Enid commissioner facing recall

ENID -- After calling the Enid police chief's comments on mask enforcement "chickens---," a city commissioner is facing a recall drive while pushing to adopt state COVID-19 recommendations as mandates.

An email from Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell recently was sent to the other commissioners, Mayor George Pankonin, City Manager Jerald Gilbert and City Attorney Carol Lahman explaining his intentions to reintroduce COVID-19 precaution mandates in accordance with state-phased guidelines, as applicable as they can be to a city ordinance.

A special meeting of Enid City Commission has been set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Grand Ballroom of Stride Bank Center. A study session also is scheduled for 5 p.m. on the same day and in the same location. The agenda released Friday afternoon will put to vote the adoption of the state's color-coded COVID-19 alert system and provide specific measures tailored to the risk level for individuals, businesses and vulnerable people.

Enid Public Schools' Board of Education on Tuesday voted to adopt the state board of education's recommended re-entry plan, which also designed off the health department's alert system.

Garfield County was upgraded to moderate-risk "orange" phase Friday, along with over a dozen other Oklahoma counties.

The last proposed mask mandate ordinance was defeated in a 5-2 vote during a July 15 meeting lasting more than four hours and with members of the community crowding the city's meeting chambers.

The email was shared Thursday on Facebook by Enid Police Department Capt. Bryan Skaggs in a public post. It was since taken down.

In the email, Ezzell wrote, "To be crystal clear, I am directing Carol (Lahman) to draft an ordinance very simply adopting the state suggesting as a mandate, and put it on the August 4, 2020 regular session agenda for adoption. Any one commissioner can put an item on the agenda, and if this fails again I will keep bringing something back in different iterations."

The email continues, "One additional point, I am completely appalled that our Chief of Police (Brian O'Rourke) vocally undermined our last effort. I do not give a damn if he wants to enforce it or not, that is the job of EPD, to enforce the ordinances that WE (emphasis added by Ezzell) set. Hundreds of other cities and a couple dozen states have figured it out. Saying 'it will be difficult' is completely chickens---.

"Public health is difficult, and people are dying, so let's do the difficult thing and not whine about it. PEOPLE ARE DYING. Let's get our s--- together and not complain about the effort being hard. If EPD won't enforce our ordinances, then who is answerable to who?! We are the elected body, we pass ordinances, and we also control EPD's budget. That was completely out of line."

O'Rourke said via Zoom during the July 15 meeting's public comment that the ordinance basically was unenforceable.

"It's difficult to enforce," O'Rourke said during the meeting, adding that he believed businesses should have the right to decide.

"I really don't want to put our officers in that position."

O'Rourke said he had no comment about the remarks made by Ezzell in the email to commissioners, the mayor, city manager and city attorney.

On Friday, an organization calling itself Enid Freedom Fighters announced launching a drive for a petition to recall Ezzell. The commissioner is term-limited and will leave office in May 2021.

According to the city charter, the petition needs 75 registered Ward 3 voters to meet the recall requirement, the group said, with a goal at least 100 signatures.

Enid Freedom Fighters is a group in Enid "who want to encourage our city leaders through involvement, educate ourselves on the issues of our city, and equip ourselves to positively contribute to local politics," according to an email.

"In recent weeks, Mr. Ezzell has acted with conduct unbecoming of an elected ocial, divided our community, disrespected our police department, disregarded the law, subverted the will of the people of Enid, dismissed his constituents' views, and generally abused public trust," the email states.

When contacted for comment, Ezzell said he did not think the email would be widely circulated.

"I generally take a different tone with my fellow commissioner and city manger and the city attorney than I do with the general public," he said. "I also think everything I said is more or less accurate."

Enid News & Eagle Staff Writers Cass Rains and Alexander Ewald contributed to this report.

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