Cox resigns city council seat prompting new special election

STEVE COX 

Ward 3 McAlester City Councilor Steve Cox has resigned from his seat on the city council position, effective Sept. 14 — which means the city will have to call another special election to fill the position.

Pittsburg County Election Board Secretary Tonya Barnes told the News-Capital Wednesday that because of state election laws, the city of McAlester cannot hold a special election to fill the vacant council seat until next year.

"The earliest they can have a special election for the city is Feb. 8, 2022," Barnes said.

Cox submitted a resignation letter to Mayor John Browne, dated Tuesday, Sept. 14, stating "I regret to inform you of my resignation from the McAlester City Council, effective today. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and to represent this community.

"I wish you all the best in future endeavors and moving the city of McAlester forward," Cox's letter concludes.

Browne said Cox resigned because he's been promoted in his job at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.

"He got a promotion where he will have more responsibilities and some of those responsibilities will involve some interaction with the city of McAlester," Browne said. Legal advice Cox received from McAAP advised him resign from the city council, the mayor said. That way there will be no question of a conflict of interest, said Browne.

The only other alternative would have been to resign from his position at McAAP. Cox wisely chose the position that paid more, the mayor noted.

"That $50 a month wasn't enough to hold him," Browne quipped, a reference to the pay for McAlester city councilors.

Cox's resignation has already had an impact on the city council. During the Tuesday night city council meeting, the meeting agenda called for Cox, along with Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith, Ward 5 Councilor Billy Jack Boatright and Mayor Browne to meet in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

To allow for social distancing, the agenda called for Vice Mayor/Ward 2 Councilor Cully Stevens and Ward 6 Councilor Zach Prichard to attend by videoconference from the Conference Room on the second floor at City Hall.

Prior to the meeting, Prichard entered the regular meeting area in the first-floor council chambers. That's when City Attorney John T. Hammons advised Prichard he would have to meet in the second floor Conference Room, because that's where the meeting agenda stated he would be located during the meeting.

With both Ward 5 Councilor Billy Jack Boatright and Cox not attending the meeting, and the Ward 4 council seat also remaining vacant Tuesday night, that left only two members of the council— Smith and Browne — in the first floor City Council Chambers and two more — Prichard and Stevens — upstairs in the second floor Conference Room.

Although a total of four city councilors were present in the two locations, state law requires at least four of them to be in the same room for a videoconference meeting, the mayor said.

Therefore, the council could not discuss any items on the agenda that called for discussion and action by the council, the mayor said.

Browne said he intends to call a special meeting set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 21, to address the agenda items originally on the Sept. 14 meeting agenda. Prichard told the News-Capital he wants to be among those meeting on the first floor when that meeting occurs.

Randy Roden won the Sept. 14 Special Election called to fill the Ward 4 seat left vacant after then-McAlester Vice Mayor/Ward 4 Councilor James Browne died in February 2020 following complications from COVID-19, but Roden can't be sworn into office in time for the upcoming Sept. 21 Special City Council meeting, Browne said. That's because it's a special meeting.

"Randy Roden will not be sworn in until the 28th, because the City Charter says city councilors are to be sworn in at the next regular meeting," said Browne.

At the election board, Barnes said Sept. 9 was the deadline for the city to call a special election in November. The city does plan to hold a special election Nov. 9 related to water issues, she noted.

"They can't have one in December or January because Senate Bill 347 says there will be no elections in December 2021 or January 2022," said Barnes.

Cox was sworn into office in February 2020 after winning the Feb. 11 election for the Ward 3 city council seat.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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