Council rebuked for not purchasing police vehicle
Citizen accuses some council members of having ‘personal agenda’ against Okemah PD
By Ken Childers
During the public appearance portion of Monday’s regular meeting of the Okemah City Council meeting, two local citizens took the floor and asked the council to reconsider its decision to not purchase a new vehicle for the police department.
On Feb. 10, the council disapproved the purchase of a 2020 Silverado at a cost of $33,100. The city has been awarded a $10,000 Justice Authority Grant (JAG) to help offset the purchase price and/or outfit the vehicle with the necessary equipment. The purchase had been previously approved by the council, but no purchase was made because the dealership the city ordered the truck from, Tanner Chevrolet, closed its doors last summer.
Councilman Wayne Bacon made a motion to approve the purchase, which was seconded by Mayor Mike Fuller. The purchase was shot down by a 3-2 vote, with Fuller and Bacon casting the only “yes” votes. Councilors Kelly West, Ron Gott and Ronnie Lucas each voted “no.”
One of the speakers at Monday’s meeting, Clayton Griggs, accused some council members of having a “personal agenda” against the police department and even chided Gott for questioning police vehicle repair expenses.
“To a large degree, I’m much like Oklahoma’s most revered political commentator Will Rogers, who said, ‘All I know is what I read in the newspapers.’ It’s those things I’ve read that actually lead me to be here tonight,” Griggs said.
“Ten days I ago I received my paper in the mail. The lead article that day talked about a man who committed a double homicide and arson, then led our local officers on a several hour pursuit. The next article I read, members of this city council suggested that what we might need to do is decrease the size of our police force, rather than to buy them new vehicles. I thought that can’t possibly be something that somebody said. This time, the question is whether or not to buy a new police vehicle. This council refused to authorize a check that they had previously approved for a vehicle that was needed by our policemen. If I understand what I read in the newspaper correctly, that purchase would still leave the city deficient in vehicles needed for every officer to have a patrol car,” Griggs told the council.
“Mr. Mayor, I don’t think I’m the smartest man in Okemah, but I do think I have the enough sense to see a pattern. The pattern I see has little to with logic or the common good, but it’s one that gives the appearance that there are members of this council who have a personal agenda against our police department and are working to undermine it,” Griggs said.
Gott stated at the last meeting that he had spoken to members of his ward, and they were mad about the idea of purchasing a new vehicle. Addressing Gott, Griggs said he had also talked to people in the community about council matters, and agreed they are “mad.”
“I don’t live in your ward, but I want you to know that I’ve spoken to many people in our community since that time, and I agree they are mad. They are mad at what they see our council doing to undermine our police force. They are mad that they don’t see our city council working together to solve our problems. They are mad that you are wasting time on personal agendas, rather than dealing with the issues at hand in a constructive way. They’re mad because they see Okemah becoming Washington, D.C., and they don’t like what they see there either,” Griggs stated.
“As a citizen of this community, I am asking the members of this council to leave your personal agendas at the door to your house. This citizen asks you to return to the agenda the need to buy that police vehicle. Do it this year, do it again next year, do it again the year after that, and as long as it takes to give our officers every tool they need to keep us safe,” Griggs said.
Gott responded to Griggs’ comments with a question. “As a private citizen, you would actually spend $980 to take your own vehicle down and get an oil change and two rotors put on, when those parts cost $311? You think that’s a good buy? You think me sitting up here as a trustee of the taxpayer’s money, that’s a good judgement call for me to say ‘go ahead and spend the $980?’ That’s over $600 in labor. Is that a good solution?”
After Griggs responded that he had no problem with the repair bill, Gott explained his rationale for disapproving the vehicle purchase and defended the accusation of having a personal agenda against the police department.
“The justification for the pickup…I would’ve been more than glad to say ‘yes’ if we were replacing a pickup or a car we had right now. Adding inventory to our existing inventory…I can’t go for it,” Gott said.
“The justification wasn’t there. Every one of our policemen do not patrol the streets at the same time. And the crime that you’re talking to, most of that happens out in the county. Do our policemen support the county? Yes, they do, but to have a patrol car for every policeman in this city just doesn’t make sense. The reason it doesn’t make sense is, we’re loosing population. It’s already projected we’re going to be at 2,900 this year. When you insinuate that we have an agenda against the police department, that’s not true. I’ve never had an agenda against Skeeter Smith or any of his policemen. What I have an agenda against is spending money we don’t need to spend,” Gott added.
Before Griggs took the podium, the council heard from Loren Aldridge, who also asked them to revisit the vehicle purchase. Aldridge also shared an email that was sent to Gott in response to a survey the councilman recently sent to several local citizens.
“I took it upon myself to go and visit several local businessmen here in Okemah this past week. I explained to each one of them the opportunity that had been presented to our city to purchase this new vehicle, and made them aware of the grant that would be used to fund a portion of it,” Aldridge said.
“I explained that it was not mentioned in the paper, or brought up during the last council meeting, that the grant not only provides funds for this year, but the grant is able to be used at $10,000 per year for three years. Each year, the city could purchase a new vehicle and receive $10,000 toward the purchase. That means, eventually we could purchase three new vehicles for the cost of two. I asked them, in their business, if they would turn down such an opportunity? The general response was ‘no logical businessman would turn down such an opportunity.’”
Aldridge said during the course of his visits, he was made aware of Gott’s survey. “While I didn’t receive one myself, I would like to share with you the response that this council member received from Chris Dixon, President of BancFirst in Okemah,” he said.
The survey asked for respondents to rate, on a scale of 1-10 (with one being the worst and 10 being the best), the performance of the city manager, the police chief, the street superintendent and the city council.
Aldridge then shared Dixon’s response to the survey with the council and those in the audience.
Dixon gave City Manager Dustin Danker a rating of eight and Police Chief Ed “Skeeter” Smith a nine. He rated both the city council and the street department at a five. In his response, Dixon explained the reason behind the ratings.
“I do believe that setting on the city council is an uphill battle and a thankless job that pays absolutely zero per month. So to take on this position the sole reason should be for the love of your community. And I do thank each and every member that sits on this board for all their time and efforts. I would encourage each of you and the citizens of Okemah to remember that when there is a disagreement, the council has to do what is best for the community. One hundred percent of the citizens will never be happy. Tell me the quote in the newspaper about bicycles for police officers was misquote or a joke and I can raise my rating,” Dixon wrote.