Council waits on amending Ward Commission timelines; advances city projects

JAMES BEATY | Staff photoMcAlester Mayor John Browne says the city council should wait to act on extending the timeline for the city's Ward Commission to complete its ward redistricting duties,

City councilors opted to wait until more information is available before acting on whether to extend the time period provided for the newly-formed city Ward Commission to complete its work to reapportion the McAlester six wards based on 2020 Census results.

An agenda item called for discussion and possible action on the matter during the city council's regular Tuesday evening meeting.

However, Mayor John Browne said the city council is facing the same problem the Ward Commission members faced when they met Monday. During that meeting, both City Clerk Cora Middleton and Ward Commissioner Blake Lynch said they had not been able to obtain final, verified official population numbers regarding the 2020 Census.

Lynch said he found some numbers online, but he questioned their authenticity.

Browne noted the resulting dilemma when addressing the city council.

"The problem we have is we don't have the Census numbers on it," Browne said. He said the city is obviously not going to act on the matter at this point.

"We're going to slip over this until we get the Census numbers and the Census numbers may not be available until December," Browne said.

McAlester ward commissioners are tasked with redrawing the lines of the city's six wards, to make them as proportionate to population as possible, based on any population shifts determined by the Census.

In other action, city councilors awarded a $27,250 bid from Interstate Tapping Service Inc. and authorized Mayor Browne to sign a notice of award and contract for the Seminole Tower Valve Insertion Project.

"At the Seminole tower, we have a defective valve," said city of McAlester Public Works Director Jeb Jones. He said the valve is faulty and will not currently shut off when needed.

Jones said the company making the repairs will use a technique that allows repairs to be made without interruption of water service to city water customers served by the Seminole tower.

"We won't have to turn the water off and disturb service for the tower," he said. Jones said Interstate Tapping Service not only submitted the lowest bid of the three received for the project, but the other two were so much higher he figured the jobs would have been subcontracted out. He said Interstate Tapping Service will do the job itself.

"Interstate will probably insert in a couple of hours," Jones said.

City councilors also authorized the mayor to sign a work order for a professional services agreement between the city of McAlester and Meshek & Associates, LLC for easement acquisition services for drainage improvements along North Hickory Avenue and Brewer Road. City councilors also approved a fee of $24,950 for the project's easement acquisitions.

Ben Fletcher, of Meshek & Associates, said the area of Hickory and Brewer is the drainage area for about 19 acres and the project should alleviate that problem.

"There are quite a few houses this will help," Fletcher said.

Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith asked about the services provided for the fee. Fletcher said it entails obtaining easements for the project from property owners in he area.

"We do a five-year title search," he said. That includes not only the person owning the property but possible mortgage holders as well.

"If there are mortgages, we have to get an appraisal," Fletcher said.

It appears like some of the easements will be donated to the city, with the potential of some having to be purchased

When the easements are attained, "We will bring the documents to you and file them at the courthouse," Fletcher said.

During the consent agenda, city councilors voted to concur with the mayor's appointment of Jeff Wolf to serve as a member of the city's Airport Advisory Board for a term to expire April 30, 2023.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalester news.com.

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