2017 top 10 stories run the gamut

The top 10 stories of 2017 as chosen by the editor of Your TIMES run the gamut from city government to flooding and shootings.

While these stories were chosen by the editor, you may have one or two that you might consider more important. These stories were chosen for the impact they had on the community and reader interest.

1. Sallisaw City Manager

The months of November and December were consumed by the controversial termination of Sallisaw City Manager Clayton Lucas II. Lucas was terminated from that position on Nov. 13 in a 3-2 vote by the Sallisaw City Commission.

By Nov. 20, Lucas had filed an application for and was granted a temporary injunction by

District Judge Jeff Payton. In Lucas' application, his attorney Frank Sullivan III argued that Hudgens was not legally the mayor and Lucas had not been given proper notice prior to his being terminated.

Sullivan quoted the city Charter as saying Lucas should have been provided a written list of the reasons he was being terminated 30 days prior to termination, nor was he allowed a public hearing.

Sullivan also argued that Hudgens was not legally the mayor because in April, outgoing Mayor Julie Ferguson had been kept on as mayor until a vacancy was declared. Hudgens had been defeated in the February election, but the winner bowed out because of a conflict with his job.

Hudgens, who was a city commissioner at the time, was allowed to vote on his appointment as mayor and Ferguson was the tie-breaking vote. Sullivan argued, Ferguson, in essence, chose her own replacement.

Payton agreed with Sullivan and said the commission had jumped the gun in terminating Lucas.

Lucas eventually negotiated with the remainder of the commission members for a financial package and submitted his resignation Dec. 11. By Dec. 20, Sullivan dismissed the action against Hudgens and the city.

However, at a hearing scheduled for Hudgens and city attorney John Robert Montgomery, Montgomery said the issue of Hudgens being mayor had not been resolved by the dismissal because Payton's ruling was still on the books. Payton ruled the injunction be set aside and held for naught, meaning it is not enforceable.

As of press time, Montgomery plans to seek attorney's fees and sanctions.

2. Sallisaw Mayor Election

Former Sallisaw Mayor Julie Ferguson announced before the election she did not plan to run for another term, opening up the race.

Ultimately the race came down to George Bormann and Jim Hudgens with Bormann winning the election.

    However, after winning the election, Bormann learned that taking the position would be in conflict with his job. He declined to take the mayor's position, leaving the seat open in the Sallisaw City Commission. A newly-elected mayor does not take office until April, which meant there was time to appoint someone as mayor.

Jim Hudgens was one of three who threw their hat in the ring for consideration. He was already serving as a city commissioner. Ferguson was asked to stay on as mayor past the deadline for when a new mayor was to take office so that there could be a transition and a qualified replacement could be found.

On April 26, in a split vote, the commission voted 3-2 to name Hudgens as mayor. Ferguson was the deciding vote. The manner in which Hudgens was voted in as mayor would later be used against him when it was decided to terminate city manager Clayton Lucas (See above).

3. Hospital changes

In June it was announced that Northeastern Health System Tahlequah would be taking over management of Sequoyah Memorial Hospital.

Sequoyah Memorial Hospital CEO/ Administrator Debbie Knoke retired after 23 years with the hospital. She was replaced by Julie Ward of Vian, who had also worked for a number of years with Northeastern Health System Tahlequah.

The name of the hospital was changed from Sequoyah Memorial Hospital to Northeastern Health System Sequoyah.

For several years now the hospital has been dealing with financial problems and recently got approval to seek a $4 million loan from a Vinita bank. The money will be used to pay off existing debt and make improvements to the hospital.

4. Flooding

The area between the east end of Sallisaw and Muldrow was surprised Aug. 13 when what seemed like a moderate rainfall caused flooding in areas that had never been flooded before. Many of the townspeople said they had never seen flooding of that magnitude in those areas before.

Sallisaw recorded five to six inches of rain, but it is believed that heavier rains fell north of the city to cause the flooding.

Flood waters forced the closing of the east and west bound lanes of Interstate 40 between Sallisaw and Muldrow, along with the closure of U.S. Highway 64 in the same area.

