Alva Review-Courier -

Williams resigns as WCEDC director

 

March 15, 2020

Marione Martin

Woods County Economic Development Committee members laugh as Bo Hannaford says, "If we don't get a second, she can't resign." WCEDC Director Sonja Williams (third from left) submitted her resignation at Tuesday's meeting. From left are Jeremy Eaton, Susan Bradford, Williams, Dr. Kay Decker and Allan Poe (back to camera). Not shown are Hananford and Randy McMurphy.

"This has been very challenging and very difficult," said a wistful Sonja Williams as she passed her letter of resignation to Woods County Economic Development Committee Chairman Allan Poe.

Asked how long she's been working for the WCEDC, Williams said she was hired as Mike Payne's assistant for six years then took his place as WCEDC executive director for 14 years. Poe lightened the mood by suggesting Williams started right out of high school.

"I move with regret that we accept your letter of resignation," said Jeremy Eaton. There was a pause, and Dr. Bo Hannaford suggested Williams had to remain if they didn't get a second. After the laughter died down, the second came and the motion passed.

Williams will begin a new position as resources and financial aid director April 30 with Northwest Technology Center for the Alva and Fairview campuses. "You're just moving down the hall," said Dr. Kay Decker. "It's not like you're gone." The WCEDC office is located at Northwest Technology in Alva.

In her resignation letter, Williams said the past 20 years "have been the most rewarding and educational years of my life. I have been honored to serve my communities in the effort to provide a better quality of life, jobs, infrastructure and vision of where to go from here and how to reach that destination."

Williams said she hopes to serve as a mentor to the board and hopefully as a future board member so she can continue working on projects currently in progress. She wrote, "Please know that this has been a very difficult decision for me, but one I believe will be better for my health and allow me some more time to help my family while my daughter is back in school pursuing a doctor career for our rural community." Williams' daughter Shianne Farris is working toward a medical degree in Tulsa.

New Board Member

Board members present at the meeting were Poe, Eaton, Hannaford, Decker and Randy McMurphy. Matt Tucker was absent. Sandie Olson submitted her resignation from the WCEDC through an email, and the board voted to accept it.

Waynoka Mayor Susan Bradford agreed to fill Olson's unexpired term. The members voted to make it official and welcomed her to the table. Her term will expire in June 2021.

Williams reminded everyone that board members serve three year terms and can serve for three consecutive terms. Both McMurphy and Poe will finish their second terms in June. They are both eligible to continue for another term, but if they decide not to continue they are usually expected to come up with someone to replace themselves.

Avard Rail and Rural Water District 3

Reporting on infrastructure, Williams said surveys were sent out to all Woods County Rural Water District 3 account holders and have been received back. The income surveys will help in making applications for grants to upgrade the system.

If Avard Rail Park is to grow, more water and better pressure must be available. The area is served by RWD#3 so improving that system will help Avard Rail. Applications for funding will be submitted to the DEQ, water resources board and possibly others.

Decker asked if grant funding is administered through the county but McMurphy, a county commissioner, said that was only for REAP grants.

New Alva Signage

Decker reported more wayfinding signage will be installed around Alva. One will be located on US281 South by the Baptist Student Center with an arrow pointing to the downtown square. She hopes to talk to the university about putting up signs directing people to Ranger Stadium and the baseball field.

Façade and Sign Updates

As an incentive to improve the appearance of businesses, the City of Alva is offering a matching grant for improvements to store fronts and signage. Only one business has applied so far. Hannaford, a member of the Alva City Council, said applications are available at the city office and on the city's website at alvaok.org. The city is offering to do a 50 percent match up to $5,000.

Other Infrastructure

Decker said she is still working on improvements to the courthouse stage. The Alva Kiwanis Club has raised $25,000 toward that project.

Williams reported a draft application has been sent to the USDA. This is the beginning step of an application for a 40 year loan for the Alva Arena. She said they are still pushing to break ground this summer. Once begun, the arena is expected to need 18 months for completion.

Census 2020

Census 2020 forms are beginning to be mailed out to addresses this month. Williams reminded everyone how important it is to fill out the census to be counted. Those population numbers are used for a variety of programs that can benefit people in this area, from federal programs down to local ones.

Decker said Ethan Sacket is very involved and very informed. He's the NWOSU student working for Woods County on the census. Decker said he has been speaking at various meetings to inform people about the importance of the census.

Business Recruitment

The Woods County Industrial Authority has leased land at the Alva Regional Airport for an incubator building. Williams said they expect to use the building for aviation-related businesses. Incubator businesses work with the local career tech.

Poe reported the Waynoka incubator building is now available too.

NWOEDA Funds

Committee members discussed a mid-year adjustment to funds from NWOEDA (Northwest Oklahoma Economic Development Authority). Funds distributed to a three-county area by NWOEDA come from hazardous waste taxes.

WCEDC receives the Woods County funds which are primarily used for operating expenses. Because of Williams' resignation, the committee may end up paying an extra person during training and orientation. Williams said she requested $30,000 this year, up $10,000 from her initial request, to cover the additional expense. This additional money will require a mid-term budget adjustment.

NWOEDA still retains some of the funds for the counties. Williams said Woods County's balance is $56,626.57.

Search for New Director

The WCEDC held an executive session to discuss the search and hiring process for a new executive director. Following the return to open session, Poe made a motion to form a hiring committee of McMurphy, Hannaford and Eaton to conduct interviews of applicants. They will then make recommendations to the board.

Decker said she'd like the opportunity to look at the applications and participate in the interviews. Poe explained if more than three board members at a time did interviews, a board meeting would have to be scheduled. Considering the difficulty of matching schedules of board members and applicants, he said it would be easier to have the hiring committee handle those. He did agree that board members could look at the applications. The hiring committee motion was approved.

Once a job description is put together, the committee plans to publicize the job opening on the Northwest Tech Center website which will then go to the state website. Eaton made a motion to utilize normal advertising channels in the job search, and the motion passed. Several other options were discussed such as area newspapers, social media and the Northwest Alliance.

New Business

Under new business, Bradford announced the grocery store in Waynoka is expected to reopen in April. A couple with ties to Waynoka will be running Zook's Country Store. The husband grew up in Waynoka. The City of Waynoka and Waynoka Industrial Authority are working with the couple to open the store.

Bradford said the second UTV Takeover at Little Sahara State Park will be Sept. 16-20. The Big Cruise and Car Show in Alva is Sept. 18-20 so it may difficult to find motel rooms.

The annual Lt. Governor's Turkey Hunt is scheduled for April 8-10 with the dinner scheduled for April 9 at Baker's Barn just north of Alva.

 

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