Meet the candidates to be decided on the April 2 ballot

The City of Okemah is holding a citywide election Tuesday, April 2 to decide on two City Council seats, Ward 3 and 4, currently held by Councilor Loren Aldridge and Councilor Anthony Landers. 

Aldridge and Landers both chose to re-file for their current seats, each drawing an opponent, all of which will face off in the near election.   

With the election coming up in the next few weeks, the Okemah News Leader has sought to inform the public on the four candidates on the ballot. 

The conversations with each candidate were based on these four questions: What is your history/experience in politics and/or leadership?, What made you decide to run or re-file?, What do you see as the most important issues to be faced for the City of Okemah?, and if elected/re-elected what do you hope to accomplish?  

Find that information below, starting with the opponents, then the current seat holders, and don’t forget to vote … doing so, in the very least, somewhat informed. 

Kelly West:

West has been a resident of Okemah for 46 years. Her father taught at Okemah High School for 30 years, and her mother worked  at both Okemah City Hall and First Baptist Church.

West has worked for the Bearden Public School District for 13 years, as well as two years with the Okfuskee County Treasurer’s Office. 

She doesn’t have a history in politics and has not served on the City Council, but she said, “I have always proudly called Okemah my home, and I have a passion for making it the best city it can be. That is why I ran.” 

West continued, “I feel privileged to have been raised in this town and to raise my children here. 

“In the past few years, though, I have become rather concerned with the direction in which our city is headed. 

“My two foremost concerns as of now are the safety of our neighborhoods and the appearance of our city, which seems to not draw much pride in it from the citizenry, which we need. 

“My family has been the victim of property crimes in the past, and I support law enforcement. However, I know that they alone cannot make Okemah safe. 

“It takes everyone working together, supporting each other and watching out for each other to make our community safe. I want to see law enforcement partner with residents to keep our families and homes safe. 

“I want to see neighbors looking out for neighbors, and, in particular, I want to see everyone protecting the children growing up in our community. Additionally, I want to see unsafe structures quickly addressed by the City of Okemah. Not only are these dilapidated buildings unsightly, they are a safety hazard.”

She concluded with, “I am lucky to be entering this journey with the support of and friendship of a fellow candidate with similar concerns and ideas, Mr. Ron Gott. I encourage each of you to vote on April 2 and vote for Ron Gott and Kelly Robertson West”. 

Ron Gott:

“Over the last two weeks I have been asked many questions about my desire to again sit on our City Council so I will attempt to address some of those questions right now.  The first question is what is different now than when you first sat on council and resigned after serving your community.  Well, back when I was a sitting councilman, I was working full time for a Government Contractor and traveling often.  

“Also, having returned from Iraq in 2005 was still dealing with issues despite retiring a couple of years earlier.   

“I’ve always believed to give 100% towards any endeavors and believed that down deep in my heart that I wasn’t being very effective being gone so much.  I now have time to devote to our City having retired from the Government Contracting job, Department of Defense and Military.  Currently I devote as much as my time as possible to helping our veterans and our children and youth in our communities.  

“The next question I wish to address is why would you want to be a councilman?  The simple answer to that question is to give back and do what I can to move our City forward in many different areas.  I believe that with my life experiences that I may have something new or different to bring to the table on behalf of our citizens.  

“Another question which I felt was somewhat ridiculous was at your age wouldn’t you feel embarrassed if in fact you did not win the election?   Well, at age 70, I do not worry about what most people think, I believe that might be a senior citizen mentality because us seniors have already been there and done that and our egos are not easily abused.  If my opponent wins, then I’ll back him 100% and will not quit trying to help our city.  

“I want to add at this point, from my first time on council, that anyone sitting on the City Council opens themselves up to criticism and ridicule from the citizens they are serving, why?  Councilman donate their time and money in order to make decisions that are in the best interest of our city, they receive not one dollar for doing what they do.  Some decisions are unpopular and the councilman suffer accordingly.  

“Years back we had some councilman actually arrested for an open meeting violation and had to spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets in order to pay an attorney to defend each one of them charged, after many proceedings the charges were dropped but those that brought the charges did not have to spend a dime while the three defendants were out again hundreds of dollars each. 

“As a community we need to come together and work together in order to make our community stronger.  I’ve also advocated for a junior chamber of commerce because our High Schoolers can bring ideas to the table, they are indeed old enough and smart enough to provide input for how our City moves forward.”  

Loren Aldridge:

Aldridge currently holds the Ward 3 seat. 

He has not faced an election, and until being appointed by the Council in summer 2017 after the resignation of Bobby Massey, his Ward’s representative, he had no political experience. 

He said that has changed now, and he is more informed as a leader. 

“What I am looking to improve, which we have already started improving, is the infrastructure of the city. 

If we are going to grow in this city, some important issues must be addressed. 

In order to support growth in this city, we are going to have to improve some infrastructure, noting the waste water plant, water treatment plant, water lift stations, sewer lines, continued road improvements and making this city more attractive. 

Other issues are better working conditions for our city employees, to be safer, more efficient and have better and safer equipment to do their job. 

As a starter for the growth of our city, we have a really good fire department, and we have the number one, the best police department in Okfuskee, according to the judges in this district and the District Attorney’s Office.

Aldridge said he did not know much about his opponent, and said he had no comment to make regarding the matter. 

What we have started on in this previous is our code enforcement methods and procedures … the codes have always been here, but we need to do better enforcing them. 

We have a lot of condemned homes and dilapidated structures, and I would like to see a five-year program with a $30,000 per year budget to go towards paying for the cleanup and removal of those structures. 

That allotted amount of money could equate to eight to 10 homes being removed per year. 

We go through every avenue to work with the home- or landowners to get them to clean the places up and pay for it, but that can be difficult, so often the city assumes liability. That said, there are still revenues to recover our expenses for demolition, cleanup and removal even after that. 

Now that I have been on the council for two years, I have some experience. When I first started, I didn’t know how it worked. With experience, though, I now know the laws and regulations to look into and research to better our city.”

Anthony Landers:

I was born and raised in Okemah … gone to college for a few years, but I never considered  leaving. This is my home and has been my whole life. 

I have been married to Vicky Landers for just under two decades, May being the 20-year mark. 

I have been a youth minister at First Baptist-Okemah for 14 years. 

I was hired by Walmart in 1997, and I have been with them ever since, (save for a two-year hiatus where Landers opened his own business). I’m now an assistant manager at one of the stores.

Landers won a runoff election in May 2012, remaining on the council since then.

The reason I initially ran for office is that I thought our city needed a change, and I thought it was a good opportunity to get in and serve and represent a younger generation. 

I’d served on the school board for a couple years prior to being on the council. 

The thing I am most passionate about and what I have focused on the most is moving forward. 

One of my biggest motivators, is enhancing our city-owned Okemah Lake, as well as growing industrial business and moving forward. For example, the Quantum building has now been occupied for just about five or six years now, which has alleviated that liability from the City. 

As for his opponent, Landers said, “Gott is a distinguished veteran … He does a lot of good, and I’m very appreciative of what Gott does for the community,” also noting his work with the American Legion and Oklahoma National Guard.

The biggest issue I’d like to address if re-elected is the I-40 corridor … We need to bring more businesses to that area that will increase revenue to our city. 

If we can increase our revenue, we can grow our population, better address our streets and infrastructure, due to the fact that we have more revenue to put towards those important issues. 

If we have more revenue, we can do more things to better this city, and that is my focus.” 

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