By David Seeley
The Poteau Daily News
WISTER — In a meeting that might have lasted 10 minutes, if even that long, the Town of Wister Board of Trustees approved the hiring Eli Clark as the new volunteer administrator for the Wister Police Department and Dennis Sugg Jr. as a new Wister P.D. officer at a special meeting Friday evening at the Wister Municipal Building.
Wister Trustee Carla Pride voted no in approving the two hirings, but the other three Trustees — Max Harris, Steven Bishop and Traci Bethell — approved each hiring, so each hiring was approved by a vote of 3-1.
Just as the meeting was officially adjourned, those in attendance asked questions about the decisions, but the board members did not respond.
New Wister Police Department Officer Dennis Suggs Jr., left, and New Wister P.D. Volunteer Administrator Eli Clark sit at the desk alongside Town of Wister Board of Trustees during Friday evening’s special meeting at Wister Municipal Building. The board approved hiring both by a 3-1 vote. Photo by David Seeley/The Poteau Daily News
However, Clark offered to talk to the patrons outside the Wister Municipal Building, in which he and Sugg Jr. basically had a group meeting for about 20 minutes as both individuals answered questions.
“I’m not a sworn officer,” Clark told the patrons in the outside-the-building group meeting. “I’m a retired officer from a different state, California. I did 20 years (in law enforcement). The only reason I’m stepping up to the plate is because I’m as passionate as this gentleman (in the group meeting of patrons). My children are in this community as well. I live in this community. So, when there’s a void like this, I can’t just ignore it. I’m here to protect my kids and my family that lives in this community. That’s the real reason (I sought the Wister P.D. volunteer administrator position). I have a stake in it.”
However, one of the patrons bounced back with a question, “Do you have any idea what you’re getting yourself involved in? If I were you, I’d be scared to go to work for these (Wister Board of Trustees).” Another patron said, “Trusting these folks (Trustees) is like the devil talking to you. It’s like you guys are under their thumb. That’s what’s all in our heads.”
A third patron said, “You know come April, there will be a police chief above you guys, right?”
“I’m not playing political games,” Clark said. “Again, I sympathize with you (the crowd of patrons who stayed after the meeting outside the building to talk to Clark and Sugg). I got family. They mean something to me. If there’s no police department, somebody needs to do something. For me to sit back and stay retired and not do a thing, I feel guilty. So, that’s why I stepped up. We are working on trying to get everybody hired. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re doing our best.”
Clark told the crowd what led him to let himself be a candidate for the Wister P.D. volunteer administrator position.
“I walked to the police department, and it was locked,” Clark said. “As a retired officer, every year I have to qualify my firearm that I carry off duty. Usually retired officers go to the police department in which they live, in this case, Wister P.D. I go to open that door, and it’s locked. I went to (Wister) City Hall. (Town of Wister Clerk) Vicky (Lloyd) was sitting there. I told her all about why I was there, and then she told me. I prayed about it. I didn’t make that decision right then and there. It took a while. I put it in God’s hands. I just think a door opened.”
As for Sugg Jr., who lives in Wister, he was not a popular patrolman when he was part of the Panama Police Department’s staff.
“I wasn’t from Panama, and they knew it,” Sugg Jr. said. “I gave the people of the town several warnings because they were speeding through town. They started getting upset when I started writing them tickets. I tried being lenient on them and gave them several warnings. They didn’t like that, so I started writing them tickets. A bunch of rumors started, and I got tired of it and I resigned. I did not get fired. I did not get laid off. I live here in Wister. I actually put two applications in here (with Wister P.D.). One was when (former Wister P.D. Chief) Brandon (Cooper) was chief. I love Brandon … a lot. I was still in CLEET (training) at that time.”
A last question posed by a patron to both Clark and Sugg Jr. was, “What kind of sway are those people going to have over you whenever they finally hire you and they want to reneged on whatever deal or start defunding you?”
“I go by the law,” Clark said. “If they ask me to do something that’s against the law, I’m not going to do it. I don’t play like that. Why would I put myself and my pension that I receive from California in jeopardy?”
Cooper, who had been Wister Police Department chief, resigned Aug. 5 after being rehired in a special meeting Aug. 4.
In a special meeting July 15, the board approved terminating Cooper and Wister Police Department Det. Shawn Booth, but by the time the regularly-scheduled August board meeting took place Aug. 1, Town of Wister Board of Trustees Legal Counsel Robert Stockton made the board aware that not all the proper protocols had been followed when the July 15 meeting took place.
After the regularly-scheduled Aug. 1 meeting took place, a special emergency meeting took place in which both Cooper and Booth were re-hired.
Prior to the Aug. 4 meeting, Booth resigned, but the board made a decision to not terminate Cooper but to have two of its trustees, Max Harris and Steven Morris, talk with him.
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