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By Traci Chapman
Mustang voters in November will consider a five percent motel tax, which officials say could bring needed funds into city coffers – without costing residents a penny.
The measure will be brought to a vote in the Nov. 4 general election, after City Council voted to present the measure to residents. If passed, the tax would be levied only on motels and hotels located within Mustang city limits, an industry officials said they are actively pursuing.
“We have the armory, the healthplex, we have developers seeing a need and wanting to locate here in Mustang,” Mayor Jay Adams said. “This is more an issue it’s coming, rather than something that would bring hotels here.”
With just one, small and outdated motel situated inside Mustang city limits, groups and individuals are forced to seek lodging in Yukon or Oklahoma City. As more and more events are held in the city’s expanding amenities and with a planned December completion of St. Anthony’s healthplex, among others, it is a matter of when – not if – new hotels would be built in Mustang, City Manager Tim Rooney said.
“We have these ball tournaments – people are staying in Yukon, buying dinner in Yukon,” Rooney said. “We need to get these people to stay in Mustang.”
Most communities have implemented lodging taxes, including Yukon and El Reno, both located along Interstate 40.
“I travel a lot in my day job, and I have not stayed at a hotel where I have not paid this tax,” Ward 1 Councilman Matthew Taylor said.
The tax would be solely charged on room sales, which means the implementation would not adversely affect residents’ wallets, officials said. The construction of even one hotel in Mustang city limits could mean “significant” funds for needed projects, repairs or other items not currently attainable with existing revenues, the city manager said.
“One hotel could bring in as much as $5,400 a month in revenue,” Rooney said. “Proceeds wouldn’t need to be earmarked, so council could decide annually how funds are spent.”
Mustang voters have considered – and rejected – a motel tax three times, Rooney said. He believed those failures were at least partially due to residents’ misunderstanding of the tax, he said.
“I will go out and address every group, speak to anyone who wants to know about this, to provide the information people need,” the city manager said.
By Traci Chapman
About 80 Oklahoma National Guard soldiers headquartered in Mustang were welcomed home Monday after a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Battery A, 1st Battalion, 158th Field Artillery, 45th Field Artillery Brigade was sent last September to support coalition forces in Afghanistan. The unit returned to Oklahoma July 8 and were formally welcomed during a ceremony attended by National Guard officers, family members and area residents, held at Mustang Armed Forces Reserve Center.
While in Afghanistan, soldiers provided route security and served as convoy escorts during several missions, Oklahoma National Guard officials said. Members of Battery B, 171st Target Acquisition Battery and 120th Forward Support Company were also deployed with forces headquartered at MAFRC. Battery A was commanded by Capt. Sean Bryant of Edmond.
Battery A forces made history Jan. 16 when they provided “indirect artillery fire support” to coalition forces in Afghanistan. Using the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, MAFRC soldiers fired two rockets in support of Task Force Duke, destroying a communications repeater sight, officials said.
A repeater sight is used to assist insurgents in their fight against coalition forces, officials said.
This combat operation support was the first time since Operation Desert Storm an Oklahoma Army National Guard Unit fired rockets, officials said. Battery A’s launcher crew included gunner, Spc. Joshua Hale of Chickasha, driver, Staff Sgt. Steven Stanley of Carnegie, and launcher, Chief Sgt. Matthew Schoolfield of Ninnekah.
During Desert Storm, the unit fired 903 rockets, officials said. Hale’s father, Spc. Chad Hale, and Sgt. Richard Schoolfield, Schoolfield’s father, were part of the unit’s Desert Storm deployment, which deployed 429 National Guard soldiers during the Gulf War.
Mustang’s guard was replaced last month by its sister unit, Battery B, 1st Battalion, 158th Field Artillery.
By Traci Chapman
A Mustang man accused of embezzlement in connection with his employment with the Oklahoma American Legion now faces new charges.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt on June 10 filed one felony and one misdemeanor drug charge against David Austin Kellerman. The 43-year-old Mustang man was charged in January with felony embezzlement in a federal case filed in Canadian County District Court. District Attorney Michael Fields said Tuesday the Kellerman charges were the first he could recall filed by the attorney general in District 4 since he took office.
“The AG’s office has a multi-county grand jury with statewide jurisdiction, they have a Medicare fraud unit that investigates and prosecutes fraud and abuse cases and they have a consumer protection unit that investigates and prosecutes consumer scams,” Fields stated via email.
District 4 encompasses Canadian, Garfield, Blaine, Grant and Kingfisher counties. Officials at the attorney general’s office said the original embezzlement charges stemmed from an indictment issues by the multi-county grand jury.
