|Posted on November 17, 2010 at 3:38 PM|
I met with Jim Greff, City Manager of Prague since November 2007. Jim has been with Prague in various capacities for 30 years, serving as Interim City Manager and as Public Works Director prior to being named as city manager.
Prague City Hall offices are housed in the beautiful former bank building which is shared with the Red Cross, Oklahoma Main Street Program and the Prague Chamber. The bank built an attractive facility next door to city hall, and all are on the town’s main street. Having formerly been a bank, the city hall building contains two vaults, one used by Emergency Management as a shelter in the event of storms.
The city funds a 22-member all volunteer fire department; and Prague’s police department is staffed with seven full-time officers and a chief for 24/7 city coverage.
Prague has received several grants of late including $135,000 from the Department of Energy as part of the federal stimulus monies, which will fund changing out the heat and air system and installing heat pumps to increase utility efficiency at city hall. Funds have also been released for street improvements through a CDBG grant. Two Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars will repave streets near the high school with $150,000 funded from grants and $100,000 by the city. Prague, like other cities that own their own airport, receives $150,000 annually from FAA for airport improvements, which will help fund the runway expansion. Other airport projects have included securing land, rerouting a county road, fencing the property, and dirt work. Asphalt and lighting will soon be added. Ten planes are housed at the airport. The city has secured property for an airport expansion.
Something I thought was very interesting that I have not heard about from any other cities I have visited to date is Prague’s 30-mile horse riding trails around the city lake. Since no option exists for renting horses, you must bring your own. ATV’s were formerly allowed on these same trails but had to be shut down about five years ago due to non compliance with the rules by some of the riders.
As I looked around Jim’s neatly kept office, I noticed some bowling awards adorning his wall. Jim says he bowls in a league every Friday night in Shawnee since Prague does not have a bowling alley. He has been bowling for several years, sometimes competitively.
Prague has neither a hotel nor bed & breakfast (B&B) in their city, but has been contemplating building a new sports complex. The water and wastewater systems are functioning well, and are not under NOV or consent orders from DEQ or EPA. The city owns an electric system which breaks even, and operates its own trash/sanitation service with two workers on the back of the truck. Citizens can use any trash receptacle they wish for the once a week pick-up. Jim says he has discussed contracting this service out at different times but their citizens are insistent that the city continue the existing service.
Prague lost its ambulance service four or five years ago and currently contracts for service with REACT in Shawnee. A $9.00 monthly fee is assessed on each utility bill to pay for this service. This primarily pays to house an ambulance in Prague in the event it is needed.
Their sales tax was down a little bit last year (only 3.6%) but has risen somewhat so far this year. Although they were not able to give their employees a raise this year, they also did not have lay-offs or furlough days. We talked about the efforts currently being undertaken by the two OML finance and revenue committees and their accomplishments towards improvements in finances for cities and towns.
Jim gave me a tour of the facility and I was very impressed with the entire offices and operation. As we were concluding our meeting, Mayor Bryan Benson stopped in at city hall so I was able to visit with him for a few minutes.
Town of Paden
I met with the Paden Town Clerk, Melanie Brown, who is in her third year serving as the Paden Town Clerk. She was appointed to the position when medical issues arose for the former clerk. Brown has a close connection to Paden history. Pretty Boy Floyd actually robbed Paden’s bank where her godfather was a teller. Pretty Boy kidnapped Brown’s godfather, but they let him go – he had to jump out of the car of course, but was not harmed.
Melanie is excited about the grant Paden recently received from the Department of Tourism to build a 32-acre walking trail for Paden. The trails were partially funded by the Creek Nation which started a competition walking program. Thirty towns participated with everyone wearing pedometers. Paden won the first year and received one mile of walking trails; Paden purchased the land from a citizen who had used it for pasture. They won again the second year and netted $3,500 of outdoor exercise equipment. Leveraging that with a match from Tourism, Paden actually got a park and used the grant for the trail. Paden plans to embellish the park and trail with a pavilion and restrooms and to continue the upgrades as time and resources allow. Melanie says the town is looking for a method of enforcing their ordinance against dogs in the park and on the trail, but currently there is no code enforcement.
Paden schools, elementary through high school, number about 200 students. Sports, especially basketball, are highly popular. Paden recently started a youth organization which was active in this year’s fireworks display. A tragic car accident took the lives of three of Paden’s students. When another youth died a short time later his parents donated money toward building a volleyball court, and the youth organization was started. It was important to the town and citizens to provide a place for the youth. The Town of Paden is enjoying these things as they did not have them in the past.
