Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

July 10, 2014

Oklahoma may rank low on quality of life polls, but Tahlequah shines

TAHLEQUAH — Tahlequah has been recognized several times as one of the best small towns in the country for a variety of reasons.

So it may surprise area residents to learn that Oklahoma, on the whole, is ranked 43rd in the nation as far as quality of life is concerned.

The Statemaster study indicated a state’s “livability rating” was based on 44 factors. Among those were the number of children living in supportive neighborhoods, percentage of households that are married couples, estimated sales at shopping malls, the number of restaurants available, etc.

Four of Tahlequah’s leaders, Mayor Jason Nichols, Northeastern State University President Steve Turner, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma Chief George Wickliffe, meet monthly to discuss issues affecting the city, many of which deal with perceived quality-of-life issues.

Nichols said any improvements made in Tahlequah require cooperation among the entities.

“The two chiefs, the president, and I all recognize that significant improvements to the quality of life for Tahlequah area residents will require cooperation between our institutions,” said Nichols. “There would be no major street and traffic improvements on the south side of Tahlequah without the United Keetoowah Band. There would be no splash pad without the Cherokee Nation. There would be no event center without Northeastern State University. If we’re going to continue to make those types of improvements, it will require partnerships among local, tribal, and state organizations. Those partnerships are created and strengthened through monthly breakfast meetings that Chief Baker, Chief Wickliffe, President Turner, and I each attend with one another.”

Nichols said that in the past few years, Tahlequah has seen significant public investment made in recreation facilities like Norris Park and the Anthis-Brennan Sports Complex.

“The benefits have multiplied because of the private investment that followed. The North End District is now a vibrant area of town because the city of Tahlequah replaced blight with a park, and private businesses then felt comfortable replacing old buildings with restaurants and shops,” said Nichols. “But the greatest thing for Tahlequah right now is that there is so much more of that type of investment still being made, and will continue to be made, for the next two or three years in the form of a swimming pool, new streets, and trail system. In fact, we are hoping to replicate the success story of Norris Park on the south side of Tahlequah by removing the blight on Basin Avenue and placing the trail route, and the accompanying park, there. Not only have we been making quality-of-life investments, but the future will see more of them, as well.”

Nichols said quality of life, however, means more than “bricks and mortar.”

“It’s willingness to try new things and entertain new ideas,” said Nichols. “For decades, we’ve been confined to a very narrow set of options regarding our growth as a community. We’ve justified operating a certain way under the philosophy of ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.’ Tahlequah is outgrowing that status-quo mentality, and we are starting to notice that things actually have been broken because of the informal, imprecise, and inefficient way in which we conduct our public business. I can attest to the resistance you meet when you try to do introduce new ideas or enforce rules, but we have a rare opportunity to change the way we operate, and we shouldn’t waste it.  If we can get to the point that our politics aren’t about preserving practices that aren’t adequate for the challenges we face as a community, and instead, begin to think about what we can next accomplish together, Tahlequah will continue getting better and better.”

Turner said the group meets on campus, and meetings generally last a couple of hours. He believes it’s important to be actively involved in the community.

“The four of us recognize that families and businesses will move to and stay in a community that is safe, educates its citizens, and provides quality health care,” said Turner. “People want a community with walking and biking areas, good child care, public parks, cultural/recreational opportunities and a vibrant retail environment. These are among our shared goals, and real progress is being made.”

Turner said the overall health of a community is also a vital component of its success.

“We also recognize that communities on the move are made up of citizens on the move,” said Turner. “The Foundation for a Fit Future and the Tons Off Tahlequah initiatives announced in April are direct results of our collective will to provide and promote the quality of life in our community.”

The Cherokee Nation announced its plans to break ground on a new hospital in Tahlequah as part of its $100 million plan to improve health care for its citizens. It has also revived its Housing Authority, which builds homes for citizens.

Baker said the partnership with the city and the university is crucial in making Tahlequah an ideal place to live.

“The Cherokee Nation works in tandem with NSU and the city government to ensure Tahlequah, our capital city, remains successful and continues to be a place where our citizens want to live, work and raise their families,” said Baker.

“Creating these lasting partnerships is critical for our continued growth as a community.”

The Daily Press asked its Cherokee County Facebook friends to comment on the statistics released in the study. Kathy Tibbits believes Tahlequah has “true community spirit.”

“Tahlequah is a great example of a community where people and institutions and businesses work together for a common good, instead of just individual competitiveness against each other,” said Tibbits. “It allows everyone to achieve a better community, with true community spirit. I see other towns that seem to be more random and don’t have as much collaboration, and they don’t offer as much. Tahlequah is leading in achieving great public places, emphasizes the arts, and is a regional draw because of our river. That has taken a lot of working together.”

Brenda Smith hopes Tahlequah continues its trend of becoming family-friendly.

“It’s nice that the north end of town has been somewhat revitalized with a few new restaurants, but it would be better if that trend would continue to be more family-friendly,” said Smith. “Wal-Mart needs some competition, and another large retailer such as Target would be a good thing, because Wal-Mart doesn’t carry everything or a large variety. A shopping mall would be ideal, but I’m not sure the town is large enough to support one. On any given late night on the weekend, older teenagers are at Wal-Mart, inside the store or parking lot; this age group needs another safe place to go.”

There’s more bad news for Oklahoma as a whole. A new study conducted by researchers at Indiana University and the University of Hong Kong indicates Oklahoma is the 11th most corrupt state in the union. The study analyzed 25,000 convictions of public officials for violations of federal anti-corruption laws nationwide between 1976 and 2008.

The Cherokee Nation is a sovereign nation, operating under its own constitution. Transparency has been a topic of discussion recently.

“The Cherokee Nation believes strongly in transparency, which is why improvements were made recently by the CN Tribal Council to the open records process,” said CN Attorney General Todd Hembree. “For the first time in Cherokee history we have an independent information officer who will assist Cherokee citizens in obtaining information to ensure the people know how their government works, how their money is made and how their money is spent.”

To ensure citizens have better access to important information about their government, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council voted to hire an independent information officer and extend response time. To better manage requests, FOIA response time has been increased from 15 to 20 days, and response time for GRA requests has been increased from six to 10 days.

CHECK IT OUT

A Facebook discussion about quality of life and corruption in Tahlequah can be viewed at www.facebook.com/tdpress?ref=hl&ref_type=bookmark.

tsnell@tahlequahdailypress.com

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