When newly hired City Manager Troy Powell made the announcement at the February 2006 City Council retreat that Claremore has “enough rooftops” and he wanted to “scrap” plans for annexing east along Highway 20, some people applauded, others raised their eyebrows in disbelief.
In the end, Powell’s view that “the best thing — for the people living inside the city limits — is to take advantage of what we have already” brought a renewed focus on upgrading existing city infrastructure and brought innovative approaches to opening access to potential retail and commercial development.
Changes at City Hall, if not always, certainly always has the potential for generating controversy. Powell’s first full year in office lived up to that statement.
Powell was barely into the job one month, before brewing internal personnel issues resulted in the firing of the city attorney, several longtime city employees and eventually the exit of the human resources director.
The City Council saw one non controversial resignation, Jim Palmer, and an unanimous appointment of Tom Lehman.
In the end, under Powell’s leadership and with a supportive Council, City Hall has undergone a major overhaul in operations with more to come in the second half of the city’s fiscal year.
New budgetary and personnel initiatives have saved the city nearly $2 million in operations’ costs and set the stage for major improvements in the areas of city infrastructure and commercial development, according to Powell.
But, getting to this point was not easy, Powell says, and the credit goes mostly to the people working within individual departments.
The restructuring of city government started in January when the formidable task of developing a city budget began.
Eventually, 70 city positions were eliminated including 29 full-time jobs, 11 part-time and 30 temporary. Some of these employees were terminated, others were not replaced and some open positions were simply eliminated.
In addition the city reduced the number of city departments from 28 to 22 and downsized the number of committees, boards and liaison positions from 29 to 16. Most recently in the news was the City Council vote to disband the Parks Board. Some members of that Board had voiced opposing views on Rec Center fees and the availability of city-sponsored youth services.
“Streamlining” required individual city departments to also look at ways to “break even” financially. At the top of the list were and remain the city-owned and operated Rec Center and the Expo Center.
The moves in these areas have not been popular. The Rec Center now has only restricted free public access and users are monitored as they enter and exit. The stage is set for the city to take over management of the Expo Center after the first of the year, ending a long-term contract with an outside management company.
Operation of both the Rec Center and the Expo Center have been subsidized in the past to a tune of around half million dollars annually.
Powell hopes with the new emphasis on efficiency and accountability these two entities will be able to pay their own way while providing better services to the public.
In the meantime, Powell and his team at City Hall have presented to the Council a priority list of capital improvements ranging from replacement and upgrading electric utility lines, poles and equipment and to a much discussed plan to elevate the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.
Efforts are also under way to address stop light synchronization, complete paving of Lynn Riggs through town (including the turn lanes), widening of Country Club east of 66, opening of Country Club west of 66, extending Moretz south of Archer to Country Club, widening of Lowry Road on the northern side of the city and others.
Many of these projects are aimed at growing traffic congestion along the city’s main thoroughfares and opening access to property for more retail and commercial development.
One of the city’s long term projects, a new waste water treatment plant slated to be built near the Verdigris River, hit a snag early on in 2006 when the then Public Works Director Sam Balsiger told the Council it was possible the project was going to be over budget.
More recently, Balsiger’s warning manifested itself when engineers took another look at the project and realized escalating construction costs and the scope of the plan was more than 10 million over the available funding.
Powell and City Finance Director Serena Kauk are still in the process of reviewing possible refinancing scenarios and a decision will be made on possible alternative plant options. A decision should be made in early 2007.
The sitting City Council, Mayor Brant Shallenburger, Deputy Mayor Flo Guthrie, Mick Webber, Terry Chase, Tom Lehman, Paula Watson, Buddy Robertson, Tony Mullenger and Rebecca Askew have consistently voted in support of Powell’s initiatives.
Upcoming city elections in all four Wards, including the mayor, could possibly bring additional changes.