Steve Holcombe, who is a member of a committee formed last week to circulate a petition calling for the recall of four of Pawhuska’s five city councilors, said Monday he was optimistic about the committee achieving its goal.
“We’re on our way,” Holcombe said, explaining he thinks the committee is well in reach of its signature-gathering goal. According to a memorandum on the recall effort, the committee would have to obtain the signatures of 25 percent of the number of voters who participated in the last Pawhuska general election.
The number of voters in the general election on April 2 was 432, so the number of valid signatures required to successfully petition for a recall would be 108 at minimum, according to the memo. The recall committee has 15 days from the gathering of the first signature to submit its materials to the city government.
Councilors John Brazee, Mark Buchanan, Rodger Milleson and Roger Taylor would be susceptible to the recall, while Councilor Jourdan Foran would be legally exempt, Holcombe said.
Holcombe said his experience has been that there are varying reasons why voters are signing the recall petition, but he thinks most of those who are signing “understand that rehiring Nick Silva did not solve the essential problem.”
He was referring to new interim city manager Tonya Bright’s decision to reinstate Nick Silva as police chief July 3.
Former interim city manager Larry Eulert and former assistant city manager Rex Wikel fired Silva on June 28, causing widespread unhappiness among Pawhuska citizens.
“The problem is the lack of leadership and direction that must be provided by the council to prevent further mistakes like Silva’s firing,” he said.
A group of citizens began July 1 to circulate a petition to recall four of the five members of the city council. Holcombe, a former city councilor, said the morning of July 2 that the petition began to circulate the evening before. He said a group of citizens met at his law office and formed what is essentially a Pawhuska recall committee.
While the circulation of the petition was prompted by the firing of Silva, the firing was really just “the final straw” for people who see city government operating kind of like a “circus,” Holcombe said. He explained that he does not consider himself the leader of the recall committee. The group had not named a leader, he said.
Not everyone who initially decided to participate actively in the effort to collect signatures for a city council recall has continued. Pawhuska resident Holly Hagen told the Journal-Capital by telephone on Friday that she got involved because she was upset about the firing of Nick Silva and she didn’t think a city manager should have the power to do a thing like that all by himself/herself. Hagen said she thought there was a need for greater checks and balances in the city governmental system.
Hagen also voiced concerns about problems like leaky water lines and pothole-riddled roads. She said that she had contacted city government about these problems, but had not seen action taken to address them.
After thinking about the issue at more length, however, Hagen told the Journal-Capital by telephone Saturday morning that she no longer wanted to participate in the recall activity. She indicated she would likely try to attend city council meetings in the future, but explained she wanted to find ways to solve problems that involved less drama.
“I still want to make sure that never happens again,” Hagen said of the way that Silva was fired.
Holcombe voiced respect for Hagen’s decision.
“Many people are searching their souls about the state of the city and their place in it,” he said. “Holly is finding her way. That is to always be respected.”
Holcombe also commented on the condition of city streets as a reflection of the lack of government leadership and planning.
“They are terrible,” he said of Pawhuska’s streets.
Holcombe additionally clarified a point about the way that the recall election would be set up.
“I have been asked if the recall will be an all-or-nothing slate of the four (recalled seats),” he said. “The Charter provides no such authority. The seats will be individually recalled. There will be four separate recall elections.”