Roger Taylor and Mark Buchanan, two of the veteran members of the Pawhuska City Council who will be subject next Tuesday to a recall vote, said Friday they take issue with the way that some criticisms of their performance have been framed for public discussion.
Buchanan said he has served on the council for about 13 years and Taylor said he has been on the council nearly a decade. They, as well as councilors John Brazee and Rodger Milleson, face a recall vote that could lead to the immediate removal from the council of some or all of them.
“I think my biggest problem with that letter is there were so many half-truths in it,” Buchanan said regarding a voter-education document mailed to Pawhuska registered voters by former councilor Steve Holcombe. “Things like we were responsible for the police chief being fired; things like we have no vision.”
Taylor, who serves as mayor, said that councilors were not aware beforehand that the interim city manager in late June and his assistant intended to fire Police Chief Nick Silva, and councilors did not approve that action.
“So, we can’t take the punishment for that,” Taylor said. He and Buchanan explained that they, as city councilors, hire a city manager to make personnel decisions.
The voter-education letter that Holcombe mailed, and that bears the names of 40 others along with him, says that “concerned citizens” saw the situation involving the firing of the police chief as “a ‘final straw’ in mismanagement by the City Council,” and decided to seek signatures to recall four councilors. The fifth councilor, Jourdan Foran, had been on the council too short a period to be recalled.
In regard to the issue of providing a dedicated period for public comments during City Council meetings, Buchanan said that City Attorney John Heskett cautioned councilors about the possibility that such a comment period could amount to a violation of the state Open Meetings Act, because it might allow for public discussion of issues that had not been listed on a meeting agenda to notify the public generally that the issues might be considered.
“Anybody can talk to us. We want them to talk to us,” Buchanan said. He and Taylor recommended that citizens make the effort to get their names on meeting agendas, but they also suggested that the city manager’s office might be able to provide information in response to citizen questions.
In a more general sense, both councilors said they have tried to be available to any citizen who calls on them for information or assistance.
“I don’t think there has ever been a person that has called me, that I have not returned their call,” Buchanan said, emphasizing the importance of listening to constituents.
Both Taylor and Buchanan said they have no problem with citizens wanting to vote them off the council based on their actual behavior, but they strongly disputed the notion that they don’t have vision for the future of Pawhuska. They pointed to the effort that Pawhuska is now making to attract a brand-name hotel to help provide lodging for tour groups, and they mentioned efforts that are underway to repair the city’s 2-million-gallon water tank, as well as an upcoming Kihekah Avenue water line replacement project.
Other infrastructure projects that Taylor and Buchanan mentioned included making repairs to the dam at Lake Pawhuska. They said the city has learned that the cost of those repairs is likely going to be in the range of $45,000 to $50,000 rather than somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000.
The two councilors added the municipal airport to their list of city infrastructure assets that they plan to address. Concerns include security fencing, lengthening the runway and sealing the runway. They said City Manager Dave Neely, who came on-board in August, already has lists posted on his office wall of projects that need attention.