Controversy surrounds Altus sidewalk project

Altus sidewalk project

ALTUS, Okla. (TNN) - An Altus business owner claims a new sidewalk going up near City Hall is going to hurt his business. In fact, he claims the project is retaliation for his vocal support of certain candidates in the last city election.

The owner of a wrecker service right across the street from City Hall claims the city is intentionally trying to hurt his business because of a truck. During February’s election, he covered this truck in campaign signs for the mayor and candidates challenging council members. He parked it in front of his business, and around town. He suspects that angered city officials, who are now getting back at him by removing the parking spots on his lot.

One city councilman denies that’s the case, saying they’ve been working on the sidewalk project for the last 10 years.

The entire issue surrounds a small patch of land just East of City Hall. The handicap ramps in the area that would usually lead to a sidewalk just lead to grass. It’s been like this for the last 10 years, which led visitors to both the wrecker business and city hall parking in between the two ramps.

Tuesday night, the Altus City Council voted to put a sidewalk leading to an employee parking lot behind city hall between the ramps, creating four or five less parking spots for both city and the wrecker service.

“What we’re asking for is for them to add five parking spots there, which would be good for my business, the businesses across the street and the city building as well because so often, they don’t have any parking,” said business owner Jamey Bitz.

Bitz suggests doing that by simply moving the sidewalk over a few feet, which he believes they will have to do on part of the sidewalk anyway because of an electrical box that sits directly in the path of it. But he doesn’t think that will happen. Instead, he claims the city manager is just mad.

"It’s strictly retaliation. I was very forward with who I campaigned for, I had a big truck, I parked it throughout town, I parked it at my house,” Bitz said.

Bitz said he has had several other issues with the city manager. But councilman Dwayne Martin said the new sidewalk has absolutely nothing to do with that.

"When we built that city hall complex in 09, we failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA, our sidewalks do not comply. In addition, our own UDC, unified development code, mimics the ADA in many ways. So, for 10 years, we’ve been in violation of the ADA and our own UDC,” Martin said.

Martin said the fact they ask other people to follow those rules but were not doing so themselves embarrassed him, which is why he voted for the sidewalks.

"When I would walk down there and walk across a little ramp that led to nowhere, it bothered me every time. I spoke to the then mayor T.L. Grambling about it and he blamed it all on funding. The building was far over budget and we had additional budget constraints city wide, not just at that building. So, he said we’ll fix it when we get the money, here we are 10 years later. The opportunity has finally presented itself to fix it,” Martin said.

7NEWS talked with Altus City Manager Janice Cain on the phone Wednesday afternoon about the retaliation allegation. She said it is not true, that the sidewalk is simply what's best for the city and encouraged Bitz to come meet with her if he has issues with it.

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