June 29--EL RENO -- A county employee who was able to buy the land deed for a volunteer fire department due to a clerical error is asking a court to give him the land or pay him several thousand dollars.
In April, land that houses the Cedar Lake Fire Department accidentally was put up for sale as a tax delinquent property and purchased for $100 by a man named Howie Sutton, a maintenance employee who works in the same building as the Canadian County commissioner's office.
"My position is that we made a mistake, we're human beings, and we make mistakes, and we want to take whatever legal steps we can to retain ownership and continue its use as a fire station," District 2 Canadian County Commissioner David Anderson told The Oklahoman in a June 3 interview.
Sutton also has bought several other plots of land in the Cedar Lake community.
In a petition also filed on June 3, Assistant District Attorney Paul Hesse said the county did not have the authority to sell the land and asked a Canadian County court to return the deed to the volunteer fire department.
According to the deed, when the Western Sportsman Club -- a part of Cedar Lake community -- donated the lot for the fire department, it also created a stipulation giving them the option to buy back the land if it were to ever be sold by Canadian County.
The Western Sportsman Club was never given the option to buy back the land, and the sale of the lot is not legal, Hesse asserted in the petition. The filing also noted since the property was county-owned, it could not have been auctioned for tax delinquency.
Sutton hired Yukon attorney Mark Osby and filed a response June 19, denying the deed was invalid. Sutton's filing says that since the auction for the property was announced in the local newspaper, Western Sportsman Club was properly notified of the sale of the land its volunteer fire department sits on.
Sutton's filing asks the court to either give him the deed to the land outright or compensate him $75,000 or more.
Hesse had no comment on the case. Osby did not return a call requesting an interview.
On Friday, Hesse filed a response to Sutton, again asserting the county had no authority to sell the land. Hesse asked the court to return the deed to the fire department and dismiss any further claims by Sutton.
The suit soon will likely enter the discovery phase, where both parties share information and evidence before heading to trial and allowing a judge to make a final decision.
Randy Gipson, a volunteer fire fighter at Cedar Lake, said he and the other volunteers are trying not to worry about the lawsuit and instead attend to the daily necessities of running the station. Gipson was gearing up for a firework sale at the station to raise money for day-to-day operations when reached by phone Friday.
The station receives a small federal grant, but the majority of its money comes from donations and events like the upcoming sale, Gipson said.
He estimated since the lawsuit was filed a few weeks ago his station has responded to at least four fires and three medical calls.
Gipson said he understands Sutton's point; the county did make an error when allowing the land to be sold.
"If (Sutton) didn't do anything wrong, it was totally (the county's) mistake," Gipson said.
He added, however, that $75,000 is more than Sutton deserves.
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