Updated on Feb. 9, 2023 —
Related Article: Councilman Don Channel resigns city council post
Related Article: City Council declines to hear from selected citizens at council meeting
A lot of emotion was on display Tuesday evening at the Guthrie city council meeting. The cause of the heightened emotion revolved around public comments.
Several citizens signed up to speak on four separate topics.
The first to be called to speak by Vice Mayor Jim Case, who was filling in for Mayor Steve Gentling who was absent, was Lisa New with Helping Community Paws and Claws — a non-profit organization that spay and neuter animals to help with the overpopulation of unwanted animals as well as end the suffering of the animals.
As she approached the microphone, Councilman Don Channel addressed the council and brought forward the council’s policy on public comments referring to the City’s website and sign-up sheet.
“There are three things that involved talking to the council,” Channel said. “If there is an item on our agenda, or community announcement, festival, or an accomplishment that somebody has done. Those are the three things that are defined in our criteria addressing the council.”
Channel spoke to the number of times New and supporters of the non-profit had spoken to the council in the past on the same issue.
“I would move that this is not a motion we need to hear due to its not on our agenda,” Channel said.
City Attorney Billy Wheeler advised Case that a vote was not needed and was up to the discretion of the vice mayor.
“What Don is talking about is something that we do need to address,” Case said. “We need to stay more on topic. We got a lot to cover tonight already without getting off the agenda and topic.”
New interjected by saying, “until we resolve you guys stop killing the animals, I’m not going to stop coming up here.”
Councilman Tracy Williams said, “You need to stop this. The policy says if it’s not on the agenda, we don’t need to discuss it. Follow the policy that is in place.”
As the council moved on to the next topic, half the members of the packed gallery walked out while showing their displeasure of not being heard and met outside in the chamber halls.
The following citizen to be heard on the signup sheet was Kathy Hayes. Before the discussion, Williams asked, “does the policy not apply to this as well?”
Case followed up, “I think we have the same situation again.”
Williams responded, “Personally, I read the emails back and forth and I don’t see this as being anything more than a personal item between two people. Not between the council and the person. Because he’s a council member, the argument I saw in writing I think its personal.”
Hayes responded to Williams, “I would say it’s a violation of code of conduct number three,” Hayes said referring to the City Council’s Code of Ethics. “Professional and personal conduct of members must be above reproach and avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Members shall refrain from abusive conduct, personal charges or verbal attacks upon the character or motives of members of council, boards and commissions, staff or public.”
Hayes continued, “I’m public. I’m a small business owner and was threatened by Councilman Don Channel. I tried to resolve this personally. I met with Leroy. I emailed all of you. I met with councilman Bothroyd and Channel on Friday for an hour and 15 minutes and tried to resolve this.”
Afterward, the council discussed if Hayes should be allowed time to speak after denying New.
“I think you are going have to get Leroy to put this on the agenda for us to hear it, Kathy,” Case said. “He’s going have to put it on the agenda first.”
Williams asked for assistance from City Manager Leroy Alsup if that was indeed the proper protocol.
“There is no state law that requires the council to allow public comments,” Alsup said. “It’s not a legal question, it’s not an administrative issue, it’s a council policy. You all (council members) need to set the policy. You have a policy right now. I don’t know that we have been following it consistently.”
With not being able to speak on the matter, Hayes’s complaint was not shared publicly. However, Williams shared his feelings on the subject.
“For the record, I’m not defending Don in this. I told him I thought he was wrong. Did I not tell you Don,” Williams asked during council comments. “But I think it’s a private issue between two people that have locked horns before.”
Next to sign up to speak was resident Phil Nichols who signed up to recognize Bothroyd for his time spent on the numerous phone calls between himself and Bothroyd throughout the week on an issue. However, Nichols turned the narrative back to the evening’s events.
“This council has decided not to hear from the public on these issues. That’s really sad. What I have seen here tonight is disgraceful. You all should be embarrassed.”
Next on the public comment list was Charles Downs who was allowed to speak despite not being on the agenda or meeting the council’s public comment policy.
Downs shared with the council that citizens should not have to release their address to speak before the council due to the possibility of identity theft.
During the council comment portion of the meeting, Councilman James Long relayed his frustrations with the events of the night.
“Honestly, tonight was a crazy night to start enforcing what the current citizen participation guidelines were just because we had people wanting to talk. At the same time, I also understand the Cat Lady (New) has been here for public comments multiple times. At some time, she just needs to get on the agenda or not.”
Councilman Brian Bothroyd echoed the thoughts of Long.
“I want to apologize to everybody who signed up. I don’t believe in squelching anyone’s voice for anything. They should have been able to talk. I am disappointed in shutting people down. That’s not what we do. That’s not what we are made of. This town. This country, anything. It’s ridiculous.”
He added, “We picked a bad time to start enforcing an ordinance or enforcing a policy. If we are going to put everything on the agenda then we damn well (better) put everything on the agenda, and we don’t allow anyone to talk.”
Case responded, “I’m just trying to follow what this says right here” as he pointed to the policy sheet.”
Bothroyd answered, “yeah, well, we haven’t followed that (policy) in forever. I’ve been on this thing (council) for eight years and getting ready to do another four. We’ve never followed it.”
Case responded, “I know we haven’t.”
Bothroyd ended his comments in a rallying cry for the council.
“We have to get along,” Bothroyd told the council members. “We got a lot to go. A lot of good things are going to happen.”
Meeting Audio Turned Off
Near the conclusion of Tuesday night’s city council meeting, the audio to the streaming audience was turned off from inside the City Hall chambers by a City staff member.
The audio feed, which is sent to both the City of Guthrie and Guthrie News Page’s live broadcast, came during a time as emotions drew high.
There appeared to be confusion that the meeting had been adjourned causing the audio to be turned off.
At the time of the audio being turned off, there was no other City business handled as the scheduled executive session was canceled prior to the meeting.
The meeting was adjourned 1:12 after the audio was shut off.