Freedom trustees hear long list of objections to agenda; respond with amending many
August 19, 2021
In a packed and heated gathering, the Freedom Board of Trustees – consisting of Kama Luddington and Matt Nixon – met Wednesday, Aug. 11, to consider a lengthy agenda. About 20 Freedom residents attended the meeting to voice concerns over some of the agenda items in language that often became angry.
Former Mayor Shad Brackin, who resigned from the board last month saying that he could not work with the current board, spoke first. Reading from prepared remarks, he said, “although I resigned from this board, I still care a great deal about Freedom and its citizens, so I feel obligated to address the board about its scheduled agenda items and its behavior.”
The first item he addressed was No. 8: discussion/action to appoint a temporary mayor until the first meeting after the Sept. 14 runoff election. The runoff is between Brackin and Michelle Shelite; although Brackin has resigned, the law requires the runoff because the resignation was within 60 days of the election.
“I don't understand the necessity of that unless you need a mayor's signature to push something through,” he said.
He expressed concern about an item about having the city attorney prepare potential ordinances pertaining to local code enforcement issues.
“I guess one question I have is why did you get rid of the old city attorney, especially since he specialized in municipal law, graduated top of his class, and represents other municipalities,” he said. “Is there something he wouldn't defend about your behavior, is that why you got rid of him? Or is this a personal and professional decision?”
Several topics for ordinances were listed under that item, including one for subcontracting consulting services for building inspections and increasing permit and inspection fees.
Referring to subcontracting building inspection consulting services, Brackin said, “To me this seems like a waste of taxpayers' money. I don't know why you're so excited about code enforcement. Are you trying to make the city a housing authority?” He also asked what permits and what inspections they wanted to increase fees on and why.
On the next item – discussion/action to have State Auditor Brenda Holt move forward with a forensic audit – Brackin said, “Is this for real? Do you know what, why, or how forensic audits are done by the state auditor? Do you have a good reason? What will this cost the taxpayers, and why would you put the community through such foolishness?”
Comments Related to Personnel
The next three agenda items involved removing people from three different positions: the dilapidated buildings inspector, the gas inspector, and the billing clerk. Referring to the dilapidated buildings inspector, Brackin said, “We don't have one of those, so I assume you are referring to our state-trained code enforcement officer who handles other things like dilapidated buildings.”
As to the gas inspector, Brackin said, “PRC is our inspection company, so I assume you are referring to Randy Reed who was a former board member and who dealt with our gas contracts and assisted with gas-related issues. Why is he no longer good enough to serve the town?” Brackin referred to the exceptionally cold spell last winter when many people across the region were hit with huge gas rate increases, and said, “the people of Freedom continued with their normal gas rate. In fact, the gas rates that the citizens of Freedom paid that winter were the same gas rates that were lowered several years ago because of Randy Reed and his negotiations for favorable gas rates.”
Then he addressed the item regarding the removal of the billing clerk, Dawn Wares. “I'm not a lawyer, but in my estimation, this is possibly a violation of labor law and is going to open the Town of Freedom to a lawsuit and quite possibly additional charges involving the violation of her civil liberties because you are targeting her because of personal issues that have nothing to do with her documented job performance,” Brackin said.
He went on down the list, addressing the next topic: “discussion/action to reestablish city office scope of work, set up goals for Town of Freedom, Kama Luddington help part-time until new utility clerk hired.”
“Kama is an elected official and therefore cannot work in an administrative role. If she does, she cannot be compensated for it. This was outlined in the training that I hope you went through.”
On down the list, Brackin said he didn't understand why the town board would want to sell a mower and a generator. “None of those things are owed on; they were done through grants,” he said.
Similarly, on an item to discuss/act on end an airport land lease to start mowing and spraying the airport, Brackin said he didn't understand why the town would want to end a lease in which the town is paid so that the individual can hay the airport property. “It doesn't cost anything to the town,” he said.
As to the item involving leasing the AMF building to Shane Morris, Brackin said, “This building has been used as a community center and it's rented out to individuals or organizations who cannot afford the American Legion. Are you saying that you want to stop utilizing this building for people in the town so that one person can lease it? Why would you do that? This probably needs to go out to bid. I would consult your attorney.”
The final items Brackin addressed briefly: those authorizing the school to improve/use/run the softball/baseball field (“The school's always been able to use the ballfield; that's more political spin”) and accepting a $3,500 donation toward the park remodel (“The board doesn't need to do an approval if someone is donating anything, other than if they want that on the record”).
He summed up with strong words.
