By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Editor’s note: This is the third article covering Enid City Commission candidates’ views on some of the major issues facing the city in the next four-year term. Each of the candidates were asked the same slate of questions. Since there are three candidates in Ward 6, their answers will be split into two parts. The second part will be in Friday’s News & Eagle.
The election for the Ward 6 seat on the Enid City Commission will be decided Feb. 12, between Mickey De La Cruz, Joey Meibergen and Dr. David Vanhooser.
De La Cruz is owner of the downtown restaurant Pane Vino Wine & Steak. He opened the restaurant nine years ago after moving to Enid.
Meibergen is executive vice president of W.B. Johnston Grain Co. Meibergen returned to the family business after graduating from Oklahoma State University in 2004, with a degree in agriculture and natural resources and a minor in agri-business finance.
Vanhooser is a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon at Integris Bass Baptist Health Center, where he has served since May 2001. He also is a local business owner of office and storage lease space. Vanhooser is a current commissioner on the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission.
Current Ward 6 city commissioner Todd Ging is term-limited.
Enid News & Eagle will host a forum featuring candidates in all three wards up for election — ward 3, which includes parts of east and southeast Enid; ward 4, in northeast Enid; and ward 6, which is in northwest Enid — at 6 p.m. Monday in commission chambers, 401 W. Garriott.
City water issues
High demand and a record-breaking drought combined to exceed the city’s water-delivery capacity last summer, ushering in city water conservation measures and watering restrictions through September.
According to figures provided by the city last summer, residential use amounts to 30.4 percent of the city’s water, while commercial usage is 65.6 percent. The city of Enid has announced plans to increase municipal water supply by one million gallons per day in 2013, and an additional two million gallons per day in 2014, by expanding city water rights and infrastructure.
Question: Are the city’s plans to expand the water supply sufficient to meet Enid’s growing demand? What would be your plan to increase water supply for the city?
De La Cruz
De La Cruz said the city made a mistake years ago when it sold off its water rights to Canton Lake.
“We have to stop selling off our water rights,” he said. “We shouldn’t have done that. We walked away from Canton Lake years ago.”
He said other cities, like Stillwater, have expanded their water rights “because they had the foresight to see the future.”
De La Cruz said the long-term possibility of a city lake “would be cost-prohibitive,” but would have added benefits in attracting new investment in retail, housing and tourism.
In the short-term, De La Cruz said the city’s plan to drill more wells is a “Band-Aid fix.”
“If it’s not raining, it’s not filling up those wells,” he said. “We have to have some conservation, and use our gray water better.”
De La Cruz said the city needs to “overcome arrogance” and reach out to learn from other communities.
“I want to reach out to other towns that are worse off than us, but doing better than us in thinking about water,” he said. “Maybe we could learn something there.”
Meibergen said water issues need to be the city’s top priority in the foreseeable future.
“Without water you don’t have a community, you don’t have life, you don’t have parks and recreation, you don’t have industry ... you don’t have anything,” Meibergen said.
Meibergen said the city needs a balanced approach to resolving its water issues, including looking for new water sources, and finding ways to conserve the existing supply.
He said the city’s plan of expanded drilling in the Cimarron River Aquifer is necessary, but the city also should be looking for water rights outside the Cimarron, possibly at Kaw Lake “or other watersheds.”
“I think we need to be looking for new water sources, so we’re not putting all our eggs in one basket,” Meibergen said.
“We also need to be looking at ways to treat gray water to meet the needs of the industrial users,” Meibergen said. “That will buy us some time, but we still need to be looking for an additional source.”
Meibergen said building a city lake should be a last option, because “it would be an extremely expensive venture.”
Vanhooser said the city’s plan of drilling more water wells in the Cimarron Aquifer “is a good start, but certainly not enough.”
“Adding the Northstar (Agri Industries) plant alone is 500,000 gallons a day more demand, so if you add one million gallons a day supply, half of it’s used up right there.”
Vanhooser said drilling more wells near Ames and Cleo Springs “presents its own problem, because the city doesn’t have the pipe in the ground to carry that extra water to the city.”
He said the city needs to add another 24-inch supply line from its western well fields.
As a long-term solution Vanhooser said the city should be considering a lake.
“Long-term, I’m in favor of adding a lake,” he said.
He said a lake would be an expensive project, requiring about $200 million.
“We don’t have the money for that right now, but we need to at least be looking at it,” Vanhooser said.
In the short-term, he said Enid residents should be prepared for more water restrictions.
“There is no doubt we’re going to have to ration water again this summer,” he said.
Question: Should attracting new industry and supplying current commercial users be a priority for the city’s water resources?
De La Cruz
“For us to keep growing, we have to be able to bring in more industry and new businesses,” De La Cruz said.
But, he said, the city needs to think beyond large industry, and find ways to promote and support small, locally owned businesses that “add to the quality of life.”
He said Enid needs to focus on offering more entertainment, retail and dining to overcome the “Continental Resources effect.”
“If we bring more employees into Enid — and we need to do that — we have to be prepared to take care of them,” De La Cruz said. “That means offering more entertainment, more shopping and a good lifestyle, or they’re not going to stay.”
“Anybody who has an interest in locating in Enid should be a priority,” Meibergen said. “Everyone should be able to have access to water.”
