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Milleson: Don't let Holcombe win

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Pawhuska City Council candidate Rodger Milleson said last week he is interested in public infrastructure projects. As examples, he cited projects already being developed to improve a dam and to rehab the city’s water tank.

“There’s always a solution to a problem,” Milleson said.

A former at-large city councilor, who lost a reelection bid last year, Milleson is the owner of an oil-field supply company and a lifelong resident of Pawhuska. He also commented on the political dynamics of his current bid for the Ward 4 seat on the council.

Milleson is opposed by Carrie Ann Watters, who has described herself as being for “positive change” in the city, and who has also been an outspoken critic of current Ward 4 Councilor John Brazee, Interim City Manager Tonya Bright and Interim Police Chief Lorrie Hennesy.

Milleson and Watters are scheduled to face each other in the Feb. 9 council primaries. They are the only candidates for the Ward 4 seat.

Watters, through her attorney Steve Holcombe (who is a former Ward 2 city councilor), prepared to file a legal challenge against Brazee if he ran for reelection. Watters would have challenged whether Brazee was legally a resident of Pawhuska. Brazee said he thought he had a chance to win such a challenge, but cited the cost of a lawyer as his reason for choosing not to run.

Milleson last week commented on Holcombe’s involvement with Watters’ campaign, as well as several other subjects. The Journal-Capital provided both Watters and Holcombe an opportunity to reply. Watters declined to comment, but said she was “sure Mr. Holcombe would” provide responses.

“I really think that if Holcombe is that involved, he should have run for City Council again instead of putting other people up to run,” Milleson said. Holcombe acknowledged he is a supporter of multiple candidates in the 2021 round of Pawhuska City Council races.

“If Mr. Milleson means by ‘putting other people up to run’ that I support three candidates for office this time around then he is right,” Holcombe said in an email. “I support Bruce Malone for Ward II, Carrie Ann Watters for Ward IV, and Dhruti Patel for Ward III. Elect these three and I have no doubt that the future of Pawhuska will be brightened with a search for and the hiring of a new, qualified, experienced city manager.”

Milleson said he has coined a campaign slogan based on what he understands of Holcombe’s interest in, and involvement with, the 2021 council elections: “Vote Milleson In, Don’t Let Holcombe win.”

“That gave me a chuckle,” Holcombe said in an email. “My response would be that it’s time to make a sea change in the leadership of the city council. It’s not about me. It’s about what’s best for Pawhuska.”

Milleson added he thought it was possible that Holcombe could want to become city manager. The Pawhuska City Council is a five-seat panel and three votes would be a majority. This is not the first time Holcombe has taken an interest in several council seats at one time. He provided leadership in 2019 for an attempt to recall four councilors, including Milleson. That attempt proved unsuccessful.

Holcombe denied having any interest in being city manager.

“That gave me another chuckle,” Holcombe said. “Mark my word, I am never applying to be Pawhuska’s City Manager. I’m neither qualified, experienced nor even interested."

Milleson said he thinks Watters’ campaign seems overly concerned with trying to run off people from City Hall, and Milleson said stands with Brazee and finds it unfortunate that Brazee was “threatened not to run” for reelection.

"I am not Carrie Ann Watters' campaign manager, so you'll have to ask her about that," Holcombe said. The Journal-Capital supplied the same information to Watters that it did to Holcombe when seeking comments for this story. Watters chose not to respond.

"But, again, the City is desperately in need of new leadership coming out of the city manager's office," Holcombe said. "Just look at the absence of any voice coming from the city manager's office in the sales tax referendum election."

Milleson also questioned Holcombe's relative effectiveness while serving on the council. Milleson said his recollection was that Holcombe’s effectiveness as a city councilor was limited because he tended to postpone making decisions, citing a desire for more information.

Holcombe acknowledged his effectiveness as a councilor had been limited, but clarified he viewed that as a result of dysfunctional conditions on the council at the time, rather than any slowness to act on his part.

"The dysfunctionality of the city council indeed limited my effectiveness while I was seated," Holcombe said. "My decisions weren't postponed; they were stonewalled. That's because there were not three votes on the five-member council that could come together to search for, find and hire an experienced, qualified city manager.

"The result has been a circus-like atmosphere in the hiring and firing of city managers, and Mr. Milleson has certainly played his part," Holcombe said. "He will continue to do so if elected again. There are still not three votes among the current city council members to get over the embarrassing dysfunctionality. That's why this election cycle is so important."

Milleson said he thinks it is important for all Pawhuska residents to have timely and accurate information about the activities of city government, and he pledged to make himself available to listen to the views and questions of residents.

"I talk to people all the time about problems that are going on with the city," Milleson said. He added that he has "full confidence" in the ability of Tonya Bright, the current interim city manager, to do a good job of handling city managerial duties.