Originally published in the Claremore Daily Progress on 3/29/2016 by Diana Dickinson
Eight of the nine candidates vying for a seat on the Claremore City Council were fielded questions by moderator John Ray and citizens during a city council candidate forum on Tuesday, March 21.
The forum was held at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum at 6:30 p.m., where approximately 100 people attended.
City council candidates who gave a brief introduction and answered citizens’ questions were: Will DeMier - Ward 4; Ken Hays - Ward 3; Mickey Keely - Ward 2; Bryan McDonald - Ward 4; Justin Michael - Ward 2; Don Purkey - Ward 2; Frank Church - Ward 4; and Shelly Taylor - Ward 3. Candidate Pam Ziriax - Ward 3 was not scheduled for the forum due to a scheduling conflict.
An open mic question and answer session was held after the introductions, where candidates were given 90 seconds to respond.
Candidates were asked what they would do to improve the city.
Business-owner, Keely, said one thing he would do to improve the city after being in Claremore for nine years is to provide better representation. “I've seen there is possibly a lack of representation in our city government. Whenever I attended city council meetings, I have seen citizens bring up topics, concerns, oppositions and the city council seems to vote which ever way they want to vote anyway.“
Michael, a business owner said, “One thing I will do to improve my community? How could I be a proper servant to our fellow citizens if I walk into the position as city councilor with blinders on for my judgment? I have immersed myself into the city and inner workings and I will be a steward of Claremore.”
Inspired by the turnout at the forum, Purkey said, “One of the things we have been looking at for some time and getting ready to undertake is the sanitation transfer station, where we are located geographically and what it is costing us to maintain our present situation. We will be working with the county commissioners on this.”
Hays, a former city council member said, “I see the next five years as a lot of opportunities for development in Claremore, especially the Highway 20 bypass, as well as the road extension over to Southaven. I think we need to be thinking about — and looking at — the annexation of more property, possibly out to the Verdigris River.“
Taylor said she would like to see Claremore continue to grow. “We have wonderful things to offer here from the university (Rogers State University) to different businesses here. We could pull in so much more growth and development into our town. More growth and eventually you can keep more tax dollars here in the community.”
Church added he would like to see improvements to benefit the entire community. “Businesses need residents and customers equally as much as residents need businesses for goods and services. All of us need the police and fire department and other emergency services and facilities. If any improvements are made for one group and the others have been given no consideration, then the entire system is a problem,” Church said.
DeMier, “Why did I want to do it (run for councilman)? Easy. I wanted to participate in the growth and betterment of Claremore. Can I say one thing that I want to do? Absolutely not, that is an agenda. You cannot have nine city councilmen with agendas. It's crazy. We've seen it before. What I want to do is keep Claremore progressing in the right way.”
As a former Claremore firefighter, McDonald, said, “I learned how to look at situations, gather information, make some hard decisions…set our plan and set that plan into motion. I'm not afraid to make the tough call that a councilman sometimes is called upon to make in order for a city to run smoothly and efficiently, and I look forward to doing that.”
The open mic session allowed citizens to ask direct questions to a candidate of their choice.
Asked why he considers himself the best candidate for city council, Keely said, “I think I would be a good candidate because I get to speak to new people every day. I get to hear some of the problems and issues going on. I would vote for the wills of the people, of the town. I would like to see a little less regulation so businesses can open. Businesses can grow and expand to live more comfortably in the city.”
Michael was asked what opportunities and challenges in economic development he expects to see in the city. “Unlike some of my opponents, I will say that there are many opportunities. I don't believe we have enough restrictions to keep people from building inside of Claremore. You can’t allow any type of business to put any type of building anywhere.”
For being on the council for many years, Purkey was asked what his plans were to stay relevant with today's changing demographics in Claremore and younger late night crowds. He said, “I try to keep up with the public and listen to people. We do a lot of things on the side that some people do not know about.”
Church was asked how he would strategically address the train issue. “We missed the boat on a sweetheart of a deal that we should have taken a few years ago for $10 million and we would have had an elevated train track. It would have been done. I propose we make four crossings to get us east/west and north/south. “ He said that could be done at Archer, Blue Starr, State Highway 66 and Hwy 20 in front of the police station.
DeMier was asked how he would help support RSU. He said, “We have more students than the University of Tulsa. We need to act like a college town, we need to have benefits for RSU students…We've got a crown jewel in RSU. We need to do more things for the college students.”
Hays added to that by saying, “As far as being a college town, this has been a college town for 60 to 70 years. I see that being a very important aspect to our city and development.”
Taylor was asked if she had any conflict with the City of Claremore to which she replied, “A bogus check that was written — it was not an actual written check — it was an electronic check the city issued earlier than the payment arrangement date it was supposed to. It did result in me going to court for 10 months when it went to the trial, to the preliminary trial, the judge threw it out of court.”
Allegations made against a city official, who was not present during the forum, could not be verified by the Progress by press time Tuesday.