Infrastructure, first responders main focus in Ward 1 candidate forum

Infrastructure, first responders main focus in Ward 1 candidate forum

OKLAHOMA CITY — On January 16, candidates for Ward 1’s seat on the City Council met for a forum hosted by the Westen Neighborhood Association and the Northwest OKC Chamber of Commerce. Questions were asked by veteran journalists Billie Rodely and Jim Palmer.

The topics were largely concerned with two issues, infrastructure and funding for first responders. The hour-plus long forum was attended by all but one candidate. Megan Scott declined to attend, citing COVID concerns.

Candidate backgrounds

With Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner deciding to not seek another term on the council, the ward’s election has drawn nine candidates, the most of any ward in this year’s election cycle where 19 in all are running for seats in Wards 1, 3, and 4.

Richard Buchanon is a business owner who has lived in the area of the ward since the 1960s. He owns several companies and says that his reason for running is based on biblical scripture that dictates to think more of others than of one’s self.

Bill Fleming is a small business owner. Fleming chaired the first MAPS 3 Senior Wellness Center committee. He said his conservative Christian values and business experience would help him serve the ward and the city very well.

Joshua Debolt is another business owner running for Ward 1’s seat. Debolt is not native to Oklahoma City but has called the City his home for 11 years. During those eleven years, Debolt has not voted in a municipal election because, he said, it wasn’t a priority until now. He’s running, he says, because he thinks it is a responsibility to do so when “they see that leadership in their community are not doing the job they were elected to do.”

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Nana Dankwa, an attorney, was born and raised in Oklahoma City. Dankwa says that he believes serving on the City Council is a way for him to give back to a city that has given so much to him. He says that the diversity of his experience gives him unique perspectives to help the city face issues that are present and those that are coming.

Susan Parisi is a retired US Air Force officer who has lived in Oklahoma City since 1971. She says her 30 years of military experience makes her uniquely equipped to serve as a City Councilor, as she has managed large budgets and many people.

Jay Sherrill is an Oklahoma City native who has served on the Putnam City Board of Education. He also has worked in healthcare for a large diagnostic company that manages about $600 million a year in revenue. Sherrill has been endorsed by former mayor Mick Cornett, and is not shy about saying so.

Shay Varnell is another business owner running for the seat. Varnell has served as Ward1’s appointee to the Traffic and Transportation Committee of Oklahoma City for the last two years. He is the only candidate with experience in Oklahoma City government.

Bradley Carter is a small business owner who lives in Yukon. He said that through prayer with his wife, they decided that running for this office was the route he should follow. He says that the endorsement of all his neighbors has bolstered his confidence in the decision to run.

Megan Scott was the only candidate that did not attend the forum due to COVID concerns. During the forum, all candidates spoke without wearing masks. Because her concern for safety was well-founded, I contacted Scott by phone for her answers to some of the questions posed. Scott said that she was glad she did not attend the event as it looked like there were not enough safety precautions.

Issues

A major part of the discussion in the forum centered on the rapid growth of Oklahoma City. As Ward 1 abuts several other municipalities and stretches out into Canadian County, infrastructure for those outlying areas was a major concern for each of the candidates.

A second issue addressed by the candidates was funding for first responders, especially police.

Several candidates spoke about increasing funding and support for the Oklahoma City Police Department. However, when asked about the recent hiring of consulting firm 21cp Solutions to assist the Mayor’s Law Enforcement Task Force, none of the candidates present had any knowledge of the group. In turn, each candidate took the opportunity to give their thoughts on  hiring a consultant group they never heard of for a Task Force they knew little about.

All candidates said that if it helped the police department to function better then it was worth the $175,000 price tag. Neither the moderators nor the candidates knew that the Inasmuch Foundation already committed to giving the City a grant to cover most of the cost of that hiring.

Debolt said that the City should be increasing funding to the police department in order to do a better job for citizens and to make the community safer. 

Dankwa said that he found it interesting to have a third party working with police, and would have to look into that further. 

Parisi said that it’s a large amount of money and wanted to know what model the consulting firm was using, “are they using Chicago, are they using St. Louis, what model are they using to assist us?” adding that she wanted to know about their accountability and who they’re bringing in to consult.

Sherrill said that while 21cp is probably using best practices, “we also have to be accountable to the taxpayers.” 

Varnell, who says he is very excited about the Task Force, said that he encourages a review to find the best practices. 

Carter said that this was the first he’s heard of it, but that since the contract has already been completed there was little a new Council member could do about that, but that he is interested in finding out what the ROI will be for the City and its citizens.

Buchanan said that if the company has a good track record and good results, then it’s a good thing. He added that he believes there are a lot of old policies that are out of date. “I support the police, but I don’t think it takes five guns to take one guy with a knife down. And I am appalled watching tv across the United States how easily a citizen can be shot down.”

Fleming said that consulting firms can add value and do a good job, but that he would be adamantly against anything that dilutes the police force in any way.

Reached by telephone, Scott said, “I’m glad something’s being done because there is an issue. We have to admit there is a problem. People in our community have had harmful interactions with police.” 

“I’m encouraged that 21cp has experience and that we’re bringing in people from outside of the city,” Scott continued. “There are concerns about the make-up of the Task Force, but hopefully 21cp will be encouraged to hear from other voices. As a city councilor I would strive to make sure we are including those other voices.”

City COVID response

The assembled candidates were asked what they think the City’s response to the COVID-19 crisis should be.

Bradley Carter said that people should be trusted to do what’s right, but that a person’s freedom to make their own decision is most important. 

Varnell said that while he takes the disease seriously, he doesn’t believe that the City should have a mask mandate because the City shouldn’t be dictating what citizens must do. 

Sherrill, who has worked in health care, said that he would support a mask mandate. 

Parisi, herself a nurse who has provided healthcare to many, said that this disease is real and dangerous and that she is passionate that the City needs a mask mandate.

Nana Dankwa said without hesitation that he supports a mask mandate and Debolt flatly rejects the idea of a mask mandate. 

Fleming made no comment regarding the mask mandate but instead said that the City needs to be focused on how to get as many residents vaccinated as possible. 

Buchanan said that he supports a mask mandate, but doesn’t think it should be permanent.

Scott had this to say, “I think we have to keep the mask mandate in place until numbers go down. This is temporary, we’ll be okay using masks a little while longer. I hope we can get more federal funds to help small businesses. I think we do more in regard to informing people where to get vaccinated. Still washing hands, social distancing, staying home as much as possible. There’s not a lot that the city can do without further state or federal funding to reduce the numbers.”

The entire 1.5 hours of the forum is available to view on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ww3zqn4m4qA&feature=youtu.be 

The election is on Tuesday, February 9 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at your assigned precinct. Details of the election and polling places can be found HERE.


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