The new charges involve one count of felony possession of a controlled dangerous substance – methamphetamine – as well as drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor. If convicted, Kellerman could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $5,000 on the felony charge.
Kellerman’s embezzlement case is set for a July 28 preliminary hearing, after being postponed three times since it was originally scheduled in February. On June 18, Oklahoma City attorney R. Scott Adams, listed as defense counsel, filed a motion to withdraw as Kellerman’s attorney, based on the Mustang man’s “inability to make the appropriate financial arrangements.” Special Judge Jack McCurdy signed an order allowing Adams’ withdrawal June 18. It was unknown whether that would impact the July 28 hearing date. Kellerman also faces a July 28 preliminary hearing on the drug charges, according to Oklahoma State Courts Network.
Kellerman served as Oklahoma American Legion state adjutant from September 2003 until December 2011. Investigators said Kellerman was charged with collecting historical weapons loaned to American Legion posts across the state by the U.S. Department of the Army. Once a post disbanded or stopped using those rifles, they were to be returned to the Army. Investigators said that didn’t happen under Kellerman’s watch.
Kellerman allegedly sold the Army’s rifles to various individuals, including the owner of El Reno-based Star Amusement, Adlai Stevenson Brinkley. Brinkley himself is the subject of federal criminal charges in a case where Kellerman is listed as a witness.
The investigations into both Kellerman and Brinkley took place over a period of several months, according to court documents. During a March 2013 raid, investigators seized gambling machines they said were operated illegally by Star Amusement for 22 years. Machines were located in various locations throughout Oklahoma and Kansas, including the American Legion Post in El Reno. It was a meeting at that post that tipped investigators to Kellerman’s alleged criminal activity, they said.
According to the probable cause affidavit filed in Kellerman’s case, U.S. Department of Homeland Security special agent Eric Coburn met with Kellerman and others in August 2013 at El Reno American Legion Post. While there, Coburn said he learned of an alleged “scheme” involving the sale of the rifles for Kellerman’s “personal profit.” Three of the El Reno post’s rifles were “missing,” and a witness named J.C. Taylor said Kellerman sold them to Brinkley, Coburn said.
Brinkley allegedly purchased as many as 120 rifles from Kellerman in 2012 for about $350 each. When investigators searched Brinkley’s home in connection with the Star Amusement illegal gambling warrants, Coburn alleged in his report he found the three rifles missing from the El Reno post there.
Kellerman’s alleged thefts took place between January 2010 and December 2011, AG investigators said. If convicted on the embezzlement charges, Kellerman could serve five years in prison and pay a $5,000 fine.
In July 2012, Kellerman received a deferred sentence on three misdemeanor counts – possession of controlled dangerous substance and paraphernalia and driving while under the influence. As part of that deferment, Kellerman was placed on probation until July 18, 2014, which meant the Mustang man agreed “not to violate any statutes of the state or federal government or any municipal ordinances.”
It was not known whether that deferred sentence would be impacted by the 2014 charges filed against Kellerman.
One Mustang North Middle School student and the father of another middle school student were killed in a Sunday automobile accident in Bryan County.
According to Oklahoma Highway Patrol reports, Leonard Fly II, 40, of Yukon was driving west on U.S. Highway 70 near Mead. Traveling with him were his 13-year-old son and a 14-year-old Mustang Public Schools student. Authorities did not release the boys’ names.
According to a preliminary report, a truck driven by 47-year-old Richard Ardrey of Colbert crossed the center line and crashed into a pickup driven by Fly. Highway Patrol officials say Ardrey was killed in the crash, along with his passenger, 37-year-old Matthew Kraemer of Colbert. According to OHP reports, all four casualties of the accident were transferred to Brown Funeral Home in Durant.
According to the OHP report, Ardrey was driving a 1998 Chevy pickup truck eastbound when he crossed the center line and hit the 2000 Ford PK driven by Fly on the driver’s side.
The injured boy was flown to a hospital in Dallas, where he is now listed in good condition.
The wreck is still under investigation, OHP officials said.
By Traci Chapman
Mustang will request Oklahoma Department of Transportation conduct a speed limit change study for a section of East state Highway 152.
Council considered the proposal during its regular July 1 meeting. The study would be conducted on the 1.2-mile stretch of Highway 152 between North Country Club Terrace and Sara Road, City Manager Tim Rooney said.
