| By Keith Tolman|
SAWYER- In an apparent willful disregard of state law and the democratic process a faction of the Sawyer town council took control of city hall over the weekend.
Mayor Anna Bennett reported receiving a call Saturday from the security company that monitors the alarm at the Sawyer town hall.
"I was unable to contact a Sawyer police officer, so I drove to city hall to find Trustee Tommy Mandrell, his wife Sheila and a locksmith there. I returned home to avoid a confrontation," she said.
Bennett reported receiving a voice message from Mandrell Saturday night stating he would have to be present whenever she was in the city office.
Sawyer Treasurer Sheila Kidd discovered the lock had been changed when she stopped by the office on Sunday. She was later told the staff would only have access to the office when Court Clerk Susan Hamby was present, though Kidd was issued a key Tuesday morning.
In a telephone interview, Mandrell admitted to having the locks changed.
"We have a glitch in the computer and some files missing. We have an obligation to protect information," he said.
He stated he intended to contact the district attorney, but admitted no investigation of a possible crime had been initiated by Sawyer police.
Mandrell abruptly terminated the interview when asked why an open emergency meeting of the entire council was not called to address the issue as required by law.
Sawyer Police Chief Rick Hartman confirmed no investigation has been initiated concerning an alleged crime nor has he been directed to conduct one.
Sources report Mandrell conferred with Trustee Geneva Baze concerning the lock change. Private communication concerning city business is prohibited by the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act. Willful violation of the act carries a $500 fine, one year imprisonment or both.
Baze declined to comment when contacted about the matter.
The controversy is the latest involving the town of Sawyer. Residents have been battling for months over police department management and a host of allegations, many involving alleged usurpation of power by Bennett.
Bennett tendered her resignation as trustee last week during a special town meeting. Her resignation becomes effective Feb. 12. She remains a duly elected trustee and mayor until then.
It has been reported City Clerk Francis Osgood also resigned following the meeting. Efforts to confirm her resignation have been unsuccessful.
"Apparently, the Mandrell faction thinks some one has done something to the computer, or is trying to use that as an excuse for a power grab," Bennett said. "The only thing I erased from the computer was pornography left on it by (a previous employee.)"
Both Bennett and Kidd report they have never been contacted or questioned about possible problems with the computer nor are they aware of any.
"This is like a coup in some Third World banana republic," Bennett commented. "I suppose all one can say is some people crow about democracy and the rule of law until something doesn't go their way, then they do whatever they please."
Bennett reported contacting the State Attorney General's Office concerning the matter. She is also considering withdrawing her resignation from the council.