Paden’s retail base is a grocery store and convenience store. A lumber company generates most of the sales tax revenue. They appreciate their all-volunteer Fire Department, but have no police. A county deputy living in town helps them feel secure.
Paden is one of those historical Oklahoma towns once thriving along the Fort Smith and Western Railroad line with a colorful and exciting history. The town is named after its hero, the rough and tough U.S. Marshall Paden Tolbert, who “fought the meanest outlaws” in the Territory and cleaned up the badlands, earning commissions with Judge Isaac C. Parker, ‘the hangin’ judge’, and in the U.S. court at Muskogee under Marshall S. Morton Rutherford. He trailed Henry Starr and the Cook Gang, and captured the Buck and Jennings Gangs. The Indian Territory Town of Paden, which Tolbert helped found, got off to a peaceful start since outlaws just didn’t go there. Tolbert resigned his federal commission in 1904, the year he died. The grieving town appointed the Marshall’s wife, Lucy, as postmistress of Paden.
Paden has survived a series of calamities that reduced its population to its current 400 citizens. The prosperous early coalmining declined, and with it the railroad. Even the discovery of nearby oil was not enough to save the Fort Smith and Western. The Great Fire of 1915 devastated the town; but the recent major setback has been the building of I-40 which diverted vehicular traffic away from town.
I find it so interesting to visit these small towns. I always learn some interesting tidbits of history from each one.
Town of Meeker
I met with Donna Watkins, the Town Clerk, and Jim Howard, the Town Administrator.
Donna had just gotten off the phone with officials of the Red Cross who were checking whether anything was happening in town. At the time of my visit, there had been hurricane activity in the southern gulf and it was not yet known whether the effects would reach Oklahoma. Since the city is also the Red Cross shelter in the event of disasters, they wanted to ensure nothing was happening in Meeker and people weren’t showing up at the shelter.
Also, next door actually contiguous to city hall is a history museum. A long-time citizen donated money to build the museum onto the existing city hall. The museum has many interesting items of history including the first mail buggy, an area that housed old medical tables and utensils, old quilts and many, many other things of interest. Donna said all of the items came from local donations. There were even items dating from 1891 from Donna’s grandfather who was born in Oklahoma Territory, and who was also named “Oklahoma.”
Upon entering city hall, you see the Carl Hubbard Museum. Hubbard was a baseball and football Hall of Famer from Missouri who played pro football with the Giants, the Packers, and baseball with the Pirates. He later umpired baseball in the minors, and officiated American League, World Series and All Star Games.
Meeker refurbished its city hall about nine months ago with a REAP grant. Donna stressed how important REAP funding was to small communities. They added brick in front, new metal, new awnings, and raised the ceilings. Much of the work was “in kind.”
Meeker owns its own Pre-K to 12 school system including Kindergarten. Both are full-day programs.
Jim Howard has been Meeker’s city manager for about three years, and has lived in Meeker for about six years. His wife was born and raised in this town. His prior municipal experience was as the Mayor of Earlsboro in the 1980s.
Howard had several concerns with the CLEET operations and said that every year CLEET adds a little more training here and there. As a result the current academy lasted 14½ weeks. The lengthy training creates many problems for small towns. When an officer is sent to training, the town must pay their salary while they are away, plus pay for someone to cover in their absence. He would like to see CLEET place more emphasis on the basics such as report writing, and spend less time on criminal investigation, which he feels should be part of specialized training. He would like more time spent on learning more about traffic accidents which is what most of his officers would be covering. Their chief recently conducted a training session for their officers and others on report writing.
He also has concerns with the recently passed Uniform Building Code (UBC) and thinks it is a duplication of efforts since the Constructions Industries Board (CIB) is already in place and another new ‘agency’ was unnecessary. He shared his concerns with his legislator, Representative Danny Morgan.
Another concern of Howard is unfunded mandates (which we all hate). Meeker recently passed a one cent ($.01) sales tax increase in April 2009.
Mr. Howard visits with some of the city managers in the near by cities and is considering joining the City Managers Association of Oklahoma (CMAO). He mentioned having received a question from a neighboring city manager asking if other cities evaluated their judges and municipal attorneys, and if so, what process is used. He thinks this is a great way to let managers talk to each other. He would like to see OML host a blog where members could ask a question and other could members provide input for all to see. He appreciates the training opportunities offered by OML but is restricted from sending some of his employees to training due to time away and limited financial resources.
He was complimentary of the inquiry service at OML and thought he always received good and timely responses.