The item originally was brought before Mustang Traffic Commission upon the request of Harry Weatherford, who owns property north and just east of E. state Highway 152 and Morgan Road. According to traffic commission and city council agenda commentaries, Weatherford said the speed limit on Highway 152 at the location – 45 miles per hour – and the amount of traffic traveling the thoroughfare caused hazards and difficulties for his customers attempting to enter and exit his parking lot.
Mustang Chief Chuck Foley said in reviewing accident and citation records for that stretch of road, he discovered 93 collisions in the area between July 2009 and June 2014, one of them a fatality accident.
“I stop myself, on a regular basis, people traveling more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, people going 55 in a 45 mile per hour zone,” he said. “It’s an issue.”
Ward 1 Councilman Matthew Taylor objected to asking for a speed limit change study. He suggested looking at possible traffic islands to reduce cars traveling into the center median to make a left turn, particularly in areas along Highway 152 adjacent to Castle Rock Center and leading from the east up to Mustang Road.
“I have a big problem with asking ODOT to reduce the speed,” Taylor said. “Will five miles per hour really make a difference?
“I would rather ask about traffic islands for all of 152, not just in that area, sort of like Edmond has,” the councilman said. “Congestion is the issue.”
It could, Foley replied, to the five mile per hour possible reduction. As traffic turns into Mustang limits, he said many drivers he had stopped said they hadn’t seen the change in speed limit from 55 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour.
“There aren’t any flashing lights or anything,” the chief said. “This involves safety.”
Mayor Jay Adams, who works for ODOT, agreed with Foley, and questioned whether center islands would help the situation.
“This is a safety issue rather than congestion issue,” Adams said. “Turn islands may actually make the situation worse.
“When the speed limits were set, traffic volumes were half of what they are now,” he said.
“This is a study, it’s not a change to the speed limit,” Foley said. “There’s been attention-getting factors – accidents, speeding.
“I don’t know if we can relieve that congestion but we can address the safety concerns,” he said.
Council ultimately approved the study in a 6-1 vote, with Taylor voting against. Officials would request the study as soon as possible, Rooney said.
By Traci Chapman
Mustang Public Schools’ $11.4 million event center took a major step toward completion last week, as officials held an official groundbreaking at the site.
The ceremony was held June 25, where dirt work has already begun on the new building. The center will be located on the east side of Mustang High School’s campus. The center was accomplished after a lot of behind-the-scenes work, Superintendent Sean McDaniel said.
“Many of our employees, coaches and our athletic directors have worked on this for a very long time,” he said. “We will now be seeing things come up out of the ground.
“Just having the equipment on-site is exciting – it’s the beginning of the fulfillment of an incredible vision,” McDaniel said. “Some members of the board who put this plan in place are still serving.”
The event center was part of the 2012 bond issue, voted on in April 2012. That election also featured construction of Prairie View Elementary and Canyon Ridge Intermediate schools, remodeling of the former mid-high school transitioning to Horizon Intermediate School, a new gymnasium for Mustang Elementary School, as well as gym upgrades at Mustang Valley Elementary, among other projects. Sixty-three percent of the voters approved the proposal, school officials said.
Jeff Woodard, MPS director of bonds and construction, said the 62,000-square-foot center will be used for a variety of events, including basketball, wrestling and volleyball. The building will have 2,240 fixed seats with another 500 portable seats available on the floor with a stage. That nearly doubles the seating capacity of the current gym, built in 1964, Woodard said. Seating in that building is certified for 1,294 people. The gym was given some updates in 2004, said Shannon Rigsby, district public information officer.
“The new event center is close to three times larger than the current high school gymnasium,” Woodard said. “All students and student athletes will reap the benefits of much-needed space in the gym, locker rooms and flexible seating arrangements.
“The event center will definitely be one of the main focal points of the high school campus for years to come,” he said.
The project is slated for completion in August 2015. Included in the space will be nine locker rooms for varsity, junior varsity and freshman boys and girls basketball, boys and girls volleyball and girls tennis, Woodard said. The center also features a fitness area, training room and coaches offices, he said.
The building is designed with a plaza-style entry and upper and lower concourses, which each include concessions and restrooms, Woodard said. Players and coaches will have a secure entry to the building, he said. MA+ Architecture designed the center.
“Credit must also go to the board members and administrators who served before and were part of the process,” McDaniel said, in acknowledging those people responsible for the project. “This building will be a legacy to them and MHS for decades to come.”
By Traci Chapman
Redlands Community College students will see a hike in their tuition when they return to classes in the fall.
Regents in June approved a 5.9 percent tuition increase, effective during fiscal year 2014-2015. That means per credit hour costs will go up from $116.50 last year to $123.37 when the fall semester begins on Aug. 14. The tuition for a student taking 30 credit hours will run $3,701 – an increase of $206, according to documents prepared by Redlands staff.
