So whose mailer was it?

Robert Smith

When an effort to force a recall election for four Pawhuska city councilors was taking shape in early July, former Ward 2 Councilor Steve Holcombe was the voice of that effort.

Holcombe lost a bid for re-election in the April 2019 municipal general election by eight votes, 220-to-212, to Jourdan Foran. His campaign had focused on arguments that city government lacked “vision” and that city councilors were insufficiently open to public comment.

As recall petitions began to circulate, Holcombe gave public statements about the initiative, though he would consistently offer qualifiers about his role, adding that he didn’t consider himself the leader, and that the group hadn’t named a leader. He said a group of citizens had met at his law office and formed a recall committee.

He was the person who organized and delivered to City Hall the petition materials that city government reviewed before deciding that a recall election would be necessary; and he used a text message to thank people who signed recall petitions, saying in a July 16 message, “A big thank you to all who signed their ‘John Hancock’ to these petitions — a true act of patriotism.”

Holcombe was also the person who said roughly two weeks ago that he was mailing copies of a voter-education document to registered Pawhuska voters. The document went out under the name “Pawhuska Recall Committee,” and recounted staple issues of his council re-election campaign, such as an alleged lack of “vision” on the part of city government, and the failure of the City Council to offer a dedicated citizen comment period during council meetings.

But when the Journal-Capital referred to the mailer in the body of a Sept. 25 news story as “Holcombe’s mailer,” the former councilor said he was “disappointed.”

In a text message Sept. 26 to a representative of the Journal-Capital, Holcombe noted that there were 41 names on the mailer (including his name). “Disappointed,” he concluded. In a telephone interview that followed, Holcombe said he showed drafts of the document to the people whose names appeared on it with his, and they approved the content and authorized him to put their names on it. Holcombe insisted the paper should call some of the other 40 people whose names appeared on the document.

So the newspaper called a sample of the 40 and found that they all said he had given them a chance to review the content, and they approved of it and authorized him to add their names to the document before he mailed it. Some of them spoke of going by Holcombe’s office to review the language of the mailer.

Also in a telephone conversation Sept. 26, Holcombe said the Pawhuska Recall Committee is not a “formal committee” and that there doesn’t have to be a formal committee. He described the group as a “loose organization” and said he is not “in charge.”

When asked how they viewed Holcombe’s role in the recall effort, two of the targets of that effort indicated they thought the whole thing could be traced back to him.

“I think that he is behind this situation,” Mayor Roger Taylor said.

“Probably 20 percent of the people I talk to have no idea what is going on, and the other 80 percent point back to one person,” Councilor Mark Buchanan said.