Tuesday, June 23, 2015

City Postpones Rotunda Removal

The old Sallisaw High School rotunda will remain, at least for the time being, and Sallisaw city employees will get their merit raises, the Sallisaw city commissioners decided Monday during a special meeting at the Sallisaw Civic Center. About 50 (above) attended the meeting, many in support of saving the rotunda. Ernest and Elizabeth Harris of Sallisaw, (above with signs) put their thoughts in writing to display to the commissioners.

Robert E. Jamison Jr., a Sallisaw attorney, spoke on behalf of those who hoped to save the rotunda. He pointed out that it held memories for many who graduated from the old high school and that the property could be made into a park. The park could feature picnic tables, a small stage for local music groups to perform, or as a place for the popular Movies on the Lawn activity by the Sallisaw Main Street group. "There are more than enough of us to take care of it," Jamison, a Sallisaw High School graduate said. "Memories mean something. Give something back to us."

City commissioners, at their June 8 regular meeting, voted to tear down the rotunda, which is all that remains of the old high school, because it is a target for vandalism. The old school was destroyed by an arson fire 11 years ago. Ward 2 Commissioner Jim Hudgens called the remaining rotunda an "attractive nuisance" and made the motion to remove the rotunda. At Monday's meeting, Hudgens said the city does not have the money to continue to repair the rotunda but he has no objection to a group of citizens taking over the property, its care and its liability.

City Manager Clayton E. Lucas III suggested the city issue a request for proposals, give the citizens group 60 days to present a proposal, which would be presented to the commissioners. The commissioners approved the request for proposals unanimously. The vote was applauded by the audience.

The motion to give city employees their merit raises passed but was not unanimous. Ward 4 Commissioner Daryl Legg made the motion to award the merit raises, and Ward 1 Commissioner Ronnie Lowe and Ward 3 Commissioner Julian Mendiola voted for the raises.

In his argument against the raises, Hudgens said he had nothing against the city employees but that the city has financial issues that should be addressed first. He said the city needs a debt reduction plan; that the city is faced with a $750,000 bill to move utilities along U.S. Highway 59 on the north side; that a new cell must be opened at the landfill; that maintenance is suffering due to budget cuts; among other issues. "We have to get the city finances back in shape, and I don't know where the money is going to come from," Hudgens said.

Lowe argued that not giving the raises would impact the employees' morale and families. He said cuts could be found in other places. Lucas said the raises would amount to 0.3 percent of the total budget. He said he and the staff are also still working on more budget cuts, and he recommended the merit raises be approved.

The three to two vote to approve the raises was applauded by the audience.

The commissioners also agreed not to continue a hiring freeze but to hire on a need basis, after looking at each job individually.

Lucas stated that the Sallisaw School System has now offered the old middle school to the city. The school system built and moved into a new middle school in the spring. That subject will be on the next city meeting agenda in July.

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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