Why did county voters accept a proposal to remodel the courthouse and jail and establish a county animal shelter? That is the question members of the Citizens for Progress might be well suited to answer today after a stunning 52 percent victory.

First, and this is important, the people who worked on that committee did so because there is a clear need for something to be done about the state of the Pittsburg County Jail, a clear need for access and more space at the courthouse and a clear need for a humane animal shelter. The people on the committee worked hard, did their homework and gave it a good effort. Despite some rumblings, these people deserve our thanks for the work they did. They at least jumped in the arena and gave it the good fight — and won.

What did supporters of the county sales tax have to overcome? Plenty.

First, with almost daily revelations of wrongdoing, alleged wrongdoing, shady deals that enrich a privileged few, reluctancy of government officials to lay it all on the table and a general distrust of government, the supporters of this sales tax faced what must have seemed like an insurmountable mountain of negative public opinion.

From Thundercreek, the Expo Center, the Cancer Center, the CIP projects, the dog food plant, the payoff to bring Lowe’s to McAlester to the Wellness Center, voters have been left nagging questions about just what public officials did with public money.

Granted, some of these projects have been run smoothly but there can be no denying that aspects of all of them have not. A city councilman was paid thousands of dollars to act as an inspector at the Wellness Center; many other cities got Lowe’s to build without millions of dollars of public money spent to build infrastructure; some of the roads built with CIP funds are already falling into disrepair; the dog food plant has yet to meet its employment goals or produce any dog food; the Expo Center can’t pay for itself and Thundercreek sits empty and overgrown.

Second, the committee lumped three projects together. That seemed to concern some, but not the majority.

Third, most taxpayers already feel overburdened. Not just by local taxes (sales and property) but by state and federal taxes. With energy prices soaring and inflation creeping in, many simply will not vote a tax increase on themselves. It’s bread and butter versus perceived needs. Bread and butter almost always wins, but not this time.

None of the three projects approved on Tuesday are unworthy. Need can be demonstrated for all of them and now the money will be available to make things happen.

I urge our county commissioners to ensure this money is spent wisely; that no back room deals are cut; that no “inspectors” are hired to inspect nothing; that every penny is accounted for and — this is most important — that every decision they make is done in the full light of day with input from the citizens of Pittsburg County.

This victory represents a sacred trust from the voters and must be treated as such. No secrets, no kickbacks and no special favors to a privileged few must be allowed. These must be the watchwords as county officials begin work on these projects.

Congratulations to the Citizens for Progress for keeping up the fight. Stick together and help ensure this time the job is done right and you will gain the admiration of a grateful electorate.



Matt Lane is the editor of the McAlester News-Capital. Send him hate mail or encouragement to: Editor, P.O. Box 987, McAlester, OK, 74501. Call him at 421-2022 or send an e-mail to editor@mcalesternews.com