“I hate to see people in this community and that I've worked with for years be railroaded,” he said. “You've been unnecessarily cruel to these employees, for first rescinding their compensation of their utilities, then refusing to make a decision without Matt's presence in a quorum regarding re-compensation, then later tabling review compensations for yet another meeting, then finally deciding at a final meeting not to give them their review face-to-face (…) nor correct their pay cut that you initiated. Now you want to fire one employee without documented cause and drive the other employee’s roles, as far as I can see, into obsoletion by using third party contractors which will cost more to the taxpayers. These are not just employees that you're messing with, these are members of our community – relatives, friends, long-time residents that live here. Why are you trying to destroy them? I think your leadership is hateful. You're here to cause division and destruction, using the same models and methods that were used to dismantle and restructure the school and chamber. They are lesser institutions for it. You are driven by hate, and your foolish and destructive behavior testifies to that.”
The audience then burst into applause.
Other residents also rose to speak, many of them agreeing with Brackin's comments and expressing a sense of disappointment and betrayal.
Working It Out
When public comments were done, the board – Luddington and Nixon, their tense faces expressing a sense of being besieged – began to work their way through the agenda. After approving past meeting minutes and purchase orders for the general and fire funds, they approved the purchase of battery-operated jaws of life for the ambulance/fire departments. The purchase will be made using money raised through fundraisers.
Town Trustee Kama Luddington was later appointed temporary mayor until the first town board meeting after the Sept. 14 runoff election. The code enforcement officer resigned by letter.
On the matter of a new Town of Freedom logo, Nixon said that in his efforts to raise money for the town, he'd like to be able to use more professional looking letterhead to contact potential donors. “We need a letterhead that's better than block letters,” he said. “I think we can do that in-house.” An audience member suggested adapting the school logo. Luddington suggested letting the community submit ideas for the new logo. The pair voted to accepted community ideas on the new logo.
Next, they took up the issue of having ordinances drawn up on the following:
a) Local code enforcement
b) Follow State of Oklahoma Office of State Fire Marshall “Authority Having Jurisdiction Form”
c) Sub-contract consulting service for building inspections
d) Increase permit fees
e) Increase inspection fees
Nixon adopted a conciliatory tone here and said he would get more information on these things and “see what the people want, also. There are some good ideas and some not so good ideas. Maybe we can find a medium (…) allowing us to have a standard for any type of development. So I say we table this and do more homework, and next meeting open it up to everyone again and throw it out there, let people voice their opinions.”
Ultimately, they voted to table sub-items A, D and E, and have the attorney draw up potential ordinances for the other two items. The ordinances would need approval at a future meeting before going into effect.
The board voted to amend the item involving the forensic audit to remove the word “forensic” but move forward with the audit. Nixon said he would donate the money to have the audit done. Nixon said he felt it was important to have a clearer idea of how things stand financially.
The board voted to remove the dilapidated buildings inspector and the gas inspector, but a lot of discussion ensued surrounding removal of the billing clerk.
“Dawn, if you did stay on, would you be willing to talk with us and work with us?” asked Nixon.
“If you don't lie to me,” said Dawn.
“I make a motion to remove the billing clerk,” Luddington promptly stated.
Shane Morris, a member of the Freedom School Board, suggested that Matt call the city attorney. While he was out trying to get ahold of the attorney, Luddington said she had an idea.
“Dawn, would you be willing to come in and work from 8 a.m. to noon or 1? And then I came in in the afternoon to answer the phone?”
“You're talking about persons' roles and responsibilities,” said Brackin.
“I can do it,” Kama said, adding it would be without compensation.
“To save money,” asked Dawn.
Luddington moved to keep the billing clerk, but at reduced hours: from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We can do that until the next board meeting,” said Nixon, who had returned without being able to get ahold of the attorney, “then work together to figure out duties and how we can all co-exist. Any distrust, everybody's got to work it out going forward.”
Town Maintenance Items
The trustees moved on the item involving the generators and mowers: “discussion/possible action on proposal from Northwest Electric for appropriate generator order; sell of one our mowers on Purple Wave and sell current generator on Purple Wave.”
Town Clerk Cindy Reed handed Nixon the estimate. Nixon said, “The generator we have is underrated (the amperage is low), so Scott and Darrel Kline (of Northwest Electric) said they could fix it by removing it and adding a new one. That way Stuart (Page, the town's maintenance director) doesn't have to go out there in the middle of the night.” He said he had gotten another estimate that was higher.
About the mower, Nixon said, “I've spoken with Stuart on the mowing situation. We have a John Deere and a Hustler, and the Hustler could be sold and go to the balance on the generator. They (Northwest Electric) will carry a note at no charge.” They thought they could get $8,000 for the second generator whose amps are too low.