According to breakdowns prepared by college officials, this is the fifth consecutive year tuition at the community college has increased. It is the largest percentage hike during those five years. Last year, officials implemented a 4.96 percent increase.
Redlands was not the only community college or four-year university to implement a tuition hike this year, officials said. In a report prepared for regents, several school sites were polled, and many revealed tuition increases, most ranging between 4 percent and 7 percent. Connors State College posted an 8.2 percent boost, while Oklahoma City Community College anticipated a 4.85 percent increase. Rose State College indicated it would increase tuition this fall by 4.3 percent, while Southwestern State University provided hikes between 5.8 and 6.9 percent. Of all of the schools polled by Redlands, it appeared Murray State College was anticipating the biggest boost at 9.5 percent.
Average increases for two-year colleges included in the Redlands report totaled 6.74 percent.
Higher costs were the reason for the necessary increase, Redlands President Jack Bryant said.
“While higher education did receive a flat-line budget this year, when the final appropriations were released, this did not address the issue of mandatory cost increases like utilities, benefits, etc.,” he said. “The tuition increase that was approved by the Redlands board at the June 9 meeting and then approved by the Oklahoma State Regents Board at their meeting on the 26th will help generate some of the funds needed to cover those mandatory increases.”
Regents attending the meeting unanimously approved the increase. Regents Charlie Beard and Tracey Wills were absent.
By Traci Chapman
More than a year after his arrest, the preliminary hearing for a man accused of killing a Calumet woman and her son has again been postponed.
Derek Don Posey, now 31, was scheduled to appear in a July 7 preliminary hearing before Special District Court Judge Jack McCurdy. Posey is accused of killing Amy Gibbins, 22, and her 5-year-old son, Bryor Gibbins, on June 16, 2013.
On Monday, court-appointed attorneys for the Tulsa man requested a continuance of the hearing because of a conflict they had with a case in Stevens County, Assistant District Attorney Paul Hesse stated by email Tuesday.
“The attorneys have a death penalty case that is scheduled to go to trial in the next couple of weeks in that county and they did not believe they could be prepared for the preliminary hearing on Monday due to their trial preparations in the other case,” Hesse said.
Preliminary hearings are held in order for prosecutors to present evidence, which they hope will convince a judge there is sufficient evidence with which to move forward to trial.
It was not the first time the hearing had been delayed because of issues with Posey’s council. Represented by attorneys with Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, the Tulsa man’s first attorney left OIDS, and the first preliminary set in the case was postponed as a result, Hesse said. The next date was also continued when one of Posey’s new attorneys suffered a heart attack shortly before the preliminary hearing was set to begin, he said. Preparation had slowed because the attorney needed time to recover from that heart attack, Hesse said.
A new date for the preliminary hearing – which is generally held much earlier in the process – has not yet been set, Hesse said.
“It is uncommon not to have a preliminary hearing conducted within a year of the filing of charges, but there have been some uncommon circumstances involving the attorneys appointed to represent Posey,” he said.
Posey, who investigators said was working in oil fields around Calumet at the time of the killings, faces five felony charges in connection with the killings. Four of those are for first-degree murder, while another relates to “debit card theft,” according to documents posted on Oklahoma State Courts Network. The four murder counts allege alternative theories in the way Amy and Bryor Gibbins were murdered, Hesse said.
Posey is also accused of taking Amy Gibbins’ debit card as he exited the Calumet home, according to documents. Law enforcement personnel said early on in the investigation, video of the Tulsa man using that debit card was an important part of their investigation.
Posey could face life in prison, life in prison without parole or the death penalty on the first-degree murder charges, while the debit card charge carries up to three years in prison, a $3,000 fine or both. Prosecutors have not yet made a determination concerning the penalty they would pursue against the Tulsa man, Hesse said.
Firefighters first discovered the murder when they found the bodies during the early morning hours of June 16, when they were called to extinguish a fire at the Gibbins’ Calumet residence.
Calumet Police Chief Brian Huckabee requested assistance from Oklahoma State Fire Marshal’s Office in the investigation, which also called in investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents.
Posey was arrested June 25, 2013, at his Tulsa home. He has been held in Canadian County Jail without bail since that time.
By Traci Chapman
Mustang officials say they have been blown away by residents’ enthusiasm about the city’s Individual Safe Room Hazard Mitigation Grant.
“We were fearful the lack of watches and warnings would make some of the original selectees reluctant to follow through,” said Robert Coleman, Mustang community development director. “We understand money for a safe room may be competing with more glamorous items in the family budget, things like boats, bikes and vacations.”
