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A secret meeting … about The Chicken Shack

Bison Blinds

Luther—The Luther Town Board spent part of its October meeting discussing a possible election to hike the town’s sales taxes, cleaning the water tower, zoning Main Street for “mixed-use” and taking up an “economic development” issue. But the economic development issue was wrapped up in mysterious language on the agenda, and the discussion was held in executive session.

Here’s the language from the agenda.

PROPOSED EXECUTIVE SESSION: Consideration and possible action to enter into executive session for confidential communications with legal counsel regarding a possible economic development activity for real property generally located north of Route 66, west of North Luther Road/Ash Street, Luther, Oklahoma, and for purposes of conferring on matters pertaining to economic development, including the transfer of property, financing, or the creation of a proposal to entice a business to remain or to locate within the Town of Luther, on the advice of counsel that public disclosure of the matters discussed will interfere with services and violate the confidentiality of the businesses, and as authorized by 25 O.S. Section 307(C)(11).

Town of Luther, October 13, 2020, Agenda

The five-member board, the town attorney, the Town Clerk/Treasurer and the Town Manager held about a 30-minute closed door meeting. Their topic? Who knows, on the record. However, common sense, observation and sources point squarely to The Chicken Shack.

That’s really about all we know. In an email exchange prior to the meeting, Luther Mayor Jenni White provided a comment about the agenda item.

“The purpose of the executive session is to discuss a potential economic development activity, as allowed by state statute.  I am reluctant to identify any of the businesses for the reasons set forth in the posted language,” from White’s email.

As for the Chicken Shack, owner Eddie Gochenour said he wasn’t contacted about the meeting. Any passerby of the Route 66 business can see the Shack is busy, and is getting a lot of media hype and attention. The Shack, growing steadily, hit a success stride last summer as Covid-19 dragged on, when it transformed its spacious back yard into a socially-distanced outdoor dining space with room to spread out, let the kids play and listen to live music. Masks are optional.

The Shack is a destination.

My husband met his sister and brother-in-law there last Friday night. They reported the chicken was amazing and the vibe was awesome. While my hubby could spot no acquaintance from Luther in the crowd, his sister saw a bunch of folks she knew from Edmond. We went back Monday night, and I saw plenty of familiar faces from Luther, but I seem to know more Luther folks than he does. The Shacks’s visitors throw down money for chicken, friend okra, beer or something from the full bar. Each sale sends sales taxes to the town.

The Shack is hot. And word of mouth marketing works.

The Shack was recently featured in Lance West’s Lost In Oklahoma.

But the Shack is not without issues. Growth problems are the problems you want to have, but that doesn’t mean they are not expensive and frustrating. The parking is problematic. There’s an issue with a sewer, complicated by the fact the Shack property sits next to the flood-prone Deep Fork River, and the loud live music invades the neighbors’ quiet country vibe.

Those issues are not keeping anyone from making the Route 66 trip, through the heart of the Deep Fork District, and maybe stopping at other businesses along the way. Talk about economic development! The success of one business should feed the success of all others. But it helps if everyone works together.

What is the Town’s “economic development” interest? With the Shack’s second location in Guthrie, described as successful, and the recent announcement of the Lumber Shack opening in Harrah next Spring, could it be the Shack is leaving Luther? Or just expanding?

Back to the meeting. Mayor White called the meeting back to session and immediately moved the following, with nothing else said:

“I move to ask the town attorney to attempt to negotiate an economic development contract.”

Mayor White

The motion passed unanimously.

If you are a cheerleader of Open Meetings and government transparency, and communication, you might be wondering whether the meeting was even legal; it was a closed-door meeting in which government officials could talk about a private business, anyone’s private business, maybe even yours; in the name of “economic development.” It appears the practice is legal, and apparently we just trust the town attorney’s word for it, that the private meeting’s purpose met the letter of the law. You might recall, this has even happened at other town board meetings.

Here’s the statute cited in the agenda.

5 O.S. Section 307(C)(11).

11. All nonprofit foundations, boards, bureaus, commissions, agencies, trusteeships, authorities, councils, committees, public trusts, task forces or study groups supported in whole or part by public funds or entrusted with the expenditure of public funds for purposes of conferring on matters pertaining to economic development, including the transfer of property, financing, or the creation of a proposal to entice a business to remain or to locate within their jurisdiction if public disclosure of the matter discussed would interfere with the development of products or services or if public disclosure would violate the confidentiality of the business. SOURCE.

Secret economic development

This episode reminded me of a similar event and sent me digging to the Luther Registere archives from July 2016. Then I remembered, in my more energetic and feisty days, chasing the then-director of the Economic Oklahoma County Partnership as he made a bee-line to his car after exiting an executive session at a Town Board meeting, with a different set of trustees. I had needed a quote.

That secret meeting led to the announcement, a couple of weeks later, the Dollar General would move from its location on Ash and move to the brand new building that housed the new WalMart that opened and closed six months later. Does that seem like ancient history? The DG seems like it’s been in its “new” location all along, and it certainly has anchored the growth on Luther’s East-side Route 66 frontage, with the beautiful new BancFirst, Rock-N-Vapes Shop, and Brew 66 coffee close by on Dogwood. It was so long ago, but we see the old Dollar General location, between Sonic and the Luther Feed Mill, remains empty. It still seems to be on the market. Price tag: $695,000.

Here’s the archived story.

Luther Register Archives

Incidentally the EOCP recently folded. It was a “private-public” partnership that received $441 monthly from Luther for years, while towns and cities like Harrah, Choctaw, Jones, Spencer and Nicoma Park, also pitched in with the basic idea that Eastern Oklahoma County towns would “play ball” together, pool resources, get a seat at the big meetings and lure some economic development to our area- like technology companies and small manufacturers. Or maybe just facilitating a move for Dollar General across town in Luther.

Part of the reason for EOCP’s fall was mis-management by staff, a former board that seemed to look the other way, and, it turns out, some of the towns did not want to play ball.

Back to the Shack

Do we think the Luther Town Board is out to shut down The Shack?

Do we think the Town Board wants to help fix the Shack’s infrastructure issues? Maybe.

No doubt trustees would fess up if they could, maybe they will soon.

Meanwhile, Eddie, a long-time Luther Register advertiser, would want us to go eat some chicken while waiting. It might be a five-beer wait.

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  1. My issue is the town board’s picking winners and losers. Is it the town’s place to help some businesses and not others? It’s like we have our own “too big to fail” issue here in Luther and it stinks.

  2. Yes its sad. Secret meetings. Grow up people. The Chicken Shack owner should have been invited. Omg Luther really!

  3. A secret meeting may not be illegal, but what does that say about the town of Luther’s government transparency? Nevermind, that’s a rhetorical question.

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