Stillwater News Press

Our View

September 2, 2010

OUR VIEW: Come clean on grant issue

The stench of a questionable economic development grant continues to taint the air around Stillwater leadership.

Our mayor needs to be accountable for his actions and accept responsibility for the role he has played in drawing a negative spotlight to our city.

A year ago, Mayor Nathan Bates and the City Council agreed to give $25,000 to the Chamber of Commerce for economic development programs.

A couple months later the mayor teamed up with a partner outside Stillwater and outside Oklahoma State University to form a corporation, with the mayor listing his own address as Tulsa in the paperwork, and asked for money from one of the grant programs the city, through the chamber, helped fund.

And he got the grant - $5,000 toward a proposed multimillion-dollar renovation project on a downtown Stillwater building he didn’t own.

Then-Chamber of Commerce President Larry Brown, who later resigned, was indignant and yanked the chamber out of the grant program in February.

But e-mails between the chamber’s economic developer Josh McKim and Bates back in November indicated the chamber employee was advising the mayor on his project. We are optimistic the chamber’s new leadership will maintain a better grasp of what is happening in the chamber’s name.

At one point in late November the mayor e-mailed Joshua McKim via Bates’ city e-mail account that “I’m still waiting for the Ebasic grant to come through ... ” Later the same day Glenn Freedman, heading the OSU-affiliated group that awarded the grant, e-mailed Bates on the mayoral e-mail account - and copied the e-mail to McKim - that “Your EBASIC paperwork is being processed ... ” and that he should have his money by the end of the week.

Now the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is wrapping up its look into the possibility of fraud, the mayor and his partner  Rasoul Ezzat-Ahmadi haven’t lived up to their grant obligation - spend it and document the spending within six months after receipt - and OSU wants its money back.

Actually, OSU wanted the money back last month, setting a mid-August deadline after no money and no commensurate progress showed up at the end of June, the original deadline. Why the extra time? If Bates and Ezzat-Ahmadi agreed to the grant’s terms they should have been held to that deadline or at least charged interest, but OSU says no.

Bates has paid part of the grant back - he did document $600 spent toward the project - but his business partner hasn’t returned any of his half and Ezzat-Ahmadi says he isn’t involved in the repayment conversation.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bates has voiced concern several times over what he sees as a negative light cast upon our city through news coverage of issues of the past year - issues involving him.

Our college student mayor needs to take a course in cause and effect and realize that he is causing the issues that have the effect of bringing this unwanted news coverage to our city.

Mr. Mayor, it’s time to clear the air, move forward with transparency and integrity and allow the stench to dissipate. You are in a position to shine a better light on Stillwater, here and out in the world. Please pursue that opportunity for the betterment of our city and not simply for personal gain.

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