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Statewide vets org. finds Hartshorne efforts to relocate veteran 'troubling'

McAlester News-Capital - 5/27/2018

May 27--The head of one of the state's largest veterans organizations says the move by the city of Hartshorne to force a veteran from his home is troubling.

Pete Peterson is chairman of the Oklahoma Veterans Council, a nonprofit veterans group, which Peterson said is comprised of 23 separate veterans' organizations from around the state. The organization's intent is to help the more than 300,000 veterans in Oklahoma.

Peterson said he's been keeping up with what's been happening in Hartshorne.

"I find it very troubling a town in Oklahoma will treat its veterans this way," said Peterson.

The matter arose after a Hartshorne police officer gave U.S. Navy veteran William "Bill" Smith a notice "to relocate" earlier this month. An accompanying document noted that the Hartshorne City Council passed Ordinance No. 2018-4-1 on April 23, stating that "The city of Hartshorne requires any recreational vehicle, travel trailer and camper not be allowed in the city of limits of Hartshorne as a residence."

Smith, who is 77, said he felt shocked by the proposal, since he had lived in a travel trailer on his land since shortly after he purchased the property in 2011. He also is paying property taxes on the site, and has been granted a homestead exemption status by the Pittsburg County Assessor's office -- which means he still pays property taxes, but at discounted rate, since the site is his "primary residence."

Hartshorne Mayor Joy Cline said Wednesday she and Hartshorne City Clerk Lisa Brown met with Smith during the week. Cline told the News-Capital she thinks Smith should be "grandfathered" in and be allowed to continue to live in the travel trailer on his property. She plans to submit the matter that led to Smith receiving the relocation notice to the city council for reconsideration -- but she also noted she is a voting member of the council only if she is needed to break a tie vote. The next-regularly-scheduled meeting of the city council is set for June 11.

With Smith still facing an Aug. 21 deadline to relocate under the existing property relocation order, Peterson said the Veterans Council remains concerned with the city of Hartshorne's attempt to force Smith to relocate.

Smith said he has nowhere to go and the travel trailer is his sole residence. He said he bought the land because of the nice shop, or garage, on the property. which he uses to work on various things.

Meanwhile, one of the things that puzzles Peterson is why Smith is being ordered by the city to relocate after living in the travel trailer on the land since shortly after he purchased the property in 2011. Smith was able to hook-up to the existing water and sewer utilities after contacting City Hall.

"It's clear the city hooked up the water and sewage," Peterson said.

He also noted that Smith's property is well-maintained.

"It's not like he's living in a rundown shack," Peterson noted.

"It raises several questions about how and why things are done in this town," he said.

Peterson also had concerns regarding how Smith received notification of the ordinance. Smith told the News-Capital that a police officer showed up at his home one day and handed him a notice. Smith said the officer told him he had until August 21 to relocate from his property.

As the "To whom it may concern" notification handed to Smith stated "You will have 120 days from April 23rd, 2018, which will be August 21, 2018, to relocate. Your failure to follow this ordinance will result in legal proceedings."

Smith's name and address is not cited anywhere on the document. Hartshorne City Clerk Lisa Brown said the reason for that is no one at City Hall knew where all the travels trailers, recreational vehicles and other prohibited things were located. Police were given a stack of the "To whom it may concern" notices and were told to deliver them whenever they spotted one while out on patrol.

As Peterson noted, Smith received no prior notification of the ordinance.

The state of Oklahoma normally treats its veterans very well, Peterson said. That's one of the reasons why he considers the city of Hartshorne's actions regarding Smith as unusual in the state.

"We'll be tracking this," said Peterson.

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(c)2018 the McAlester News-Capital (McAlester, Okla.)

Visit the McAlester News-Capital (McAlester, Okla.) at mcalesternews.com

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