It’s a do-over.
The city of McAlester has to call a re-election of six city charter amendments voters first passed last August because the city did not give the required legal notice.
Charter changes voters approved during an Aug. 26 Special Election included measures to allow the McAlester Regional Health Center, the McAlester Public Works Authority and McAlester Regional Airport to borrow more than $500,000 without first getting voter approval.
Voters will now be asked to approve the measures again because the prior election results were invalidated.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s General Counsel Steven K. Mullins agreed with City Attorney Joe Ervin’s and City Clerk Cora Middleton’s earlier conclusions that the city of McAlester did not meet the legal notice requirements for the August vote.
As a result, another election will be held March 3 — in which city voters will be asked to once again to approve the proposed changes on which they already voted on last year.
In a letter to Middleton, Mullins outlined why he and the governor’s Deputy General Counsel Maria Maule cannot recommend the governor approve the proposed charter amendments based on the August vote results. The governor’s approval is required before amendments to a city charter take effect in Oklahoma.
Mullins said the governor’s office is keenly aware of the city’s efforts to put the measure before voters the first time.
“However, in the case at hand, McAlester’s city attorney has already concluded there are certain ‘defects ... fatal to the amendments and (that) will require re-submission to the voters.’” “Unfortunately, I cannot disagree,” Mullins wrote.
McAlester Mayor Steve Harrison said Tuesday the city acted to call the election after learning of the decision of the governor’s staff.
“It’s just a situation where we wanted to make certain we had no other option than to call another election,” Harrison said.
The mayor said he’s not planning at this point to campaign again on behalf of passing the six charter provisions —but he would do so, if asked.
“I’m certainly more than willing to talk to any group that wants me to talk to them,” Harrison said.
After voters initially approved the city charter amendments in August, Gov. Fallin’s office sent McAlester City Clerk Cora Middleton a check-list to sign off on and then return to the governor’s staff.
“It was discovered the city had not met publication requirements,” Middleton said in November.
City Attorney Ervin agreed.
“There was a problem with the notice that was given of the election,” Ervin said. “It did not conform to the state statues.”
Ervin and Middleton were not referring to news articles, but to published legal notices the state requires when a city asks voters to change a city charter.
Although both the city clerk and city attorney were of the opinion that the city didn’t meet the legal notice requirements, other city officials wanted more input before calling another election.
They received it in the form of the letter from the governor’s attorneys.
A checklist sent to the city by the governor’s office in the aftermath of the 2014 election included state statutes regarding publication notices as well as requirements of the Oklahoma Constitution.
Questions on the checklist included did the municipality set the date for the charter amendment election to be “not less than 20 days nor more than 30 days after the last publication?”
The Oklahoma Constitution also has a requirement: “Did the municipality publish the text of the articles it wants to amend for either 21 days in a daily paper or for three consecutive issues in a weekly paper?”
Although Middleton said in November she found some of the required notices, she didn’t find enough to fit the time requirements for the published legal notices.
“The last one was two days before the election,” she said.
Mayor Harrison said at the time the city wanted to see if other efforts, including posting items on the Internet, would serve to meet the requirements.
Two of the proposed city charter amendments drawing the most interest prior to the August election regarded Proposition 2 and Proposition 3.
Proposition 2 would raise the debt limit that could be incurred by a public trust of the city, without first calling for approval from voters in the city, from $500,000 to $1 million. The proposition passed by a vote of 758-318 in August.
A related measure, Proposition 3, also raised the debt limitation above $500,000 without first obtaining approval from city voters. This measure raised the limitation from $500,000 to a formula involving the total assets of the three entities involved — which raised the amount to approximately $3 million in the hospital’s situation. It also easily passed in August.
Additional city charter changes passed by voters in August — and which will now have to be voted on again March 3 — are:
• Proposition 1 — This concerns the way the city council fills vacancies for city council seats as well as the mayor’s post. The provision calls for the city council to call a special election for unexpired terms, providing the unexpired term is for at least a year or longer.
• Proposition 4 —This concerns city audits and allows the audits to be conducted by independent certified public accountants or their firms, and calls for the audits to be completed within five and one-half months after the end of the fiscal year.
• Proposition 5 —This refers to the drawing of boundaries between wards in the city, and would specifically exclude state, federal and private prison populations. Both Oklahoma State Penitentiary and the Jackie Brannon Correctional Center populations were included when the ward boundaries were redrawn after the 2010 Census, which led to a significant decrease in the size of Ward 4.
• Proposition 6 —This measure outlines provisions to appoint a commission to draw the new ward boundaries following a federal census.
Voters also passed a city question to raise the city’s hotel/motel tax by another 2 percent in August, which increased the rate from 4 percent to 6 percent.
Harrison said Tuesday the city is of the opinion the August passage of the hotel/motel tax remains valid, since it did not have the same legal notice requirements as those required of changes to the city charter. Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.