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Oklahoma City councilman resigns

Read the resignation letter

Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis
Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis

Ward 7 Councilman John A. Pettis Jr. will resign effective May 31.

"I must put the needs of Ward 7 first," he wrote in a letter addressed to Mayor David Holt, dated Wednesday.

Pettis was charged a week ago in Oklahoma County District Court with embezzlement and intentionally failing to file state tax returns.

"It is with great sadness that I must submit this letter of resignation," Pettis wrote.

The letter was received by the city clerk Thursday afternoon.

In his five years in office, Pettis wrote, the council made "great progress" toward making Ward 7 a better place to live and work.

Pettis ran on promises of jobs and economic development for predominantly African-American neighborhoods on the city's northeast side.

"I am grateful that I had the chance to push for the NE Renaissance TIF District," Pettis wrote.

He said the tax-increment financing plan "is showing the community that the city is really committed to ensuring NE OKC residents have the same opportunities as other parts of our great city."

"The people of Ward 7 will always be in my heart," Pettis, 35, wrote. " As I close this chapter of my life, I still believe the best is yet to come."

Pettis has been Ward 7's greatest advocate.

He was fond of pointing out that many major attractions and developments are in Ward 7, including the Softball Hall of Fame and Stadium, the Oklahoma City Zoo, the Boathouse District, MAPS 3 whitewater park and MAPS 3 convention center complex.

He called it "7th Heaven," a moniker that caught on with other city leaders.

According to the city charter, the city council has 30 days from the date a vacancy occurs to appoint a new councilman or councilwoman, to serve until an election can be held.

The council also has 30 days to set a date for the election.

Before Pettis' resignation was announced, Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher expressed his hope economic progress in Ward 7 would remain on track, despite the "very, very serious" allegations.

"I sure hope this doesn't hurt the work and momentum that is under way in Ward 7," Stonecipher said.

Mayor David Holt said he anticipated discussions on how to proceed would begin in short order.

"Since this just occurred in the last hour or so, the council has not had an opportunity to discuss it," Holt said by text.

"But we certainly feel the urgency and I anticipate that in the week ahead we’ll develop a process for the interim appointment," he said.

The first available date for a special primary election would be Aug. 28, the city said in a press release. 

A candidate winning a majority of the votes in the primary would be elected. A runoff would be Nov. 6.

Candidates must have lived in Oklahoma City at least three years before the election date and been registered to vote in Ward 7 at least six months before filing a declaration of candidacy with the county Election Board.

The new Ward 7 councilman or councilwoman would serve until 2021, when Pettis' second term was to expire, and could seek re-election then.

Pettis declined further comment.

In his letter, he wrote that it had been "a great honor to serve the people of Ward 7."

According to his official biography on the city's website, Pettis' uncle John White served as a state representative. 

His father, John A. Pettis, was a councilman and mayor in El Reno.

Pettis acknowledged his colleagues on the Oklahoma City Council in his letter.

"I am grateful for serving with an awesome city council," he said. "I wish each of you much success."

Pettis serves on several city boards and commissions, including the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board, the Oklahoma City Economic Development Trust and the Oklahoma City Zoological Trust, which oversees the zoo.

His resignation is effective for those positions as well.

He represents the city on the National League of Cities' Human Development Committee.

The committee develops policy positions on issues including poverty, employment and workforce development.

Prosecutors allege in the case against Pettis that he lived off donations made to three charities under his control.

Pettis earned $12,000 per year as a councilman.

His official biography describes him as a community volunteer and advocate and references service with AmeriCorps but makes no mention of outside employment.

Pettis made his first court appearance Tuesday.

 A plea of not guilty was recorded on his behalf and he was freed on his own recognizance.

He is to return to court June 14.

Pettis had filed as a Democrat for the District 1 Oklahoma County commissioner's seat.

His name remains on the ballot for the June 26 primary. He has not said whether he would suspend his campaign.

Pettis had raised more than $60,000 through March 31 for the commissioner's race, according to his latest campaign report. 

He had the support of key civic leaders, as he had in his 2017 council re-election campaign, and the endorsement of Commissioner Willa Johnson, who is retiring.

Pettis reported raising more than $115,000 for his 2017 campaign, far more than the other two incumbents seeking re-election.

All three won in the primary, with Pettis taking 80.7 percent of the vote in his race.

Related Photos
Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis

Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis" title="Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis"><figcaption>Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis</figcaption></figure>
William Crum

OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in Norman. Read more ›