New city councilor launches into action

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

Steve Holcombe may not have moved mountains Monday, but the newly-seated Pawhuska City councilman definitely made a impression as being pro-active.

Among the seven proposals Holcomb put forward at his first council session were resolutions on the good works of the Osage Nation and a prominent local resident, the bad communication about what will be happening at the city meetings and the ugly condition of an historic downtown building.

Holcombe’s opening night agenda was responsible for an appearance in the council chambers by the Principal Chief of the Osage Nation, Geoffrey Standing Bear. Another of his agenda items prompted a visit from a Tulsa television news crew, which filmed the meeting’s most tense moment as it was playing out before a standing-room audience.

An annual reorganization of the council included swearing-in of Roger Taylor as Ward 1 Councilman and Holcombe for the Ward 2 seat. Both were elected without opposition after filing for the offices in December. Taylor has served on the council since 2011. The council re-elected Mark Buchanan as mayor, while choosing Cindy Tillman to serve as vice mayor and Travis Finley as the chaplain.

The Osage Nation resolution proposed by Holcombe was to congratulate the Pawhuska-based tribe for expansions made on the Osage Campus, and its acquisitions of the First National Bank Building and Bluestem Ranch property as well as the planned development of the Eco Park project.

Council members voted 5-0 to have City Attorney John Heskett draft the official resolution to the Osage Nation. Heskett, who earlier had sworn in the two councilmen, took the opportunity to extend his personal appreciation to Chief Standing Bear,”for being nothing but gracious to work with.”

Holcombe was unsuccessful in his attempt to pass a resolution expressing appreciation to Ree Drummond for the positive impact that her popular Pioneer Woman persona has had for the city and on local tourism.

Council member Tillman said that she had “reached out” to the celebrated blogger and received unofficial confirmation that, although “very honored” for being considered for the accolades, the Drummond family wished, at the present time, to decline any kind of recognition. Holcombe’s proposed resolution was subsequently declined, 3-2, when brought for a vote.

With regard to the Osage Nation and Drummond proposals, the new councilman said he thought the city’s public recognition and expressing of appreciation was “overdue.”

“They should not be left to think that they are being taken for granted,” Holcombe said.

One of the Holcombe proposals receiving approval called for a “draft” of city council meeting agendas to be posted at least eight days before that meeting is held. Holcombe said residents had complained to him about “never knowing what’s going on” at the council meetings. The proposed ordinance on the early postings passed by a unanimous vote.

“A lot of people say they don’t know what is happening before it is voted on,” Holcombe said.

The most contentious of Holcombe’s proposals recommended declaring downtown’s Triangle Building a nuisance and then pursuing district court action to have the nuisance abated. He recounted more than a decade of unfulfilled promises about improvements being made to the five-story structure. After being listed as one of Oklahoma’s most endangered historic properties, residents intervened to save it from demolition in 2002.

Holcombe may have been trumpeting the truth Monday when he called the 103-year-old building “an embarrassment,” but the unflattering comment ruffled feathers — including those of the building’s new co-owner, Bob Jack.

Jack said he purchased a 50 percent interest in the Triangle Building two or three months ago from John Snyder, the owner of Tulsa’s Mayo Hotel who still owns the other half-interest in the Triangle. According to Jack, he has been working on the local building and is “about to begin a $2 million renovation.”

Holcombe said he was ready to hold off on his proposed motion to have the building declared a nuisance, “but only if we can get something other than the same old ‘blah, blah, blah.’”

“So, do you want to tear it down?,” Jack asked the councilman.

“Let’s fish or cut bait,” Holcombe said. “We have a code to be enforced and an abatement-order deadline for getting things done.”

Jack told council members his upcoming renovation of the Triangle Building “will bring it back to its historic condition.”

“I think you’re going to look at it in six months and be pleasantly surprised,” he said. “It’s going to absolutely be a shining star for the city when we get done with it.”

Holcombe’s motion to declare the Triangle Building died for lack of a second.

Another proposal by Holcombe calls for removal of expenditures to the Chamber of Commerce from the city budget. He called for the local business community to raise $60,000 and allow for the Chamber to be independent of the city by the 2017/18 fiscal year.

The local attorney said he is intent on at least starting the “process of weaning the Chamber from taxpayer money,.” he said.

“Even if we just take baby steps, I think it’s something that needs to be done,” Holcombe said.