By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
After presiding at his final city council meeting Tuesday night, Mike McEachern is reflecting on 18 years of service to the City of Yukon.
McEachern’s final day in his volunteer office will be May 5 after eight years as Ward 4 council member – the last two years as mayor. Before being elected to the city council in 2012, McEachern served 10 years on the Yukon Planning Commission.
“Be proud of Yukon,” McEachern said. “It is a great place to live. We have wonderful things here and our quality of life is second to none.
“I have had the opportunity to contribute and was in the right place at the right time. In 2015, we were broke. In 2020, when COVID hit, all of our funds were full and where they needed to be.”
During his eight-year city council tenure, McEachern said one of greatest accomplishments was helping oversee the City of Yukon’s recovery after near financial collapse in 2015.
Five years ago, McEachern said he and then-Mayor John Alberts were troubled with answers they were receiving about the City’s financial condition. They learned public funds were being spent improperly and this ultimately led to the December 2015 resignation of former city manager Grayson Bottom.
“We weren’t going in the right direction and John and I both just weren’t buying into the information we were getting back,” McEachern said. “As it turns out, there was a lot of information that wasn’t accurate … and we were in serious trouble.”
The city council brought back Jim Crosby as city manager in early 2016 to start the recovery process and the City’s financial situation turned around.
“The discovery of financial difficulties led to an absolutely clean, ‘no significant issues’ audit,” McEachern said. “A report from our forensic auditor said we had come from virtually bankrupt to almost $6 million in our ‘rainy day’ account. To have gotten perfectly clean audits was a ‘biggie’ for me and there was joy in my heart. Nobody could see it, but my heart was actually thumping a little bit when they announced that.
“Every one of our accounts is now whole. Financially, we’re where we belong and where we should be. Obviously, that’s going to change because we’ve had everybody out of business for a while.”
The City of Yukon had been on solid financial footing before many local retailers were forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An anticipated decline in sales tax collections has forced City officials to implement budget cuts.
The City of Yukon has experienced several challenges during McEachern’s time on the city council – the most recent being the business shutdown and city personnel reductions caused by the virus outbreak.
“It attacked not only us, but the entire planet,” he said at Tuesday night’s council meeting. “We have, in my view, certainly continued to do the right things based on all the best knowledge and practices available to keep the citizens of Yukon safe.”
McEachern offered a laundry list of projects and programs the city council has helped Yukon accomplish during his leadership stint. Here are just some of those:
- New trails, Taylor Park upgrades and other park improvements
- Frisco Road water tower and improved city water pressure
- Start of the State Highway 4 widening project
- Tax-increment financing (TIF) commercial development on the south side of Interstate 40 near the Yukon hospital
- Future Frisco Road TIF district development and plans for the Interstate 40/Frisco Road interchange
- Main Street revitalization efforts
- Ensuring water detention and flood abatement with new developments
- New ordinances to protect citizens from illegal dumping
- Future upgrades to the City’s 911 system and emergency operations center
- Updating the City’s feral animal ordinances
- Opening of new animal control facility
- Overseeing new developments like 10 West Main Events, Walmart Neighborhood Market, Yukon Crossing, Frisco Ridge, West End Pointe, Yukon Parkway West, among others
- Integris Health’s addition of a helipad to make Canadian Valley Regional a full-service hospital
- Online utility bill paying procedures
Besides Yukon’s growth and many capital projects, McEachern said he especially enjoyed handing out trophies to local youth winners of the Mayor’s Christmas essay contest.
And he always looked forward to introducing the Oklahoma City Philharmonic at the orchestra’s July 4th and Christmas concerts.
TERM LIMITS END SERVICE
McEachern is stepping down from the five-member Yukon City Council because of city council term limits, which keep officeholders from serving more than two consecutive, four-year terms.
Although McEachern’s last official council meeting was this week, his last day will be May 5 when new Ward 4 Council Member Aric Gilliland takes the oath of office. Gilliland defeated Ken Wilkins by a 72% margin in the Feb. 11th Ward 4 election to earn the next four-year term.