Brackin asked if the town could contact Alfalfa Electric Cooperative for a bid before moving forward. Nixon said he would contact them, do some due diligence, and have it on next month's agenda. The item was tabled.
The next item was “discussion/action to terminate airport land lease and to start mowing and spraying airport.” Nixon explained some of his further thoughts on this matter. “We can't terminate the lease, but what Cindy and I talked about is to ask if they can keep it cut shorter. I am trying to get a grant to resurface the airport, so we want it as short as possible. If the individual who hays that land could cut it twice instead of once to get it to a shorter length, he could still get his hay. “That gives us time to see if we can get a grant to fix it up,” Nixon said. The board took no action on this item.
The next two items referred to the overwhelming amount of metal and tires at the town dump, an issue raised in the previous meeting. Nixon said he'd found a place in Woodward that will come out and take the metal and appliances, with the salvage of that metal covering the cost of the company coming out to pick it up. Some audience members made approving murmurs. The company would also take old vehicles, he said, but those have to be hauled to Woodward.
About the tires, Luddington said she'd talked with Page about this and gave him contact information for the Oklahoma Waste Management Program, but she wasn't sure they still picked up tires. She said she'd spoken with Kevin Isenbart at K&S “and he said he'd be glad to take our tires; he just can't take them all at once. We'd have to take a pickup load of tires to Woodward's K&S.” She then suggested they table that item and talk with the county commissioners first. Approving murmurs again swept the audience.
The next item had to do with Shane Morris leasing the AMF building. Morris plans to hold wrestling classes in the building. Nixon said he'd spoken with the city attorney about it who said they could lease it out. The lease amount is $300 a month and that would go toward utilities. The lease period would be September through March. Morris said he has held wrestling classes before and they were quite popular, drawing kids from towns around the area. In response to questions about other groups wanting to lease the building, Morris said he would make it work. Parents would pay a small amount to cover insurance costs, he said. The board approved this, provided they have the city attorney draw up the contract.
Up next was the matter of authorizing Freedom Public Schools to improve/use/run the softball/baseball field. “They're getting ready to co-op with Aline-Cleo,” said Nixon, “and they want games here in town.” The school can use Covid funds to fix the sports field, he said, and the school would have the insurance to cover the kids. The school would also maintain the field, which would take it off Page's plate. “I think it would be a good focal point for the town,” Nixon said. It could be used for softball, baseball and basketball. “Bringing activity back to Freedom is what we need,” said Luddington. They approved the measure.
Matching Grant Seed Money
That $3,500 donation toward the park remodel was the next topic of discussion. “We just got awarded a Share Trust matching grant of $40,000,” said Nixon. “We had one before but we never raised a penny, so that money sat there.” Any money the community can raise, up to $40,000, will be matched by the grant, and can be used for the pavilion, bathrooms, the basketball and tennis courts, fencing, benches, and so forth. The $3,500 was Nixon's donation to get the ball rolling. “We're going to start with basketball courts, bathrooms, benches, lifting the pavilion up 3.5 feet for better height clearance,” said Nixon, who had spoken with Vanessa Gerloff on the matter. “My wife's idea was $3,500 will give us $7,000 to start,” Nixon said.
The town will have a special account for this money, and donations get tax credit. “But we only have a couple more months to raise it,” Nixon said. The deadline is Dec. 31. He mentioned that Page had suggested hiring five students at minimum wage to help with the project. “If they build it themselves, they're not going to tear it up,” he said. When the students were repeatedly referred to using male pronouns, Chamber President Valerie Brown suggested including female students in that group as well. The board accepted the donation.
Town Clerk Report
Town Clerk Reed told the board that she'd had a lunchtime meet-and-greet in Woodward at the end of July about American Recovery Act money, of which the town is slated to received $47,000.
“They don't have the timeline yet, but I'm hoping to know by the end of 2021,” she said. “I would like you to keep in mind it's for infrastructure only. I would like to see possibly using a lot of this money for sewers. We spend $5,000 to $6,000 annually for a third of town to be roto-rootered out.”
Reed also reported that the yearly audit for the municipal trust will cost $3,600. “The rate hasn't gone up in five years,” she noted. “He does our estimate of needs and agreed-upon procedures, and files other state forms. Several towns around here use him. He does quarterly reporting for us as well. He sends books back for everybody to have, and it's here for public access.” The board approved that.
When the time came for new business, an audience member associated with the Freedom Mercantile asked the city to approve a form that “bypasses all the state regulations they require. The state fire marshal said I needed to do this because they had over 1,200 permits for marijuana grow licenses” and it will be time-consuming taking care of those. The state regulations require things like original floor plans that the Mercantile's owners don't have, so they'd have to hire someone to “crawl around under the floor.” Reed said that they would need an ordinance first.