MARLOW — Mixed emotions flooded the chambers at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, with the roomful of residents who came to show their appreciation of the firefighters being followed by criticism of some of the major issues in city government.

The meeting drew the largest number of participants of any this year, and the strained seating capacity reflected a heightened interest in city affairs as some of the honored firefighters stood in the back of the chambers with no seats left.

The meeting began with a presentation ceremony to the firefighters, with emphasis on the volunteers, for their efforts in dealing with recent wildfire activity in the area.

Fire Chief Jerome McCalvin handed out certificates of appreciation to each of the 10 volunteer firefighters who were able to attend, and gave a brief background of service history on each of them. Seven others were not in attendance.

McCalvin also announced that the department is one full-time employee short, and that he has 11 applications for the position. A new hire would bring the staff up to four.

Gary Vining took the opportunity to thank the firefighters as one of his final acts as mayor. It was the last meeting for Vining as his term nears the end, and City Administrator Janice Cain presented him a plaque for his years of service.

But the presentation was quickly replaced by some of the other items affecting the city, most notably the problems concerning natural gas drilling and the ongoing debate about adding space to the senior citizens center.

One resident expressed displeasure that the city has not done enough to hold drilling companies accountable for dangers their activities pose to the city. He had harsh criticism concerning city leadership on the issue.

“Three days ago in Dallas there was a blowout of a gas well that caused the death of one person and the evacuation of 500 houses in the radius of three miles,” the resident said. “If that happened in my town, we would have to evacuate the whole town.

“It’s not probable, but it is possible. You must take that in consideration when you approve these gas wells in our city. And I hope you take better care of it than the nuisance we have in our streets.”

The man singled out the city administrator at one point during his complaint, but City Council man Don Ridley and others voiced their support of her job performance.

A representative from Chesapeake, the company that is performing most of the current drilling in the Marlow area, happened to be on hand to answer any questions relating to his company’s activities.

Chesapeake District Manager Jeff Nelson admitted that the company may not have done the best job of communicating with residents about the drilling process, but vowed that he and other representatives would make more of an effort to do so.

“I think that Chesapeake and myself, we haven’t answered enough questions or educated the community enough. So in that regard, there won’t be another (Marlow) city council meeting where a representative from Chesapeake won’t be here to answer questions,” Nelson said.

He brought up a problem that was raised at the March council meeting when Council woman Laquita Craft chided the company for venting gas while drilling a well near her neighborhood, even though she said the company claimed it would not do so.

Nelson responded by saying that Chesapeake never intends to release gas into the atmosphere for two main reasons. For one thing, he said the gas is a precious commodity to the company and did not want to lose any of it. For another, Nelson said safety to residents was of prime concern to the company.

Despite a horrid smell as a result of gas release that may suggest the contrary, Nelson said Chesapeake would be willing to bring in a third party of the city’s choosing to perform an inspection of drilling activity, and was confident no dangerous situation would be found.

He added that the worker responsible for the particular problem in Craft’s neighborhood was “doing something else now.”

Besides his words of reassurance, he also presented a check for $50,000 to the fire department in matching funds for a new grass rig.

Another large topic of discussion was the future of the senior citizens center.

A handful of concerned seniors was on hand to see what action the council would take on the group’s proposal to expand the center into the building next door, at 325 W. Main.

The Senior Citizens Advisory Board submitted a six-page proposal for the council members to ponder. It included a statement of need and presented an option on how to add space.

The proposal states, “Temporarily repairing the existing city-owned facility has been rejected, as the facility’s space is not adequate for the current membership’s activities, let alone the anticipation of future growth of the membership — we are all getting older.”

The proposal states that membership is estimated to increase by 30-50 percent.

An amendment was added to the proposal, saying that a family has offered the money necessary to purchase the adjoining building on behalf of the seniors so long as it is used for the center.

The council decided to table the agenda item until an architectural firm can inspect the two buildings to make sure portions of the wall that is dividing them can be safely removed.

“First, we have to make sure it is structurally possible,” Council member Jack Brackett said.

Craft suggested that perhaps the city could build a new center where a condemned building was recently torn down, but the city attorney, Tom Frailey, said the owner of the site was reluctant to sell it and the process to obtain it may take several years.

Another resident complained to the council that her request to place a mobile home on Caddo was denied by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Cain said an item could be on the agenda as early as next month that would clarify the city’s ordinance concerning mobile homes in city limits. She said variances to zones are looked at on a case-by-case basis as it now stands, but that the language could be refined to restrict mobile homes to certain areas.

And yet another resident wanted to know what the city intended to do about some vehicles considered by many to be visually unappealing.

Cain reminded the resident that the city could not necessarily remove every vehicle that some may deem an eyesore, and cited the fact that the city attorney advised the council of that fact at a meeting earlier this year.

In other action:

n The council approved an amendment to the trust indenture of the Marlow Municipal Authority. The two appointed trustees must now be members of the Chamber of Commerce and will serve staggered three-year terms.

n The city will seek new bids for the renovation of the utility services offices. A bid was rejected at the last meeting for being too high. Cain said anything higher than $40,000 would have to include the services of an architectural firm according to state law, so it would be better if the city avoided that mark. She said some of the details of the project have been scaled back.

n The Marlow Wrestling Club will be allowed to close the east half of the 300 block of West Arapahoe for a fundraiser May 6. The event will be from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

n A lease was approved for a city owned tract of land two miles east of the city for agricultural use. Cain said the land, commonly called the Ingram Lease and covering about 248 acres, was retained by the city for irrigation purposes in the future if necessary. The winner was one of three private individuals to make a submission, and was awarded use of the land for $13.25 per acre.

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