Structure damage concerns residents

Robert Smith
Jagged, loose glass is an issue at the Big Hill building in Fairfax. Some county officials say litigation prevents them from doing anything. Local resident Jerry Butterbaugh calls it a “clear and present danger.” Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

Osage County officials Monday said they didn’t have legal authority to do anything about public hazards caused by the condition of the Big Hill building in downtown Fairfax.

A tornado damaged numerous buildings in the Fairfax community the evening of Sunday, Oct. 7, and the public was quick to clean up debris in the streets, but Fairfax resident Jerry Butterbaugh told county commissioners Monday that the Big Hill building, located near the Tall Chief theater, is the source of an ongoing danger because of jagged, broken glass in the front of the building.

There is a yellow tape across the front of the building, to let people know not to enter, but there is no additional measure that would prevent contact with potentially dangerous broken glass.

“People swept up the sidewalk in front of it,” Butterbaugh told the commissioners Monday regarding the Big Hill building. He added that the building front is not boarded up, and he asked what could be done. “It sort of needs to be done from a safety standpoint, as soon as possible.”

District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney said the county had tried to sell the building for non-payment of taxes, but a judge stopped the sale process.

County Treasurer Sally Hulse said it was her understanding the building belongs to the county, but the county can’t sell it.

“We’d have a hard time selling it now, for sure,” District 2 Commissioner Kevin Paslay said.

Jerry Roberts, director of Osage County Emergency Management, said District Judge John Kane of Pawhuska had advised county officials to stay away from the building because it is tied up in litigation.

McKinney said his understanding of Kane’s position was that two groups were now responsible for the Big Hill building, and the county is not one of those entities or groups.

Kandy Jump, assistant to the commissioners, ventured that the two groups of people to which McKinney referred are probably unaware of the current safety problem with the building.

Roberts said the county commissioners’ legal counsel will need to notify the parties — not the commissioners or other county officials.

Roberts and McKinney also said it had been their observation that Fairfax municipal officials had not seemed overly energetic about about dealing with the building.

Paslay, the chairman of the commissioners, then reopened the question of why county officials can’t act on the Big Hill building problem.

“Who said we can’t do it?” Paslay said.

“Judge Kane,” Roberts said.

“I’d like to discuss it,” Paslay said, indicating he might like to have a discussion with the judge.

Butterbaugh said he would seek to raise the issue with Fairfax municipal officials.

He said after the commissioners’ meeting Monday that he considered the building dangerous in its condition as of that moment.

“It is a clear and present danger,” he said.