The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 22, 2013

Union vote remains on Nov. 12 ballot; Kress Building coming down but retaining elements

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — In an attempt to avoid legal trouble, Enid City Commission took no action on the upcoming vote to allow city workers to unionize.

Further along in Tuesday’s special meeting, commissioners decided to demolish the Kress building and allow the downtown hotel’s builder to implement design elements of the historic building into the proposed Hilton Garden Inn.

City Manager Eric Benson asked to reconsider the city’s resolution placing the union election on the Nov. 12 ballot, because he was concerned the public was not adequately notified about it. In the three days between organizing the special meeting and Tuesday, however, he said it became clear through legal research the city actually did not have the authority to specifically say when the election should be held, therefore rendering part of the resolution moot.

During a meeting in September, the commission authorized the election, but thought it wouldn’t happen until January or February. Initially, commissioners thought there would not legally be enough time to publicize the resolution’s adoption and then take it to the Garfield County Election Board in time to put it on the November ballot.

Because the resolution was based on a public signature-driven initiative petition, the city now believes it had no right to set a date. It only had the responsibility of notifying the election board to hold the election, Benson said.

Earlier this year, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union organized a signature drive to get the issue on the ballot. If it becomes law, city workers will be able to collectively bargain for wages, benefits and other related policies.



Choices

The commission had several choices to consider, including adopting a second resolution to reset the election clock  — thereby postponing the election until next year. Commissioners settled on taking no action, which the city’s legal counsel said presented the least amount of litigation risk.

The question will remain on the Nov. 12 ballot and is open to registered voters within city limits.

City attorneys, in concert with an attorney for AFSCME, also said there probably will be no legal recourse for someone protesting the legitimacy of a Nov. 12 election, because the resolution was submitted to the election board before the public notice period was over.

“All that we have is the city manager taking a resolution so the election board can begin to prepare for that election, but that’s not going to be a procedural issue that’s going to cause a defect that any court is going to be concerned about,” said AFSCME’s attorney Doug Bernier.

Benson said he takes full responsibility for the row, but added that the city is “far more educated” about the issue.

City Attorney Andrea Chism noted initiative petition elections are rare, and Ward 5 Commissioner Tammy Wilson said there hadn’t been any Garfield County-level initiative petition votes in 30 years. She was part of a group that gathered signatures to change the county’s liquor laws in a vote held earlier this month.

“Nobody knows the answers. Nobody from the state down — nobody knows the answers to initiative petition questions. This is not just a city issue,” Wilson said.



Kress facade

City officials also voted to demolish the Kress building.

LodgeWell, the company that will build and operate a proposed Hilton Garden Inn and parking garage on the location of the Kress building and Cherokee Strip Conference Center, recently notified the city the Kress building’s original brickwork and mortar were badly decomposed. The city’s engineer confirmed the findings and the issue was brought before the commission Tuesday.

The original brick is on the interior of the Kress building. The exterior that is visible is a newer structure built on top of the original.

LodgeWell initially agreed to save the facade and incorporate it into the hotel’s design at the behest of the commission.

Three proposals ultimately were introduced at Tuesday’s special meeting. The first two didn’t get enough votes to succeed, but Ward 1 Commissioner Ron Janzen’s proposal to demolish the structure earned support from everyone except Wilson and Ward 3’s Ben Ezzell.

“Enid gave up on their historic downtown buildings years and years ago,” Janzen said. “Places like Guthrie have retained virtually every one of their downtown buildings intact. Enid has virtually none.”

Wilson countered, saying Janzen supported keeping Convention Hall, which was remodeled as part of the Renaissance Project.

“It was a perfectly viable building,” Janzen said. “This is not a viable building. We’re talking about a front, a reconstructed front, which to me has no historic value whatsoever.”

The other two proposals would have kept the existing front of the Kress building intact, either fully or with just the second story facade in place.

Benson said after the meeting the decision will allow LodgeWell to incorporate some of the materials from the building into a design that honors the appearance of the Kress building. City commissioner will have final say on how the hotel looks.

Benson also said any remaining materials could be distributed to interested parties. The owner of another Kress building in Bartlesville has said he plans on obtaining what he can from Enid’s structure.

LodgeWell is prepared to close on the property, which is owned by the city, by the end of October, Benson said. The city will demolish the building and LodgeWell will pay $10 for the land before starting construction.