That did not appear to be the case in Mustang, Coleman said Tuesday.
Residents were randomly selected to participate in the grant, which would reimburse homeowners for up to $2,000 of the cost of a storm shelter. Of 525 people originally selected to participate in the program, as of June 21, 474 of them had attended a meeting required under the grant’s parameters.
According to city permit records, more than 142 of the original group selected to participate in the program obtained building permits. Of those, 15 safe rooms were installed since the program commenced May 30. Coleman said traffic at city hall was “brisk” as homeowners worked to fulfill requirements to continue in the program.
“The original selectees must all have their commitment agreement filed with the city by next Monday, they must submit all materials necessary for a building permit by Aug. 1 and they must have the safe room installed and all close out paperwork filed by Jan. 30, 2015,” the community development director said. “Anyone missing any of these deadlines risks being eliminated from the program.”
Although this year’s tornado “season” has been unusually quiet, that wasn’t the case last year. Although a May 31 storm caused damage in Mustang, it resulted in eight deaths and the destruction of several homes and businesses near El Reno and in the western part of Canadian County.
Between September and December last year, community development received 829 individual safe room grant applications. Thirty-nine properties were disqualified because properties were located in floodplains; another 40 homeowners dropped out of the running before Mustang received confirmation it had received the grant, Coleman said.
“And a handful of others have chosen to forego their eligibility in the meantime,” he said. “As result, another 50 to 60 families are likely to be randomly selected from the alternates list on or about July 1.”
Those randomly chosen will receive a phone call and letter from community development in early July, Coleman said.
The grant was also helpful for the city department, Coleman said. Federal funds were awarded to pay 75 percent of the wage of a part-time assistant, who assists grant recipients, he said.
Assistance is available at city hall, located at 1501 N. Mustang Road, on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesdays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; and from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Thursdays. Help is also available at Mustang Public Library Tuesday evenings between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., Coleman said.
“There are a lot of steps involved in this process, and our citizens have taken it all in stride,” Coleman said. “This is a team effort between the Mustang City Council, city staff and our citizens with the ultimate goal of saving lives.
“Working with these parties has been a great experience, and we fully expect to have all 525 safe rooms in place well in advance of next year’s storm season,” he said.
By Traci Chapman
Two Canadian County incumbents will return to their seats without the need for a runoff.
District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart took 56 percent of the vote – 1,989 out of 3,553 ballots cast. Challengers Rick Opitz and Daniel Pugh received 831 and 733 votes, respectively.
Treasurer Carolyn Leck defeated accountant Kimberly Rhodes. Leck received 6,996 votes to 4,210 ballots cast for Rhodes. Leck’s tally was 62.4 percent, according to Canadian County Election Board records.
In District 1, five Republican candidates fought for the seat which will be vacated by longtime Commissioner Phil Carson, who did not seek re-election. Marc Hader and Wesley Higgins will go head-to-head in an Aug. 26 runoff election after receiving the most votes. Hader received 37.5 percent of the total ballots cast – 1,588 – while Higgins was chosen by 924 voters, 21.8 percent of the vote. Kevin Hopkins, Clifford Lawson and Scott Deatherage will not go on to the runoff. Hopkins received 657 votes, Lawson 510 ballots and 557 voters chose Deatherage. The victor in the runoff will face Democrat Bobby Williamson in November.
Incumbents across the board won their party races outright, with one exception. State Superintendent Janet Barresi not only lost the primary, she received the lowest number of votes cast by Republican voters across the state. Earning 55,015 ballots, Barresi captured 21 percent of the vote. Brian Kelly was selected by 56,014 voters, and 151,012 ballots were cast for Joy Hofmeister. Hofmeister will face in the general election the winner of a Democratic runoff between John Cox and Freda Deskin. Cox received 41 percent of Democrats’ votes – a total of 68,833 – while Deskin came in at 38.2 percent with 64,077 ballots cast in her favor.
Other victors in races involving Canadian County voters were:
Republican – Mary Fallin
Republican – John Doak
Republican – Todd Hiett
Republican – James Inhofe
Republican – James Lankford
Democrat – Connie Johnson
U.S. House District 3
Republican – Frank Lucas
U.S. House District 4
Republican – Tom Cole
Democrat – Bert Smith
State Senate District 22
Republican – Stephanie Bice (will face Mark Thomas in August runoff)
State House District 41
Republican – John Enns
State House District 43
Republican – John Paul Jordan (will face Jonathan Clour in August runoff)