By JOSH NEWTON
Nine men vying to hold city offices fielded questions during a Thursday evening forum and touched on a range of topics, including everything from city parade routes to finding funds for projects.
Candidates participating in the discussion included Clay Mahaney, Charley Batt, Steve Farmer and Nate King, who hope to be chief of police; David Whitekiller, Gary Cacy, Charles Carroll and Jonathan Wells, who want to represent the city’s Ward 2; and Terry Garrett, who is running to be the city’s street commissioner.
Mike Corn, who is seeking re-election as the city street commissioner, was unable to attend due a family illness, according to moderator Peggy Glenn.
Candidates responded to several questions they were given before the forum. Their answers to those questions appeared in the Jan. 31 edition of the Daily Press.
They then fielded questions from the audience.
First, the men were asked how to get more women involved in local politics.
Garrett said many women are involved and working “behind the scenes,” even if they haven’t been candidates for office.
“I think we do have a strong group of women in Tahlequah,” said Garrett. “I feel like the strength in our community lies in the ladies we have.”
Wells said anyone who has an interest in serving through a political role should be encouraged to do so.
Carroll said he has a working relationship with both women who sit on the city council, and believes “it’s all equal opportunity.”
Cacy suggested women who are involved in politics should foster other young women and educate them about serving their communities.
Whitekiller also said encouragement is key.
Candidates for police chief then provided answers more closely related to women in law enforcement.
“We’re seeing a lot of women coming into law enforcement now,” said Batt. “If we have women that are wanting a career in law enforcement, if they can do the standards and meet the standards, then I have no problem with that.”
King said the Tahlequah Police Department now has one female officer.
“Make our police department more advantageous to apply for, more appealing to applicants,” said King. “We do this by increasing the atmosphere, improving the atmosphere, and improving benefits.”
Farmer said others need to be encouraged to get involved.
“When I was in the military, I had some ladies that were right beside me out there in those combat environments,” said Farmer. “Ladies can do just as well as men in a lot of things, and I’d like to see a lot more ladies involved. When I was chief, we were trying to recruit female officers.”
Farmer said he tried to hire female officers from other agencies, but couldn’t because of the salary the city pays its officers.
Mahaney said the police department – an equal-opportunity employer – seeks out female applicants.
“I’m the first chief that’s hired a female since Boyd Hamby, I believe,” said Mahaney. “We could encourage females to come out and apply, we would certainly be willing to look at their application and go through the process.”
Chief candidates talk funding, parade routes
Candidates for police chief were asked to address what programs or grants they will implement that aren’t already in place at the department.
Batt said he couldn’t pinpoint specific programs or grants because there are so many available at the federal and state level.
“There are a lot of [grants] out there available; it’s just, do you have the right people or the skills to go out there and get it?” said Batt. “You have to be aggressive to get these. They’re out there.”
Farmer said he will apply for any grant the department qualifies for. He said he’s particularly interested in drug-free community grants that target children.
“That would be one that I would apply for – anything to help benefit our children and get them going on the right track,” said Farmer.
He said he would also start searching for a grant to fund a domestic-violence investigator. Farmer said the TPD has an officer who is funded with such a grant, but that money is going away soon.
Mahaney said grants are “a great thing,” but said they always come with attachments.
“Some of these attachments you cannot really work under or in,” said Mahaney. “Once you get these written, they involve things the city can’t afford after the grants get finished.”
Mahaney said grants eventually run out, and the city would be left having to absorb the positions or find alternate means of funding.
“We’ll always search for grants that are compatible with the city’s budget,” said Mahaney. “And when we find those, we’ll aggressively go after them.”
King said he would implement strategic planning for the police department, much like other city departments use to create long-term goals.
“We need to develop a strategic plan,” said King.
King said the police department’s manpower hasn’t grown since 1998, yet the city’s housing and coverage needs have increased. He said a strategic plan would keep everyone “moving in the same direction as a department.”
He also said he expects school-safety grants to once again become a popular item, and said he’d like to find money to put school-resource officers at all Tahlequah sites.
Candidates were also asked how to solve problems caused by traffic congestion in downtown Tahlequah, especially with the number of parades in the city each year.