At that May 5 meeting, the Yukon City Council will elect a mayor to succeed McEachern.
As someone who frequently asked questions at council meetings, McEachern offered advice for the new mayor and fellow elected leaders as they oversee the City of Yukon’s $51-million budget.
“Put on your best clothes and come ready to ask questions,” he said. “Understand what’s going on so you make good decisions.”
Gilliland will join a city council comprised of Donna Yanda (six years of service), Rick Cacini (two years), Shelli Selby (two years), and Jeff Wootton (one year).
“They’re all going to have to find their own place and their own truths,” McEachern said.
McEachern began his service to the City of Yukon in May 2002 when he was appointed as the Ward 4 representative on the Yukon Planning Commission.
McEachern accepted and ended up serving 10 years as Yukon’s Ward 4 planning commissioner.
As a planning commissioner, he voted on several large developments like Stone Mill, Frisco Ridge and Wagner Lake Estates. McEachern recalls other projects that were denied by the planning commission, such as a proposed asphalt plant on Lakeshore Drive.
When term limits ended Bob Bradway’s tenure on the city council, McEachern decided to run for the Ward 4 post in 2012. He defeated Marvin Smith in that year’s council election and began his council service that May.
McEachern was challenged in his 2016 re-election bid by Bradway, his predecessor. But the incumbent withstood the challenge and was elected to his second, four-year term.
WORDS FROM HIS CO-HORTS
Yukon Vice Mayor Donna Yanda, who’s enjoyed serving alongside McEachern on the city council, said his love for Yukon was always evident.
“His fair and impartial approach allowed him to make decisions that were advantageous for the city and the citizens of our community,” said Yanda, a Yukon funeral home director and owner.
“Whether as the mayor or a councilman, he had a vision of fairness and understood the boundaries of his position.”
McEachern has always been sensitive to the requests and concerns of his constituents and open-minded about possible solutions, Yanda added.
“He always had a good attitude, even in the midst of controversy and difficult times,” the Ward 3 representative said. “We may not have always agreed on everything but could always work through our differences.”
Another former Yukon mayor, John Alberts, served with McEachern for six years on the city council.
“He served Yukon well,” said Alberts, an attorney and previous Ward 2 representative. “He served with an open-door policy and was always willing to listen to anybody regardless of the issue.”
Alberts thanked McEachern for his service and dedication.
“He has a passion for Yukon and has been committed to making Yukon to making Yukon better for Yukon is a better place because of Mike,” Alberts said.
McEachern has enjoyed his time serving on the council alongside Yanda, Alberts and many other volunteers.
“We have always had really pretty good leadership with people who have had their hearts in the right place,” McEachern said. “We didn’t always agree on everything. On the really important issues, there was always pretty good discussion.
“I never sensed or was apprised of any hidden agendas by council members. Everyone had their own personal experiences that they brought, and we all put them on the table.”
District 3 Canadian County Commissioner Jack Stewart said McEachern is always approachable and willing to talk.
“We’ll get into a discussion and if we disagree – even a little bit – he’ll say, ‘Which side do you want to take? I can argue either one’. I love it,” said Stewart, the three-term county commissioner from Yukon.
“Mike has a great personality. I love visiting with him and talking through issues. He’s been very good for Yukon.”
Although he’s leaving the city council, McEachern wants to remain active with City of Yukon committees, the Compassionate Hands’ board and Canadian County’s new family justice center.
“There’s plenty of opportunities out there for me to contribute,” he said. “I would still like to help with consolidating Compassionate Hands, Manna Pantry, Yukon Sharing, along with any other (charitable) group. I would also like to look at consolidating the four museums that we have here in town. That would be a valuable use of my time.”
McEachern said he’s had “no regrets” about his 18 years of City of Yukon service.
“I’ve enjoyed it all,” he said. “Is there anything I would have done a whole lot different? Probably not.”