Claremore Daily Progress

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December 22, 2013

Wrongdoing allegations roil Rogers County

(Continued)

CLAREMORE —

That grand jury is still investigating the case.
Pruitt stepped in after townspeople themselves — including the sheriff and police officers — had petitioned the local court to empanel a grand jury. 
A legal technicality led a judge to throw out the signatures of 7,000 people who had signed a petition. The petition’s backers needed 4,480 signatures — 16 percent of the number of voters from the last governor’s election.
The petition’s three targets — the district attorney and Commissioners Mike Helm and Kirt Thacker — have denied the allegations and said attacks against them are politically motivated.
“People can say whatever they want,” Helm said. “Just by saying it, it doesn’t make it true.”
Thacker said the Progress has written unflattering things about him because he won’t “submit to their bullying.”
“They need stories to sell newspapers, I know where they’re coming from,” Thacker said.
Steidley did not return a phone message seeking comment but has called the allegations against her “baseless and pathetic.”
The newspaper has spent tens of thousands of dollars on legal bills.
“We were never looking to uncover massive amounts of stuff; all we were looking to do was understand an audit that had already been done,” said Bailey Dabney, publisher of the Progress. “We take the watchdog role pretty darned seriously.”
The stories have also galvanized some residents here. They have shown up en masse at routine county meetings, firing questions at public officials about the unfolding allegations.
“I think it looks real bad,” said Alger Flood, a retired teacher and principal who has lived in Rogers County for more than 30 years and has become a regular at county commission meetings. “(The public officials) seem to have a real disdain for the Claremore Progress.”
Kristen Rohr, who works at a local child advocacy center, doubts many outsiders would believe all the allegations of wrongdoing here.
“You could fill a book on all of what’s gone on here,” she said.

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