Tulsa World (Oklahoma)
BYLINE: SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
BROKEN ARROW – Broken Arrow Mayor Mike Lester, who has taken heat over allegations that he was not forthcoming about his knowledge of a proposed Indian casino, announced that he will step down from his post as mayor. Lester said, however, that he will retain his Ward 3 City Council seat. “It is my opinion that the office of the mayor is a position and not a person. So to that end, I will remove myself from the office of mayor,” Lester said in a press release issued by the city Tuesday morning.
“I do not want the many good things occurring in Broken Arrow to be overshadowed by the recent events related to the Kialegee Tribal Town’s plans to build a casino.” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt recently was successful in seeking an injunction against operation of the casino in federal court. Casino developer Luis Figueredo’s testimony during an injunction hearing indicated that Lester had knowledge of casino plans much earlier than he has publicly admitted. Figueredo told the court that he had lunch with the mayor and Marcella Giles, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation-allotted land owner of the casino site and a longtime friend of Lester’s, in February 2011. Figueredo said they talked about roads and infrastructure and that Lester provided information on the city’s growth and was very supportive of the project. Lester has described the encounter as a casual lunch between friends. Jared Cawley, spokesman for Broken Arrow Citizens Against Neighborhood Gaming, said Lester’s resignation from the mayor’s position is “not going to cut it.” “He needs to resign completely,” Cawley said. “It wasn’t the office of mayor that lied to me. It was Mike Lester that lied to me about not having any earlier meetings with Ms. Giles or the developer. He continues to sidestep the whole issue.” Councilor Jill Norman also said she thinks Lester should resign completely. “I understand his reasoning that Ms. Giles was a longtime friend of his, but it didn’t appear it was just a lunch,” Norman said. “When you start talking about the city and giving information, he is speaking as a representative of the city and not as a friend.” Vice Mayor Craig Thurmond, who automatically assumes the mayoral post, and Councilors Richard Carter and Johnnie Parks said they were glad Lester had stepped down but weren’t ready to say he should leave the council. “I’m very disappointed in Mike. I’m so disappointed in the fact that no one knew about that meeting,” Thurmond said. “There’s really no reason why (the) council wasn’t made aware of that meeting. It was a lunch between friends, but they talked city business, so that becomes a city meeting.” Carter said Lester did a lot of good things as mayor but made a misstep by meeting with Giles and Figueredo. “That was pretty disappointing to me,” Carter said. “I don’t know what prompted Mike to forget or deny it ever happened. I think he was probably just worried about the negative concept and thought it would all go away if he didn’t say anything about it.” Parks said though it’s not his call whether Lester chooses to keep his council seat, the mayor’s seat is a different situation because the mayor is elected by the council. “I just feel like that was the right thing for him to do,” Parks said. “It’s disappointing to all of the city that it has come to this.” In December, after it was publicized that ground work for a Broken Arrow casino had started, Lester told residents who flooded the council’s chambers that the city had no jurisdiction on a restricted Indian allotment. As the controversy brewed, Lester officially stated his opposition to the casino. In February, an open records request showed that then-City Manager David Wooden sent Lester an update on the casino by email in September. Lester then acknowledged that he had been aware of a preliminary site plan but didn’t think it would materialize because of a loan agreement the Muscogee (Creek) Nation had in building the River Spirit Casino in Tulsa. That agreement prohibited the tribe from having a competing casino within a 50-mile radius. In April, the council fired Wooden, who was also criticized by the neighborhood group for not informing them of the Kialegees’ plans to build a casino. Thurmond will be mayor until the next election, which is in April 2013. The councilors will elect a new vice mayor from among themselves at their June 4 meeting. Lester has served as mayor since 2009 and was first elected to the council in 2007. U.S. Chief District Judge Gregory Frizzell granted a temporary injunction against the Kialegee Tribal Town and its casino developers recently, saying the casino would violate the state gaming compact and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act because the Kialegees do not have “Indian lands.” Broken Arrow City Council Broken Arrow’s City Council consists of five members, and those five elect a mayor and vice mayor from among themselves after voters elect council members every two years. Voters from each of the city’s four wards elect one council member. A fifth councilor is elected at-large, and all five serve four-year staggered terms.
Copyright 2012 The Tulsa World