Â© Copyright 2010, The Oklahoman STILLWATER — City leaders are questioning whether controversial Mayor Nathan Bates should have been awarded a grant to develop a bar and upscale apartments through a program associated with the city.
"The utilization of tax dollars to award monies to a company owned and operated by the Mayor of the City of Stillwater … is suspect at best,” Stillwater Chamber of Commerce President Larry Brown wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to Oklahoma State University officials who awarded the grant. The $5,000 grant was awarded through a local economic development grant program called the Entrepreneur’s Business Assistance, Support, Incubation and Collaboration program, or E-Basic. Program members that select and help fund grant winners include OSU, the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce and Meridian Technology Center. The program is intended to primarily support technology-related businesses in Payne and Kay counties, grant materials indicate. Bates, 28, is an OSU student set to graduate in May. He has been the subject of two recall petitions since his election in April 2009. The first was withdrawn because of errors in the petition, and the second is set for a vote in May. He said he did nothing wrong when he applied for the grant money. He said he knew the chamber of commerce contracted with the city for economic development but denied knowing the chamber’s involvement with the program. "The only involvement I had (in the process) was I submitted a grant proposal to someone at OSU, and they told me about the program,” Bates said. Bates’ company was the only one awarded grant money during that round of applications. Program members were told in October 2009 that none of the nearly dozen applications submitted for the fall round of grants were viable candidates for money, Brown said. The city contracts with the chamber of commerce to oversee economic development for the city. Chamber officials report quarterly to city council members on the progress of the program. The last report was presented to the city officials on Feb. 15, council minutes show. Chamber of commerce officials in February ended their two-year involvement in the grant program, citing a lack of due diligence on the part of OSU members, documents obtained by The Oklahoman show.