City Council approves special investigator in 3-2 vote

by Charles Gerian

The Blackwell City Council met last Thursday night and approved the appointment of R. Stephen Haynes as the city's special legal counsel for an investigation into alleged improper contracts and purchases made by city officials. 

The meeting began at 6 p.m. Directors of various city departments began the meeting by giving their monthly reports and statistics.

Chuck Anderson, director of the streets and parks department, joked that the department “began March with salt and ice” and ended it with “weeds and grass.” Melissa Hudson, director of the Top of Oklahoma Historical Society Museum, reported to the Council about the museum's annual bean feed, which took place last week. She stated that the profits from the event would benefit the museum.

Chief of Police Dewayne Wood spoke next, telling the Council about how a shopping cart full of stolen goods from the local Walmart resulted in several arrests being made in conjunction with other local law enforcement entities.

Wood stated that burglars attempted to sell the stolen items on the Facebook Marketplace. When law enforcement “initiated the buy,” the sting led to a home where 20 grams of methamphetamine and firearms were found.

The Council then approved several bids on behalf of the street department for various materials to be used in the repair of city streets. The bids were awarded as follows: a cold patch asphalt producer bid ($95/ton); a tan asphalt bid to Evans & Associates ($69/ton); a river sand bid to Diemer Construction ($18/ton) and one to Sober Brothers for procurement ($7/ton); a clean rock bid to Sober Brothers ($24.45/ton) and one to Diemer Construction picked-up ($24/ton); and a fine screenings bid to Sober Brothers ($21.20/ton) and one to Diemer Construction picked-up ($24/ton).

The final bid, which was awarded for fill sand, went to Diemer for $175 per truck-load delivered and $75 per truck-load picked-up. 

Next, Elfrink and Associates PLLC was hired to conduct the city of Blackwell's audit of the 2018 - 2019 fiscal year. Entities that will be audited include: the city of Blackwell, Blackwell Municipal Authority, Blackwell Municipal Golf Authority, Blackwell Industrial Authority, Blackwell Facilities Authority, Blackwell Economic Development Authority, and the Blackwell/Tonkawa Airport Authority.

This type of audit is performed annually and is not a state audit.

The Council also announced April 27 as the citywide trash pick-up day, which is part of the Keep Oklahoma Beautiful initiative. It was announced that, this year, there will be no dumpsters set up for public disposal because residents last year went “dumpster diving” and improperly disposed of items.

The final action taken by the Council was the approval of a motion to appoint Haynes to conduct a special investigation of alleged improper financial transactions made by city officials, an item which was heavily debated by the Council.

Mayor T.J. Greenfield spoke to Councilman Steve Marquardt, who recommended that the Council hire Haynes.

Greenfield stated that Haynes' credentials, experience, and hourly working rates have not been provided to the Council.

He said that the “lack of information” was a reason to table the matter.

“We could be hiring [Peggy Massey],” Greenfield joked. “We don't even know who this man is.”

Peggy Massey, a Blackwell resident, replied that she would happily conduct an investigation into the city.

“I don't see why we would be hiring someone now. He [and the auditor] would be stumbling over each-other,” Councilman John Webb said.

It is believed that Webb was referring to auditors from the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector General's office, who are expected to begin an audit of the city this month that is separate from the city's annual audit.

“I did my due diligence,” Marquardt said to Greenfield, stating he wanted to hire an impartial individual who would work fairly and independently. Marquardt said he would rather hire Haynes than the other candidate for the position, Margaret McMorrow Love, who has previously worked with the city of Blackwell.

“You basically want us to just write this man a blank check,” Greenfield stated. “There's no prices here, we've never met this person, we don't even know their criteria or what they do.”

Marquardt said he contacted 20 lawyers and that Haynes had the lowest working rates of all the lawyers he contacted. Marquardt said Haynes was also able to devote the most time to the investigation. Webb and Greenfield stated that they wanted to see Haynes' qualifications and costs. 

Marquardt provided them. He said Haynes works for $175 an hour, and he will not charge more than $5,000 to perform the investigation. Haynes, who was in attendance at the meeting, announced that he would lower his hourly rates to $150 per hour. 

“I checked his credentials, and they're great,” Marquardt said. “The problem [with the other attorneys] is that they had a much higher cost and no time.”

A motion was made to table Haynes' appointment, but only Webb and Greenfield voted in favor of the measure. After the motion to table the item was defeated, the motion to hire Haynes was approved. Councilmen Tom Beliel, Richard Braden, and Marquardt voted to hire Haynes. Greenfield and Webb voted against the appointment. 

For more information on the special investigation and Haynes, see the related story in this week's edition of the Journal-Tribune.