Around a dozen Claremore residents met in Gazebo Park for an informal meeting with City Councilor Justin Michael Tuesday.
Residents expressed outrage about ongoing water quality issues and remarks made by Michael and other city officials on social media.
“I ran some water into a bucket and it looked like coffee. Who is going to drink that crap? Not me,” said resident Cole Sexton. “What really gets me in that this effects our kids, our hospitals and our nursing homes.”
Resident Kevin Buff said he took the city up on an offer to conduct free water testing, only to have the city flush the line near his house for several hours the day before they came to perform the test.
“What is the city proactively doing about the water?” resident Anna Roberts asked, after stating she had water quality issues at her home since moving there in 2015. “What is the community doing to provide water for the students?”
Michael highlighted things the city has done to improve its water infrastructure in recent years such as renovating the water treatment plant. He also pointed to currently active projects replacing old water lines and fixing the silted-in intake system at Claremore Lake dam.
“Nobody should drink the brown water,” Michael said.
Addressing the issue of water at the public schools, Michael said, “My daughter goes to the junior high, my other daughter goes to Claremont. If a parent had called me and said the water at the junior high was brown, I would have said, ‘Ok, I believe you, let’s fix it.’”
Addressing the complaint that water quality has been a perennial issue in Claremore, Michael said, “Anything that happened prior to March of this year is like saying, ‘I had an engine knock on my other car that I sold,’”
“Any issues from the past are still important to me, but they are not related to the new water plant,” he said.
An official statement released by the city Aug. 19 stated that all discoloration currently in the water is the result of increased levels of manganese stirred up by storms and flooding in May.
“The City of Claremore is committed to meeting local, state and federal drinking water standards,” the official statement read. “Above all, we value our citizens, and providing safe, affordable, drinking water is of the highest importance to us.”
Michael expressed his empathy with fellow Claremore residents.
“I have been drinking this water for three months shy of 40 years,” Michael said.
However, he said , the city council is limited in how they can impact and address the function of municipal government.
“We have zero, zero, authority in this town,” Michael said. “We can fire the city manager, we can hire the city manager and we can effect his pay.”
The city council also votes on issues for which they are statutorily required to make a decision, including accepting bids and improving large city expenditures.
The issue, Michael said, is that city ordinances prohibit council members from communicating directly with city employees about city operations.
“Only the city manager has control over the daily operations of the city,” Michael said. “I can’t call and tell any city employee how to do their job.”
Residents also held Michael to account for comments made by the city councilor on social media.
“God help us if that’s the face of the city,” Resident Kathy Sexton said, “The city manager works for you as well as everyone else, so as a city council person you need to step up and say, ‘you’re out of line.’”
“When we heard there was brown water, we should have said, ‘Ok, where’s it at? Let’s go fix it,’ and we didn’t,” Michael said. “I am one of nine … If I go in there guns blazing saying I want to get rid of the city manager, I have to convince eight other people why and have a reason to get rid of him.”
“Earlier you said that if somebody started a petition to get rid of Jim Thomas you would back it. Can we hold you to that?” asked RSU student and Claremore resident Allison Jenkins.
“Yes,” Michael said. “I work for you … If that happens, I was elected by the city and I’ll stand behind the city. Heck yeah.”
Michael said he was glad people showed up to the park to address him in person instead of posting complaints to social media.
“I hate social media,” he said. “It destroys communication. People don’t listen and understand.”
“If you have concerns about your water, your electric, anything, I want you to call me,” Michael said to his constituents in District 2. “If I don’t have y’all talking to me, I have nothing to go talk to the city about.”
“I want to move forward and I want this city to have clean, clear water,” he said.
Residents admonished Michael for a video he shared to his personal Facebook page and since removed.
Kevin Buff said, “We are residents here. You are our councilor. We voted for you. You represent us. And then you went to on Facebook a block down from us and complain about whiners.”
“I’ll be the second person to admit I’m an asshole,” Michael said. “My wife will be the first. She tells me every day I’m an asshole, but she still loves me.”
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you I didn’t say stupid stuff,” Michael said. “I will tell you to your face I was wrong. I shouldn’t have said pathetic. I shouldn’t have said whiney. I was upset and irritated and I said some things.”
Michael added, “I support this town and I was upset to see that we keep getting drug into the mud, more and more and more.”