The waters of the Little Sallisaw Creek, Hog Creek and Big Skin Bayou left their banks and inundated Sallisaw businesses, homes and farmland. The flooding was also responsible for a train derailment near Central Schools, forcing the school to cancel classes for several days when the tracks were repaired. The derailment was caused by earth underneath tracks being washed out.

5. Shootings

Two members of the Sequoyah County Sheriff's office were involved in shootings that left suspects dead in both incidents.

On July 5, law enforcement agencies in eastern Oklahoma were on the lookout for James William Huskey, 45, who had been involved in an altercation in Fort Smith.

Sallisaw police and the sheriff's department were in the process of checking local businesses and warning them that Huskey's vehicle had been spotted at a local motel. Huskey was not at the motel and officers were looking for Huskey at that time.

Sequoyah County Sheriff Larry Lane and Chief Deputy Charles House went into McDonald's and House was going to the restroom when he spotted Huskey seated at a back table. House contacted  Lane by phone and both men attempted to subdue Huskey.

Huskey managed to pull out a pistol and fired one shot before Lane returned fire, killing Huskey.

Deputy Christian Goode was attempting to serve a warrant at a residence in Muldrow Oct. 20. The subject of the warrant was Phillip Trammel, 30, who was wanted for a variety of charges that included non-payment of child support and non-compliance with the sex offender registry.

Goode and Muldrow Officer Brad Roberts were searching a laundry room of the house when Trammel jumped out from under a pile of clothes and shouted he was going to kill them. Roberts attempted to deploy his tazer but it misfired.

Trammel had pulled a knife and was charging Goode, managing to stab the deputy three times before Goode shot and killed him.

Both the shootings were ruled justifiable.

6. Sequoyah's Cabin

The Cherokee Nation purchased and took over operation of Sequoyah's Cabin. After making some changes, the Cherokee Nation re-opened Sequoyah's Cabin in November.

The Cherokee Nation had purchased the cabin and surrounding property from the Oklahoma Historical Society in the latter part of 2016. The Historical Society had been facing budget cuts because of the state's budget shortfall and was no longer able to afford to operate the historic site.

7. Freedman descendants

A U.S. District Court judge for Washington, D.C., ruled in September that Cherokee Freedmen have citizenship rights within the Cherokee Nation. Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree had challenged the descendants' claims. He said that decision had been 40 years in the making. He had filed a contest to the claim in 2014. He said there are no plans to appeal the judge's decision.

8. Fagan suspects released

Michael Anthony Snelling, Charles Blake Shamblin and Tyler Paul Leverett were released from custody and charges dismissed without prejudice in July. The three men had been charged with the murder and disappearance of Matthew Scott Fagan of Webbers Falls.

Fagan had gone with Snelling, Shamblin and Leverett on a hiking trail at Tenkiller Lake. One of the suspects led law enforcement to an area of Tenkiller Lake where it is believed the suspects disposed of Fagan's body.

The suspect implicated the other two and all three were arrested and charged with murder. However, Fagan's body has never been found. The district attorney elected to dismiss the charges without prejudice in hopes of gathering more evidence in the case.

Two other people were also arrested in the case, Matthew and Shalynn Terrell, as accessories.

9. The Bennett questionnaire

Controversy erupted in March when a group of Muslim students visited the Oklahoma State Capitol, in particular Rep. John Bennett's office where they were asked to fill out a questionnaire before they could visit him.

The questionnaire asked such questions as, Mohammed was a killer of pagans, Christians and Jews who didn't agree with him; Under Sharia law husbands are allowed to beat their wives; and Muslims must be punished for leaving Islam. Each of the statements was followed by the question, “ Do you agree?”

10. Drug busts

True to his campaign promise, Sequoyah County Sheriff Larry Lane and his deputies have made numerous drug arrests. Lane had vowed to put a stop to the drug dealing in the county. Some of the major drug busts have been in large quantities traveling along Interstate 40, but arrests have occurred throughout various areas of the county and municipalities.

Many of the busts are the result of routine traffic stops, but many have also occurred through drug search warrants and informants. Lane has said drugs coming through the county include marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and in some occasions heroin

    

Sequoyah County Times

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