MEDICINE PARK TOWN MEETING
MEDICINE PARK – Back-to-back sessions of the town’s Public Works Authority and Board of Trustees on Aug. 6 deteriorated into a heated marathon that lasted for 5 hours and 46 minutes, leaving many residents embittered.
Although the combined agendas for the Authority and Board numbered 69 items, three topics dominated the meetings:
• A proposal to mandate masks in town.
• A motion to reappoint David McCoy to the Planning and Preservation Commission.
• Whether to remove Trustee David Schucker as the town’s floodplain administrator.
One of the few noncontroversial issues resolved that night was a change in meeting dates.
In the future, Medicine Park’s trustees will meet on the third Thursday of each month instead of the third Tuesday. Also, the PWA switched its meetings from the third Tuesday of each month to the first Thursday of the month.
CALM BEFORE STORM
Prior to their special board meeting Aug. 6, the town’s five trustees had a quiet, civil, 1 hour and 17-minute meeting as the Public Works Authority. During that session:
• The trustees endorsed the Public Works Authority budget for Fiscal Year 2020-21. The board indicated revenues are projected to be $427,000 but expenses are expected to be in the range of $430,000. “The PWA is going to lose money this year,” Treasurer Yolanda Ramos confirmed.
• A decision whether to resume, on Aug. 26, disconnections of customers who fail to pay their utility bills was postponed until the next PWA meeting on Sept. 3. Utility shutoffs were suspended earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
• Trustee John Branch offered to let the town use, at no cost, a 16-foot-long dual-axle trailer for hauling off trash that’s been accumulating downtown from weekend visitors and revelers.
CITIZEN’S COMMENT SET THE STAGE FOR HEATED MEETING
The Board of Trustees meeting itself opened with fireworks. During a citizen comments period, Jean Schucker stood up, pointed to the board and claimed,
“There have been some serious open meeting violations.” It went downhill from there. Because of so much public interest – more than 40 people attended the Aug. 6 sessions in the Event Center – a proposed resolution to require masks in the town was the first item brought up for debate.
Mayor Jennifer Ellis said the topic was placed on the agenda “to generate some discussion.”
Some of the comments included:
“This would be terribly difficult to enforce.”
“I think masks would be helpful.”
“The State Health Department recommends wearing masks.”
“Just trying to enforce that mandate would fall on the business owners, and that’s not fair.”
“Americans have a right to self-determination. I am opposed to a mask mandate.”
The proposed requirement “would encourage anyone coming to Medicine Park to wear a mask. It would be sensible.”
“We don’t want to be mandated to wear masks by any city official,” said one local business owner.
Another resident said that the most prominent question posed on one Medicine Park citizen’s private website is, “Does Medicine Park require masks?” That website purportedly attracts 30,000 “hits” a month.
Medicine Park’s disbursement of city sales tax receipts in July was $64,473, a 32% increase from the same month last year.
“If you require masks, you can kiss those numbers good-bye,” Trustee Schucker said, to loud audience applause.
Mayor Ellis said Medicine Park still has $29,800 of its federal CARES allocation remaining. She recommended using some of that money to print signs that would be posted in businesses throughout town “to increase awareness” and remind residents and visitors to wear masks as a safety precaution.
“We’re talking about placards, not billboards,” Ellis told one critic of her proposal. Also, participation among business owners would be strictly voluntary, not mandatory, she said.
Some of the CARES funds also could be used to purchase and install hand sanitizer stations throughout town, Ellis said. “I don’t think there’s anything too controversial about hand sanitizer.”
The trustees turned thumbs down, 5-0, on a townwide mask mandate.
MASKS REQUIRED IN MP TOWN HALL
Shifting gears, the board next took up a proposal to require anyone entering a city-owned facility – Town Hall and the Event Center – to wear a mask.
Anyone who enters Town Hall without a mask “is putting me and my family members at risk,” Town Clerk Kirsten Sellens said. “People come here from all over the country,” added Town Attorney Toni Himes Capra. “We do not live in a bubble.”
Also, masks are required of anyone who enters the Comanche County Courthouse or any indoor city-owned facility in Lawton, Ellis and Capra noted.
Nevertheless, a local nurse said that only one person in Medicine Park has contracted the coronavirus and that individual has since recovered.
The town board voted 4-1, with Trustee John Branch in opposition, to mandate masks for anyone who enters the Town Hall and during public meetings conducted at the Event Center. The town will provide a mask “if necessary,” Ellis said. In a compromise, the board agreed that masks will not be required at private activities held at the Event Center.
The mask policy will be evaluated “month by month,” Ellis vowed.
TEMPERS ERUPT OVER APPOINTMENTS
With tempers simmering over the mask issue, the board began a discussion about whether to reappoint David McCoy to another five-year term on the Planning and Preservation Commission.
After protracted debate and numerous comments from irate audience members, the board rejected the motion in a split vote. Ellis and Trustees Dale Nomura and Larry Cofer voted no, while Branch and Schucker voted in favor of McCoy.
Afterward, Branch was visibly livid and trained his wrath on Cofer.
A short time later, Jean Schucker announced that she planned to complain to Comanche County District Attorney Fred Smith about Nomura’s alleged conflict of interest when she voted on McCoy.
At 10:13 p.m., with emotions already frayed, the board commenced a half-hour debate about whether to remove Trustee Schucker as the town’s floodplain administrator. Nomura and Cofer voted aye but Ellis cast the deciding vote against the motion.
At 10:46 p.m., the exhausted board called it quits for the day.