It’s been almost a week since the last Luther Town Board Meeting.
Normally, The Luther Register is out with a recap story before the sun comes up after a meeting. Not this time. This particular meeting offered a lot to take in. Since the meetings are now broadcast on Periscope (click here to watch it or watch it again), it was all there to watch again and transcribe the words and recount actions taken at the last meeting. Not even all of it will be covered in this story.
Town Trustee Ron Henry was there. It was his first public appearance since being charged in Oklahoma County District Court with voter fraud and trespassing allegations. He said his counsel advised him to not talk to the media, but he maintains his innocence. He has a court date in October.
The first interesting agenda item concerned a new step in the process of allowing citizen comments at meetings. The board voted to require a form for citizens to fill out before the meeting. Board member Andy McDaniels said when he was on the board previously “years and years ago,” public comments became a problem.
“For a long period of time, town’s people were showing up at town meetings and getting out of hand. The police had to remove people. The purpose of a meeting is to conduct town business not to have a fiasco and fighting,” said McDaniels.
He said the new form doesn’t change the amount of time citizens may speak; it just provides a record of who says what.
It was during that agenda item, that the Board heard from Craig Jackson. He is the husband of former Mayor Lea Ann Jackson who was out of town. Mr. Jackson wanted to speak on that item because he said the public needs a way to speak to the board.
He pointed out it was during public comments at the last Special Board meeting when Jackson reported that Mayor Taft had called Jackson’s workplace to report that Jackson was asking for documents through a legal Open Records Request option. It was during that meeting that Jackson called for Taft’s resignation and promised legal action on tortious interference. By the way, Jackson continues to pursue legal action compounded by the action the board took at this meeting.
After Jackson’s comment, the board summarily approved the new public comment form.
The meeting went on with approval for hotel rooms for fire training and Fire Prevention Week materials for elementary students and purchasing a four gas monitor to protect town employees from harm when they have to go to places that might have noxious fumes (and to comply with the law). They also approved a raise for the embattled position of Town Clerk & Treasurer from $60 to $200 a month. However, the raise requires an ordinance change. (There was no copy of the current ordinance at the meeting, nor did the attorney offer guidelines on how to proceed). And no one has applied for the job that was vacated on August 9, 2016, by Trandy Langston. The position is supposed to be filled in 60 days from the resignation.
Then there was the item about the OG&E money. For several weeks, The Luther Register and others had been asking about a sudden infusion of almost $3,000 into the Rainy Day Fund. We had unconfirmed reports that Mayor Taft had taken it upon herself to use the infusion of $26,604.73 from OG&E to pay off some Town loans at the bank and put some into the Rainy Day (savings) Fund. Paying off debt is a great idea, but some asked whether this was the way to do it? Although she didn’t respond to repeated questions about it, the answer came during this meeting.
The agenda item read:
Consideration discussion and possible action regarding receipt of OG&E franchise tax check in the amount of $26,604.73 and use to payoff of police cars $12,070.64; 112 S Main $6,783; Police Station $4,928.96 and deposit into rainy day fund of $2822.13.
However, according to bank records, the money already had spent more than a month before it was on the agenda.
Trustee Ron Henry asked about it.
“Who authorized payment to these different entities because I wasn’t aware of it,” said Henry.
Taft said, “that’s where the money went. We have no more loans at the bank.”
Before the vote, Luther resident Shawn Paine had a comment.
“It seems to me this was a unilateral decision made outside the board … I doubt the legality of the action.
Any funds that come to the town have to be handled by the board … not by a member of the board. Unless I’m completely misunderstanding how the board of a town works.
So I think its important to be noted, and they don’t really have a choice now than to legitimize the decision one member made; because they cant just take the money back. It doesn’t matter if you vote to approve it or not. It’s done. I would urge you not to. That person should face whatever choices they’ve made,” said Paine.
Without further comment, the board voted. Henry was the only NO vote. The rest of the board rubber-stamped the way the surprise money from OG&E was spent without board approval given in a public forum.
Then came the controversial Item #17 on the agenda.
Consideration, discussion and possible action to direct the Town Attorney to contact the former mayor, Lea Ann Jackson (the name was spelled incorrectly on the agenda), to have her return the 2016/2017 budget, any payroll information or other Town documents she might have in her possession.
Mr. Jackson spoke on behalf of his wife again, reiterating that the item itself called into question the former mayor’s integrity, implying she was withholding something that belonged to the town.
He had three questions:
- Has the board ever asked an ex-board member for documents, or was this another attempt to intimidate Lea Ann?
- Would the board retract #17 from the agenda and publicly apologize?
- And how many errors in judgement in this misstep will you allow the mayor to make before you ask her to resign?
The Board did not respond to the request and voted. Henry voted no. McDaniels abstained. And Taft, Carolyn Lawson and Birlene Langley voted yes to get the attorney to ask Mrs. Jackson for the paperwork.
In her correspondence with Town Attorney Ray Vincent, Lea Ann Jackson said she was open to resolving the situation over email.
“Do we agree that the Town has the budget that was printed in the newspaper, included in the resolution and approved by the Board? It hasn’t been well defined what it is they are wanting but I’m assuming that it is the spreadsheet that I created to facilitate discussion by the Board and assist me in developing the budget which was ultimately printed, submitted and approved. It would be my opinion that the spreadsheet is no different than notes made by any Board member in preparation for a meeting,” Lea Ann Jackson wrote.
There were a few other actions and observations from the meeting; that’s for another story or two.
Meantime, the Town Board called another Special Meeting. It will be held Wednesday at 6 pm at Town Hall.