Farmer said the city could consider shutting down streets earlier and only allowing those with physical disabilities to park in select spots on Muskogee Avenue.
Mahaney said he previously proposed to the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce a change to the parade route.
“And I believe it would be a good idea if some more consideration was taken on it,” said Mahaney.
Mahaney suggested starting parades on Cedar Avenue and having them travel along Downing Street. He said the four lanes on Downing would provide more space for bystanders and might create a safer environment than Muskogee Avenue.
King said he doesn’t support moving parades from Muskogee Avenue, but said communication will be important among parade organizers.
Batt said it will be a “group effort” to make downtown Tahlequah a safer area. He suggested having officers concentrate on watching traffic and pedestrians.
During closing statements, King said voters need to elect a leader who knows “when to be the coach, knows when to be the quarterback, and most of all, knows when to be the cheerleader.” He stressed the need for passion, which he said drives accomplishments.
Batt said he wants to focus on public safety as he did for more than 30 years as an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper, and believes the chief should possess a “strong desire and commitment” to the job.
Farmer said he worked long hours when he was Tahlequah’s chief of police. He promised to be involved with the community and to work to bring the city and law enforcement together to reduce crime.
Mahaney said the city police department has gone “a long way in the last four years.”
“I believe the proof is in the pudding, as they say,” said Mahaney.
Ward 2 hopefuls discuss city responsibility
Candidates for the Ward 2 councilor seat were asked whether the city could create an ordinance prohibiting smoking in bars and restaurants.
Carroll said he doesn’t feel he is in a position to take up that issue.
“I feel like the state has an ordinance that addresses this at the present time,” said Carroll.
Cacy called it a “touchy subject,” but said the city has “plenty of smoke-free facilities out there.”
“I don’t think taking away somebody’s liberty, if they want to smoke, … I don’t think it should be taken away,” said Cacy. “If somebody wants to open a smoke-free bar, let them open a smoke-free bar. There should be options for a smoke-free environment, but I don’t think that’s the city’s responsibility to make that mandatory.”
Whitekiller also said it shouldn’t be the city’s responsibility to consider such an ordinance.
“Let’s leave that up to the business owners,” he said. “I am for us deciding how we conduct our businesses, our town, collectively.”
Wells said societies seem to pass ordinances as “knee-jerk reactions,” but doing so comes with a price. If the city passed such an ordinance, it would then have to be enforced, he said.
“I don’t know if it would be productive,” said Wells. “I don’t know what the big benefit would be.”
He suggested putting more effort into groups such as Students Working Against Tobacco, to encourage youth not to smoke.
Candidates for Ward 2 told would-be voters they want to take Tahlequah into the future.
Wells said he loves Tahlequah, and has since he moved here.
“It’s that simple,” said Wells. “That’s why I’m running. I think that by focusing on the future as opposed to quick fixes and a lack of fiscal prudence, ... we can get somewhere and ensure the generations beyond ours can be as happy as we are here.”
Carroll said he is known through the city as a volunteer, and wants to continue down that path.
“I think the councilors are responsible for all of the town,” said Carroll.
Thursday’s forum provided voters with the tools they need to make an informed decision, Cacy said. He asked voters to consider who will represent the city for its current needs, as well as those of the future.
Whitekiller encouraged voters to choose a “fresh, new beginning – a new start.”
“Let’s do something special, let’s get everybody involved,” said Whitekiller. “It’s not just about Ward 2. Let’s come together, figure this deal out, and let’s move forward.”
Efficiency topic of city street discussions
Garrett was asked how street projects can be funded aside from asking for more city money.
He said he has been fortunate enough to work in public education, where administrators are being asked to do more with less money.
He stressed the street department also needs to operate efficiently.
“We have got to make sure we’re making the best use of every dollar we spend,” said Garrett.
Garrett said prioritizing will also be important to know how the city should spend its money, including the sales tax revenue allocated for projects under the recent project approved by voters.
Garrett acknowledged his campaign is different than others, and his way of operating as street commissioner would be a first for the city.
“Each one of us needs to ask ourselves, how can I be involved? I want, for our children and our grandchildren, for Tahlequah to be a great place to live,” said Garrett. “We need to build a great infrastructure in Tahlequah so years from now, we don’t have to go through the problem of how to get the money together.”