It's a place where people go to buy things of beauty, but Heather's flowers and Gifts has spawned an ugly political war.
"Is there something fishy going on?," asked Councilor Patrick Ross, trotting out a letter from Owasso Land Trust, the landlord, giving notice that the flower shop was over $41,000 in default for rent. The owner of the shop? City manager Rodney Ray.
"My wife and I had a start-up business, we ran into some tough times in that business," said Ray.
The fishiness, according to Ross, is that the letter shows just $4,000 paid, that a court case seeking the funds was dismissed, and that three development deals, he says, with ties to OLT suddenly appeared before the council for approval. Is there some kind of quid pro quo going on?
"Well Burt, that's just ridiculous," said Ray.
Ray says he's worked out an arrangement with OLT, for which the company says is for the full amount.
"There's been no forgiveness of debt whatsoever," said OLT partner David Charney.
As to any special treatment?
"I wouldn't use my private position or my private business to influence city business," said Ray.
"First of all, we would never seek it, secondly we would say no to it, thirdly, Rodney would never do that," said Charney.
Which is where this story could have ended, except for the fact that Councilors Ross and Brown torpedoed plans for a vet clinic, a hotel, and a subdivision, over concerns of fishiness.
"My gosh they didn't even understand that two of the plats had nothing to do with Owasso Land Trust," said Charney.
The vet clinic and hotel will be on land that OLT used to own, the subdivision is their only involvement, not that that matters, say city councilor Jeri Moberly.
"There was no reason for a no vote," she said.
Ray's flower shop, she says, has nothing to do with the three projects given the heave-ho.
"I think it's highly vindictive, there's no reasonable explanation for their votes," she said.
The fallout? An online petition asking Ross and Brown to resign. An idea rapidly gaining hold.
"I think they do their jobs so poorly, that I would prefer that they resign," said Charney.
"I think yes, they both should resign, we need to send a message to the business community that let's them know we take this seriously," said councilor Moberly.
Councilor Brown released the following statement pertaining to the matter;
On March 8, 2013, Mr. Ray sent out an email to the council and others
about sales tax and lease payment issues regarding his business that
had been brought up by a local advocacy group. He said the issues had
been resolved. He wrote "A second claim . . . related to a lawsuit
that indicated that our business was being sued by our Landlord. The
best thing for me to say about that claim is that, while there was an
issue relating to our lease, that issue has been resolved by a simple
communication between me and the owner and the fault in the lack of
previous communication was entirely mine."
That heightened my curiosity, so I looked up the lawsuit on
www.oscn.net. When I was at the courthouse on March 13, 2013 on
another matter, I decided to look at the publicly available file for
Mr. Ray's case on the lease payment. That's where I found a default
letter from Owasso Land Trust where Mr. Ray's personal business was
past due over $41,000 in lease payments. There was a hand written note
on that letter that indicated only $4,000 had been paid. I also saw
that the case was dismissed on March 12, 2013 because neither the
defendant nor the plaintiff showed up. I was surprised that OLT did
not appear in court to pursue such a large receivable.
I then asked Mr. Ray via an email on March 13, 2013 for documentation
of the resolution that he mentioned in the previous email. I was
hoping to see clear evidence that all of the lease payments had been
made. Mr. Ray did not respond. His lack of response is why I'm so
concerned. Of further concern is his failure to disclose to the
council the significant personal indebtedness to the largest land
developer in Owasso. It can lead to too many unanswered questions
about the whole development process in Owasso.
At the meeting on Tuesday, March 18, 2013, I was hoping Mr. Ray would
disclose his personal financial situation with Owasso Land Trust prior
to their item on Maple Glen being heard by the council. He did not do
so. At that point, I was left wondering what other undisclosed
matters there might be with other parties seeking new developments,
which is why I voted against any further developments. The council
needs to address the matter of disclosure thoroughly and quickly.
I have requested that an item be placed on the agenda for the next
regular council meeting on April 2, 2013 to discuss the expectations
for the employees that the council oversees (City Manager, City
Attorney & City Clerk) regarding disclosure of any personal
obligations incurred by such employee with any entity or business that
does business with the city or that has business pending with the
While out of town on a family medical emergency, I was informed by Mr.
Ray that the mayor had called for a special meeting on Friday, March
22, 2013. I plan to be back in town late Monday night provided the
family member stabilizes. I asked the mayor to instead have the
special meeting on Tuesday March 26 so that I might have a chance to
attend. The mayor denied my request.