District 3 Pittsburg County Commissioner Ross Selman has paid a city of McAlester traffic ticket for parking in a no parking zone — after he lost a Municipal Court battle against paying it.
Selman could have appealed the matter to Pittsburg County District Court after McAlester Municipal Judge Deborah Hackler ruled against him following a court hearing on the issue. He had up to 45 days to pay the ticket or 10 days to appeal the Municipal Court ruling to Pittsburg County District Court.
The News-Capital asked Selman on Monday if he planned to pay the ticket or appeal the Municipal Court ruling. Selman said he wasn’t going to appeal the Municipal Court’s decision and he was going to go ahead and pay the ticket.
“I just don’t like being pitted against law enforcement,” Selman said. “I’m not against law enforcement.”
McAlester Municipal Court Clerk Karen Boatright said Wednesday that Selman came by this week and paid the $75 parking ticket.
“He came in and paid it and went on his way,” Boatright said of Selman.
McAlester police ticketed Selman in April after spotting his truck in a “no parking” zone on First Street, north of Carl Albert Parkway, near the First Street entrance leading to the Pittsburg County Election Board Office.
After Selman was ticketed, security cameras outside the Pittsburg County Courthouse showed a man police identified as Selman using a hammer to beat two metallic signs bolted to the sidewalk on Second Street that designated two parking spots adjacent to the courthouse as for police parking only. The crumpled signs, valued at $60, were then discarded in front of City Hall.
City police launched an investigation on complaints of malicious injury/destruction of property related to the removal and damage of the signs, and a misdemeanor complaint of obstructing a public right-of-way.
District 18 District Attorney Chuck Sullivan recused his office in April from handling the matter since he acts as legal adviser to the county commissioners. The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office appointed
District 16 District Attorney Jeff Smith, the district attorney for LeFlore and Latimer counties, to review the report and determine if criminal charges are warranted.
The News-Capital has made a number of calls to Smith’s office in Poteau seeking an update on the status of the case. The newspaper has been told every time that Smith is either unavailable or out of the office. The News-Capital asked for a return call, but so far has heard nothing.
Both the McAlester police and the District 18 DA’s office said Wednesday that they have not received any information from Smith’s office regarding the status of the case.
“We haven’t heard anything from him recently,” McAlester Police Chief Gary Wansick said Wednesday.
Wansick said police have provided Smith with the information from their investigation.
“We provided a police report, surveillance video and photographs,” Wansick said.
Selman also said he has no new information regarding the matter.
“I ain’t heard nothing,” said Selman.
Selman, asked about his defensive argument in fighting the ticket in Municipal Court, said he thought he had an understanding with city officials that allowed him to park in the “no parking” space.
Selman said he spoke of “a conversation I had with the city manager and the chief of police earlier about that particular spot.”
“We all agreed to change that to a regular parking spot,” Selman said.
Selman took that to mean he could park in the spot until the designation was changed.
“I thought we had a gentlemen’s agreement,” said Selman.
Selman said he’s not the only one that has used the spot. He said he uses it when he needs to make a quick trip inside the courthouse.
He said he was paying the ticket because “I don’t want to have myself viewed being against law enforcement.”
Selman said it’s not the money — it’s the principle of the thing.
County commissioners agreed in 2016 to designate the two parking spaces as for Police Parking Only at the request of McAlester police.
“It’s the principle of us giving them up-close parking, then they give us tickets,” Selman said.
Asked about the meeting Selman said he had with Wansick and City Manager Pete Stasiak in regard to designating the “no parking” space on First Street into a regular parking spot, Wansick recalled the conversation.
“We did have a visit about it,” Wansick said. “I told him I would check with the city traffic engineer.”
Wansick said he then contacted city Traffic Engineer David Laughlin to ask about it. Wansick said Laughlin told him that traffic guidelines would not allow the “no parking” space on First Street to be converted to a regular parking slot.
The “no parking” space is adjacent to a driveway leading down to a parking lot, with the driveway sometimes used by pedestrians as well. Having the “no parking” slot in place allows for greater visibility for those entering and exiting the area.
In a separate interview, Stasiak said “My understanding is he (Selman) talked to Chief Wansick.” Stasiak said Wansick spoke with Laughlin, the city’s traffic engineer, who said the space would have to continue to be a “no parking” zone because of the visibility issues.
Neither Stasiak or Wansick said they thought there was any sort of “gentlemen’s agreement” to allow Selman to continue to park in the zone that was, and still is, designated as “no parking.”
Meanwhile, District 18 District Attorney Sullivan said he will not be defending Selman should a charge be filed in the sign-removing incident.
“Our office represents county commissioners in their official capacity,” Sullivan said. “A criminal charge would be outside of that.
“Essentially, we’re a civil adviser,” Sullivan said. He said the district attorney’s office advises county commissioners on everyday matters related to their work for the county, such as applications for road crossings by a utility company, for example.
“If I were to give advice on a criminal charge, it would be outside the scope of our representation of them,” he said.
Since Selman is accused of committing the sign-removal offense in Pittsburg County, if a charge is filed, it would be filed in Pittsburg County District Court, regardless of which district attorney’s office is handling the case.
Despite the issues, Wansick said the city continues to work with Selman, such as during recent emergency measures taken due to approaching storms in the weather forecast.
“I’ve worked with Ross since then,” Wansick said. “He’s been very professional.”
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com