By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Seven candidates for Enid City Commission answered questions from the media and public Monday night at a candidates’ forum in the city administration building.
The forum featured a media panel comprised of the Enid News & Eagle, Chisholm Trail Broadcasting and Williams Broadcasting.
Candidates were asked pre-planned questions from the media representatives, along with questions from the public in attendance and via Facebook.
Candidates for Ward 3 appeared first, followed by Ward 4 and Ward 6 candidates. The candidates in each ward were asked the same questions, but the questions varied from ward to ward. The election will be Feb. 12.
Ward 3 candidates Ben Ezzell and Eldon Stephens were asked to give the city of Enid a letter grade on its current performance.
On the topic of finances, Stephens said he would give the city administration a grade of “B, B-plus.”
“We could be doing better,” he said, “but we could be doing a lot worse.”
In attracting new businesses, Stephens said the city gets a “B-plus.”
“We’re doing great things, but we have room to do more,” he said.
Stephens gave the current city administration a B overall.
“Enid has a lot of things going on,” he said, “and there’s a lot of things left to face.”
Ezzell said Enid overall deserves “a good, solid A.”
“I think we live in a great city,” Ezzell said. “We have a booming downtown, we have high housing demand, we have great businesses, we have great people and great entertainment.”
Ezzell said the city administration includes “some really stellar folks,” and said the majority of city employees “aren’t just working for a paycheck” and “are people who really love Enid.”
He gave the city administration a grade of B for its performance.
The candidates also were asked to name an issue that needs to be addressed, but is not widely discussed.
Stephens said he’s heard complaints that a new city sign ordinance hurts small businesses, and is not evenly enforced.
“One issue that’s not being addressed that much is the new sign ordinance,” Stephens said. “The new sign ordinance, on paper, looked really good, but I’m hearing from a lot of local business owners that ordinance is detrimental to business and not being enforced fairly.”
Ezzell said there needs to be more discussion of “the inevitable oil and natural gas bust.”
“I’m a bankruptcy attorney, so I’m used to people walking through my door after their plans didn’t go so well,” Ezzell said. “Eventually, there’s going to be a bust. When will it end — who knows? I hope we’re going through another decade, but we have to keep in mind that every boom ends in a bust.”
Ezzell and Stephens also were asked to name their top three priorities for government spending.
Stephens said the city needs to focus on attracting new business, giving city employees “the proper tools and equipment to get the job done right” and on using competitive bidding practices for city acquisitions.
Ezzell said city infrastructure maintenance will remain a “top priority for every budget year.”
“We have fairly fixed costs for our big-ticket items,” Ezzell said. “We exist here to keep the city’s infrastructure in place and running.”
Ezzell and Stephens also were asked whether they would support a city non-discrimination clause that included sexual orientation and sexual identity.
This question was not posed to the Ward 4 and Ward 6 candidates.
Ezzell responded, “Yes, because it’s the right thing to do.”
Stephens said he never saw discrimination “not addressed” while he was a city employee.
“There’s always been a non-discrimination clause in our city employees manual, and I’ve never seen anybody discriminated against where it wasn’t addressed,” Stephens said.
Ward 4 candidates Loyd Kaufman and Rodney Timm also were asked to grade the city’s performance.
Kaufman gave the city administration a C.
“The city commission has lost touch with the citizens of Enid,” Kaufman said, “and I’ll give them a C myself, and I know a lot of people that would give them an F.”
Timm said the city administration deserves a B or C, but said “where we’re not behind the scenes, it’s hard for us to give a grade.”
“I think the city does the right things,” Timm said, “but maybe they just don’t come across in the right way. I think if we knew how government worked around the conference table, we might see things differently.”
Kaufman and Timm both expressed confidence in the ability of City Manager Eric Benson and the next city commission to set proper budget priorities for the city.
“Mr. Benson does an excellent job,” Kaufman said. “I voted for him then (as a commissioner), and I’d vote for him now.”
“I think Mr. Benson and the council, whatever council is there, will do a good job of budgeting,” Timm said.
The candidates were asked to discuss their priorities in setting a city budget, and name any areas they feel aren’t fully addressed.
Kaufman said the city employees need a raise.
“We have some employees who make minimum wage, and they can’t get by on minimum wage,” Kaufman said.
He also said the city needs to improve communications with the people, “either through the newspaper or the radio.”
Timm said water will be “the main issue” for the city’s budget. He said city roads also will need attention to compensate for wear and tear from oil field traffic.
Ward 6 candidates Mickey De La Cruz, Joey Meibergen and Dr. David Vanhooser answered a question about the state of the city’s fiscal health, and policies to foster continued economic growth.
Meibergen said financially, the city is in a good position because of the oil boom, and the city needs to plan for life after the boom.
“We are in such a good position with the oil field right now,” Meibergen said. “We’re in a wonderful position to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Meibergen said Enid needs to “be smart about how we spend our money, and hold our government accountable.”
He said the city needs to look at the city engineer’s priorities for infrastructure improvements and develop a long-term plan for water supply.
“We need to be continuing to invest in our infrastructure and investing in our operational efficiencies, so if the oil field goes away, and it will, and we have to fall back on agriculture, like we always do, we’ll be able to operate more efficiently.”
Vanhooser said the city budget “runs pretty tight,” and the city commission needs to make sure the budget is balanced.
“We have to set our priorities,” he said. “If it’s going into one area, it has to come out of another area.”
De La Cruz said he’s concerned about public safety, particularly staffing levels for Enid Police Department.
But, he said, “I think the budget is doing fine, and I think the city is doing a good job with it.
“We have to set our limits and look to where the city is going.”
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Check out video of the full forum
The Ward 6 candidates also were asked: “What’s the biggest issue facing the city that people aren’t talking about enough?”
Vanhooser said a recommendation from Monday night’s Metropolitan Area Planning Commission to allow construction of temporary work force housing in industrial zones will address one seldom-discussed issue.
“Most people don’t realize that after 30 days of continuously residing in a hotel room, you don’t have to pay hotel tax any more,” Vanhooser said.
“We’ve lost revenue to that. When Halliburton rents the whole hotel for six months, you only pay hotel tax for the first 30 days.”
De La Cruz said the city needs to pay attention to aesthetic issues that detract from the community’s first impression with visitors and investors.
“We don’t talk about what the town looks like,” he said. “We talk about the new stuff, the shiny stuff. When these people come ... what else are they going to see?”
De La Cruz said the city needs to focus on making itself look better for visitors “when they do come for the things we’ve already built.”
Meibergen said the city needs to avoid excessively restrictive codes, especially pertaining to oil and gas service businesses.
“Don’t code them to death, so they move to Ponca City or somewhere else,” Meibergen said. “If they can’t get it done and get it done now, they’re going to go somewhere else.”