Meibergen said attracting new industry is key to increasing city revenue, and financing further infrastructure improvements.
“Industry is just as important as anything else,” Meibergen said. “Without industry, we don’t have jobs and revenue, and we would miss out on the opportunity to improve a lot of the quality-of-life issues that are a concern to some in the community.”
Vanhooser said the city needs to attract new industry to increase revenue, which in turn could be put back into infrastructure improvements.
He said there needs to be a focus on finding ways to process gray water for commercial and industrial consumers.
“We need to find a way to process gray water, especially for Koch,” Vanhooser said.
He said the DEQ requirements that made Koch Nitrogen shift away from using gray water “are not Koch’s fault, and they’re not Enid’s fault.”
Enid Renaissance Project
In 2010, Enid voters rejected by a vote of 4,023-3,892 a $20 million bond issue for the Gateway Enid project. The city had committed to add an additional $20 million to the project.
The city opted in 2011 to go ahead with renovation of Convention Hall and construction of the new Enid Event Center, with the “brick-and-mortar” expenses to be covered by the city’s $20 million share of the original Gateway plan.
Convention Hall was reopened to the public in November, after completion of a more than $7 million renovation contract. Enid Event Center is nearing completion, with contract and change orders that now have topped $18 million.
Question: What are your thoughts on the renovation of Convention Hall and construction of Enid Event Center? Is Enid Renaissance Project a good investment for the city of Enid and its residents?
De La Cruz
De La Cruz said it’s too early to tell if Enid Renaissance will be a good investment for the city.
But, he said, local caterers and vendors already are losing money to the city’s contract with Global Spectrum.
“They always said that facility was meant to include local caterers, but they’ve made it almost impossible for local caterers to do business there,” De La Cruz said.
He said Global Spectrum is bringing in outside vendors, with a portion of the revenue going to the city. That, he said, puts the city in direct competition with local business owners.
“Will that project benefit Enid? It’s too early to tell. Will it hurt local businesses? Yes, it already has.”
Meibergen said he supported, and voted for, Gateway Enid, but he does not agree with the way Enid Renaissance Project has been executed.
“I question how it’s gotten done, and how the budget preparation was made,” Meibergen said. “Right now, it doesn’t look like they did their homework when they prepared the budget, the way the construction cost keeps going up.”
He said there needs to be more accountability in carrying out large public projects like Enid Renaissance.
“In my business, if a project goes that far over budget because the budget either wasn’t prepared properly, or because it was misrepresented to push the project through, the person who prepared that budget is going to be gone,” Meibergen said.
While Meibergen disagrees with the way Enid Renaissance Project has been built, he said the public now needs to get behind the project to ensure it has a positive outcome for the community.
“It’s a fabulous asset, and I hope it’s so busy, downtown has to grow to accommodate it,” he said. “What’s done is done, and we all need to rally around and make sure it’s successful.”
Vanhooser said he doesn’t agree with how Enid Renaissance Project has been accomplished after Gateway Enid failed, but he supports Renaissance now that it’s built.
“We’ve got it, it’s downtown, and it’s going to be great,” Vanhooser said. “However we got here, we now have $40 million of the taxpayers’ money down there, and we need to use it, we need to promote it and we need to support it. We’re going to have to get over how we got here.”
“The fact is, we have a great facility down there now, we need to get a hotel down there with it, and we need to move forward,” Vanhooser said. “Going forward, as a city commissioner, I’m going to promote the Renaissance center, and I think we need it.”
While he supports Enid Renaissance Project, he said some changes need to be made to the city’s contract with Global Spectrum.
“I plan to, if elected, get into that Global Spectrum contract,” Vanhooser said.
He said he’s concerned about restrictions in the contract that make it difficult for local vendors to do business in the Renaissance facilities.
“That contract is not very friendly to the city, or to our local businesses,” Vanhooser said. “I have heard a lot of complaints from citizens about the obstructions to having events at that facility.”
Question: Looking back on the transition from Gateway Enid to Enid Renaissance Project, what should we learn from that process?
De La Cruz
“The city stopped listening to the people,” De La Cruz said. “If we tell you something, and tell you ‘No,’ you can’t just re-dress it and send it back out the door.”
“Right now there’s a huge public-relations problem between the city of Enid and the citizens of Enid,” he said. “What the city needs to do is listen to the people, and be more proactive with sharing things up-front. Tell us the truth. Don’t lie.”
Meibergen said the city needs to avoid situations that create, in perception or reality, divisions between the city and the people.
“What concerns me is the perception it (Enid Renaissance) has created,” Meibergen said. “The perception of mistrust it has created between the city commission, the city government and the taxpayers needs to be overcome. Enid has a big anti-government culture to begin with, and things like that don’t help our situation.”
“I think the way they did that (Enid Renaissance) was extremely poor,” Vanhooser said. “I think it was a publicity nightmare. People think it was shoved down their throat.”
Vanhooser said the city commissioners and the public need to learn from Enid Renaissance Project to keep control of city government.
“Eric Benson doesn’t have a vote,” Vanhooser said, referring to Enid’s city manager. “Eric Benson was not the problem with that deal. The problem was the city commissioners who cowed under that project.
“I think the public has a right to be upset about that project and how it was done, but the people they need to be mad at are the commissioners who approved every single change order that came in.”