City Council candidates speak out
The Okemah News Leader hosted a debate/forum on Tuesday, March 21, at the Okfuskee County History Center.
The evening moderator for the evening was state Senator Roger Thompson. Thompson thanked the History Center for donating the space for the community to gather and hear from several of the candidates in the upcoming city council election on April 4. Early voting starts on Thursday March 30.
Thompson opened the forum by quoting from the declaration of independence, “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed..” Thompson emphasized the importance of local government and the need to be involved.
The Okemah City Council posted an agenda for the evening allowing members of the council to be present and speak without violating the open meetings act.
The election this year is unusual because four of the five seats on the Okemah City Council were up for election. Ward one, held by Ronnie Lucas, was the only seat not up for election. Ward 2, vacated by Mike Fuller, only drew one candidate so there will be no election for this seat. Jennifer Mack was not present at the forum but will be seated after the election on the council.
Ward three is currently held by Mayor Kelly West. West is being challenged by Brandon Anderson. Both West and Anderson participated in the forum.
Ward four councilman is Ron Gott. He as unopposed and will continue to serve on the city council.
The at large position drew several candidates. Current Councilman Wayne Bacon attended the forum. The other two candidates, Larry Holden and James Strianese did not attend.
Questions to the candidates covered a variety of areas addressing several areas of interest in the community. The Okemah News Leader had requested questions from the community over the past two weeks.
The candidates discussed the current trash service in Okemah and the increased costs to the citizens. One of the areas current council members Bacon, Gott and West agreed upon was the need to have roll off dumpsters somewhere accessible to the citizens of Okemah. They also addressed the expense of the new water treatment plant that is in excess of $20 million. Gott also said the six mile water line from the lake to the treatment center will cost around $10 million. There is an increased need to address the water infrastructure in Okemah as well. Current council members expressed their appreciation for the Muscogee Nation and their partnership of contributing $10 million for the water project.
The candidates said infrastructure for water was a priority for them even above the airport. Gott has worked on the airport for a number of years and he agreed that water infrastructure must come first, but also emphasized the need for the future development around the airport. Gott also said he would like to see Okemah Schools add Areospace to the current curriculum.
Questions were asked about any plans for economic development. All candidates saw a need for the city, the Chamber and the Main Street program to work together. One of the key elements of economic growth is a clean city according to Mayor West. All candidates stood behind the current efforts being made to clean up Okemah. Gott said there were presently ongoing discussions to bring more business to Okemah, but could not comment because of non disclosure agreements.
One of the questions submitted dealt with the lack of law enforcement patrols at the Okemah Lake noting it has been bad for some time. Current council members running for election said city manager Kristy Lesley has contacted the Game Ranger from Oklahoma Wildlife Commission concerning this issue. They have agreed to be more active on the weekends and during fishing tournaments.
Other questions dealt with income for the city and their plans to increase business therefore increasing sales tax to address some of the infrastructure issues. They also answered questions on street repair in Okemah.
The full forum can be viewed on Okemah News Leader Facebook page.