McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

January 8, 2014

Barnett new Ward 6 city councilor: council splits on closed session vote

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — Jason Barnett is the newest McAlester city councilor — officially selected following an interview process held during an open meeting after the council split on a four-to-two vote in favor of eliminating a scheduled closed executive session.

All five sitting city councilors and Mayor Steve Harrison voted unanimously in favor of Barnett during a Tuesday night special meeting held in the council chambers at City Hall. Barnett will now serve out the unexpired term for the Ward 6 seat left vacant following the Dec. 3 resignation of former Ward 6 Councilor/Vice Mayor Sam Mason.

Barnett, of 5032 S. Seventh St., is set to be sworn into office as the new Ward 6 city councilor on during the next regular council meeting on Jan. 14. He said he’s the owner of Barnett Construction, also known as Barnett Oil and Gas Construction, Inc.

In addition to Barnett, city councilors and the mayor also interviewed three other candidates who attended the meeting: former Ward 6 Councilor Louis Smitherman, Cletis Lowe Jr. and  Marsha Coyle.

Before the meeting started, Ward 5 Councilor Buddy Garvin and Ward 3 Councilor Travis Read both said they were unopposed to interviewing the candidates during a closed-door executive session, as had been posted on the meeting agenda.

Both said the interview process to select a new city councilor should be held before the public.

“I would prefer the proceeds happen in an open meeting,” Read said. “I can’t think of a process that should be more transparent” than the selection of someone who will represent more than 3,000 residents as the new Ward 3 city councilor, he said.

Garvin said he would not participate in a closed meeting to interview potential new city council candidates.

“I will not sit in an executive meeting,” he said.

Karr said he would feel more comfortable conducting the interviews in an executive session.

Smith also said he preferred an executive session.

“This is really to protect the privacy of the individuals” applying for the Ward 6 post, not the city council, Smith said.

Mayor Steve Harrison said “I can see arguments on both ides of this issue.”

He and Read both said they hoped all of the candidates would go ahead and run for the Ward 6 seat, which is up for regular election in March.

All four candidates who were present said they intended to do so.

The agenda cited Section 307 (B) (1) of the state Open  Meeting Act as justification for the closed session, to “discuss the employment, hiring, appointment, promotion demotion, disciplining or resignation of any salaried public officer or employee.”

McAlester city councilors are paid a token $50 a month.

Before the interviews began, the council voted on whether to conduct the interviews in closed-door executive sessions, which would have excluded the public from hearing the interviews.

Voting “no” against the closed-door session were Garvin, Read, Titsworth and Harrison.

Casting “yes” votes in favor of the closed executive session were Smith and Karr.

Harrison proposed a process to open the floor for nominations for all of the candidates at once, so the councilors could then vote only for the candidate of their choice, as opposed to voting “no” for the candidates they did not prefer.

However, Barnett was the first and only candidate to get a nomination and a second from the council, so he turned out to be the only one on which they voted.

All five councilors and the mayor made the selection of Barnett unanimous.

In addition to the four candidates who attended the meeting, Mark Pool and Jane Rayburn had also turned in applications for consideration.

Filing period for candidates for the McAlester city council seats in Wards 2, 4 and 6 is set for Jan. 27-29 at the Pittsburg County Election Board office. The election is set for March 4.

Contact James Beaty at