PICHER (AP) - Remaining residents of the tornado-ravaged town of Picher are being asked to change the town's form of government.
The proposal, to be voted on next Tuesday, would give Picher a town-trustee form of government, instead of its current city form of government. City Clerk Carolyn Elmore said the change would allow council vacancies to be addressed more easily.
Under the city form of government, council members are elected from specific wards, and the council has four members, plus a mayor. If the proposal passes, residents would elect replacement members at large and the town would have four trustees, with the mayor elected from among the group.
Picher, in Ottawa County in far northeastern Oklahoma, has been hit by a double whammy in recent years.
Once a thriving hub of 20,000 people, Picher's population had dwindled to about 800 in recent years as residents accepted state and federal government buyouts and moved elsewhere. The Superfund area is beset with mine collapses, open shafts, acid mine water that stains Tar Creek orange and mountains of lead-contaminated mine waste.
In May, as the buyout progressed, a massive tornado struck the fading town, wiping out much of its south end and resulting in the deaths of seven people.
“Some people are afraid that changing the city government will slow down the buyout,” Elmore said. “We don't foresee this slowing it down. That is absolutely not the intent.”
As of this month, 429 residents in the Superfund site - which also includes the towns of Cardin and Hockerville -have accepted a buyout offer, and 324 have moved out, said Larry Roberts, the operations manager for the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust.
The town has had to replace its mayor and three council members since the buyout began in May 2006 because of residents moving, Elmore said.