods to save on costs.

Despite the challenges to begin construction, Williams said it was worth the fight to come to Piedmont.

“Piedmont reminds me so much of Tuttle where I grew up,” Williams said.  “We have always looked at Piedmont as a place that wants a grocery store and needs a grocery store.  That makes it worth fighting for.”

While a new store in Piedmont may have been the toughest business challenge of Williams’ career, Piedmont mayor Mike Fina agrees that it has been one of the toughest challenges of his political career.

“I just want to put all of this behind us and open this store,” Fina said.  “Its easy to get caught up in the problems but there are so many good people that made this possible.”

Fina said its been a long road to break ground on a new grocery store in Piedmont but it was an important step for the growth of the town.

“A grocery store is the No. 1 thing people here want,” Fina said.  “For our grand vision of growing business here, this grocery store will spur future development.  It was necessary in that way.”

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