Council steps away from session about city manager

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

At the suggestion of Mayor Roger Taylor, the Pawhuska City Council on May 2 decided not to hold a proposed executive session regarding City Manager Jerry Eubanks.

The council’s agenda listed a proposed closed-door discussion of Eubanks’s employment, followed by a possible open-door discussion of whether to take action regarding the city manager position.

Taylor suggested postponing any executive session discussion of Eubanks, and the rest of the council went along with that. There was not a clear explanation of why the council backed away from what appeared to be a possibly adverse situation.

Eubanks has been city manager for just over four months. From the beginning, his employment appeared to be something of a gamble, considering he had a felony criminal record. Since becoming Pawhuska city manager, Eubanks has been formally charged with a felony fraud count in Major County, Oklahoma. He said the charge was politically motivated and indicated he would fight it.

When the Journal-Capital contacted Taylor on the morning of May 3 to discuss the council’s decision not to hold the proposed executive session, the mayor expressed a desire to wait and possibly have a discussion with Eubanks later, at the same time that the budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year is being reviewed.

Municipal fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30, so budget preparation is coming up soon.

Ward 4 Councillor Rodger Milleson told the Journal-Capital by telephone it was “too early” to hold an executive session about Eubanks.

”I don’t care what they do in Fairview,” Milleson said, referring to the felony fraud count filed in Major County. “I’m fine with it.”

Milleson said he thinks the morale of city employees has improved during Eubanks’s tenure as city manager.

At-Large Counselor Steve Tolson said he thought the executive session, if it had been held, was supposed to be informational rather than punitive in nature. 

“It wasn’t set up to take action against him or anything like that,” Tolson said. He added that he had not anticipated the way the matter was set up on the council agenda, which would have permitted action to discipline or remove the city manager.

When asked if he had been the person who wanted the discussion on the agenda, Tolson said he thought several people were in agreement about having an executive session.

“I’ll let my work performance and actions speak for themselves,” Eubanks said regarding the subject of any executive sessions that might be held to discuss him.

The Journal-Capital also asked questions regarding information it had received to the effect that Eubanks took a goat with him to a professional meeting the week before last. The meeting was held by the Municipal Electric Systems of Oklahoma. A photo was displayed on MESO’s Facebook page of Eubanks holding a goat, which had a name tag that read, “Tinkerbell.”

Roger Taylor said he was aware of the goat matter, and it had been “addressed.”

Tolson said he had heard something about a goat, but that wasn’t what he had intended to discuss in the proposed executive session.

”It had nothing to do with that,” Tolson said.

Eubanks described the goat as a beloved pet that wears clothes, including diapers. He said MESO had adopted “Tinkerbell” as a mascot. He expressed concern that people were discussing the goat for the purpose of causing trouble for him.

In other business last week, the council gained a new member. Susan Abrams Bayro took the oath of office and began s 3-year term as Ward 2 councillor.

The council, as is its practice after the seating of a new member, took a vote on its own officers. Ward 3 Councilor Mark Buchanan nominated Ward 1 Councilor Roger Taylor to continue as mayor. At-Large Councilor Steve Tolson put his name forward for mayor, as well. Taylor won the vote and will continue. Buchanan was chosen vice mayor and chaplain.

Tolson explained to the Journal-Capital that he sought the post of mayor because of his concern that the council needs to engage in  long-term planning and the setting of goals.

Toldon expressed frustration with Taylor on the issue.

”I just can’t seem to get that direction from him,” Tolson said. “I think the community could grow so much farther and go so much farther. If you keep on doing the same old thing every year, and you get the same results, you get what you get.”

At the request of Milleson, the council also engaged in further discussion May 2 of its decision to eliminate the opt-out provision regarding a $4 monthly utility bill charge to help finance the ambulance service. The council did not change its April decision to eliminate the ability of city residential utility customers to opt out of paying the $4 per month, but City Attorney John Heskett clarified that the monthly charge had originally been levied based on a simple council vote, and not the enactment of an ordinance.