City Council tables proposal to join OMMS
By Ken Childers
A proposal to have the City of Okemah join an organization that provides professional management services to cities across Oklahoma has been put on hold by the city council.
During its regular meeting held last Thursday evening, the council voted to table agenda item number six, which called for discussion and possible action on joining Oklahoma Municipal Management Services (OMMS).
The item was put on the agenda at the request of Councilman Ron Gott (Ward Four), who had OMMS Executive Director Steve Whitlock give a presentation on his company’s services at the Oct. 28 council meeting.
Mayor Mike Fuller made a motion to table the proposal until the next meeting, citing the absence of Ward One Councilman Ronnie Lucas.
“I would like to entertain possibly moving this to the next meeting because, as you can see, we are short one council member,” Fuller said, addressing Gott. “This is a very important thing to me and obviously to you, and I would like the advantage of all five of us coming to a decision.”
In his October presentation, Whitlock said OMMS provides professional management assistance to cities that cannot afford them. “We’re not here to replace anybody, that’s not our goal. We’re not here to intervene in a position that’s not needed,” he said.
In a follow-up interview with the Okemah News Leader, Gott stated that OMMS, which would charge the city an annual fee of $2,000, could provide oversight of the police department as well as city manager services.
During the public appearance portion of the meeting, which immediately preceded the OMMS discussion, Okemah resident Loren Aldridge voiced his concerns about the city joining the organization.
“It was noted previously by the councilman who has brought this to the agenda tonight, that he was making an effort to be a good steward of the taxpayers’ money. I applaud that effort, and that’s why I’m here to speak against what I believe would be a waste of that money,” Aldridge said.
“It was stated in the latest edition of the News Leader that the desire was for OMMS to have oversight of our local police department. Why does the council believe that such an outside oversight would be needed? We have a department head with over 30 years experience in that field, and yet the suggestion is that we turn oversight to that department over to a company that has been in business for only 15 months…that seems illogical to me,” Aldridge stated.
“The oversight of the police department here is the job of the chief of police and the city manager. We pay them good money to do that job. I’m not here to speak poorly of OMMS, but would ask the question as to why those services are deemed to be needed at this point,” Aldridge continued. “The police department seems to be operating well under its current oversight and the city manager looks to be in good health, and to the best of my knowledge, has no plans to move from this community at any time in the near future. I would ask that, as a taxpayer in this community, you save the $2,000 annually and if you desire to change the operation of the police department or its oversight, you put that money into new equipment for the department or into training for the city manager.”
Also during public appearances, local businessman Carl Alls shared that he had a conversation with an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Agent regarding drug problems in Okemah.
“He told me that Okemah had something going for it that a lot of communities would love to have – and that was a dedicated, top-notch police department headed up by one of the more proactive police chiefs in the state,” Alls told the council.
Gott defended his proposal by stating he believed Aldridge was misinformed. “OMMS is not really an oversight, per se, organization. They are an organization that is there to assist communities. When a community asks for assistance in any particular area, they are there to provide that assistance. They just don’t come down and say ‘we’re going to look over the police department or we’re going to look over the city manager.’ They don’t do that. Professional oversight, when you ask for it, is what they’re wanting to offer,” Gott said.
“Say something happened to Dustin [Danker, city manager], they have city managers on rolls we could interview. That’s not to say Dustin is not going to be here for a lot of years, but if something happened to him, that’s what would happen…same thing for our police chief or someone running our finances or our budget. Same thing for our lawyer. That’s what they’re for. It’s not oversight or for them to put their finger on a particular office or individual,” Gott added.
According to the OMMS website (www.okmms.org), the organization focuses on several objectives, including management services (whether it’s on an interim, part-time or project basis) with a focus on assisting cities and towns with long term management stability. OMMS also encourages the utilization of “circuit rider” managers, which entails regional management assistance on an as-needed basis. Current OMMS membership includes about 58 cities in Oklahoma, ranging in size from Ft. Supply (population 330) to Tulsa, the second largest city in the state.
The next city council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9 at city hall. All council meetings are open to the public.