About 50 family members, supporters and voters attended the forum Monday evening that featured the candidates for Sallisaw offices.
The candidates are:
-Ward 2 Roena Poindexter (incumbent) and Philip Gay;
-Ward 4 Jonathan D. Richardson and Shannon Vann;
-Mayor Jim Hudgens (incumbent), Ernie Martens and Robert Jamison.
The election is Feb. 13.
Each candidate was given three minutes to introduce themselves and a two-minute closing period. Three questions were posed to each candidate, and they were given between two and three minutes to answer.
Poindexter began the introductions and listed her charitable and volunteer efforts for the city, and reviewed her prior service from 2012 to 2015 on the city commission.
She said she believed, “You should make a positive impact with your time and talents.”
She said she wanted to make Sallisaw “a better place.”
Her opponent, Gay, said his family has been in Sallisaw over 100 years and his grandfather was the county’s second sheriff. He is a 1973 graduate of Sallisaw High School and is retired from Whirlpool where he worked for 37 years.
“I can work with people to get things done,” he said.
Vann said he is a 1986 graduate of Sallisaw High School, he obtained his bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1990 from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He reviewed his volunteer efforts and related he is a member of the Sallisaw Improvement Corporation board. He served as the city’s mayor from 2002 to 2014 and reviewed city improvements during that time.
Vann said he wants the best for Sallisaw because, “I plan to be here the rest of my life.”
His opponent, Richardson, said he is a U.S. Army veteran and served in Iraq and Kosovo.
He said, “My story is a story of hope.”
He said he wanted, “positive change, a balanced budget, a strong infrastructure and quality of life for Sallisaw citizens.”
Hudgens reviewed his career, including serving as Sallisaw’s city manager until 2004 when he retired.
He said he and wife plan to stay in Sallisaw.
“I want to continue to help our community,” he said.
Jamison said he is a 1976 graduate of Sallisaw High School and got his law degree from the Tulsa School of Law.
“I want to try to make a difference,” he said, “and build community spirit.”
Jamison pointed to the old Sallisaw High School Rotunda and surrounding area which is now a park, a project which he assisted, and said, “We can do the same thing (for the city) if we pull together.”
Martens said he is a 1979 graduate from Oklahoma State University with a degree in agricultural education, and has served as principal at Sallisaw High School since 1995. He plans to retire this year. Martens reviewed his volunteer efforts for the community.
He said he would, “serve with an unselfish heart.”
Question One asked about the city’s growth, what is holding that growth back and what should be done about it.
Poindexter said the recession of 2008 hit the city hard, and the city is just now recuperating. She said cities vying for businesses and industries are “very competitive,” and the city should be marketed more, emphasizing incentives such as the transportation opportunities available.
Gay said he wanted to work on getting Blue Ribbon Downs back open. He said towns like Poteau and Stilwell are “growing by leaps and bounds,” but not Sallisaw.
“We’ve got to figure out what the problems are. Do a study and find out,” Gay said.
Vann said the city is plagued by “a multitude of factors.” He said companies looking for locations want “a trainable work force, good education, land incentives,” etc. Vann said the city should take of care of businesses already located here.
Richardson said the city faces a few challenges. He said businesses want cities to have a population of at least 10,000. He said the city should have plans, buildings available, should push advertising, work closely with the chamber, and search for entertainment businesses and manufacturers that don’t compete with businesses already here.
Hudgens said, “The recession has hurt us.”
He said companies look for households with higher incomes that are found in Sallisaw. He said the city should improvement the business environment, keep utility costs down and make existing business more profitable.
Jamison said many companies are “looking for qualify of life.” He pointed to Pryor, which started Rocklahoma, a concert, to attract tourists, and now is the home to a new Google plant.
“We should fix up our downtown area. We have to start being proud of it,” Jamison said.
Martens said, “The availability of affordable land is a problem,” along with the 10,000 population requirement. He said the city’s positives should be identified and advertised.
Question 2 was about a recent study that showed city employees’ salaries were 1.5 percent less than employee salaries in peer cities, but benefits were 3 percent higher, and police salaries were 8 percent lower. What would the candidate do to amend that?
Richardson said, “We need to help close the gap on police salaries and pay employees a fair salary.”
Vann pointed out the city has only two revenue sources – sale tax and utility rates and both are limited to some degree. He pointed out that health insurance rates have increased lately, but any increases have to be passed on to the customer.
He said, “The police department salaries need to be addressed immediately.”
Jamison said, “It all comes down to economics. But many citizens are on fixed incomes and can’t afford increases.”
Jamison recommended that tourism be increased and fairs, festivals and concerts be advertised.
“We’ve got to get the income in here,” he said.
Hudgens said the city commission would be discussing salaries at the city meeting in February. He noted the salaries of police and electric department employees were behind, but the city did not have “much room to raise rates.” He said the city must address the inequities in payroll without raising rates.
Gay said the city should concentration on “generating more money, like hosting more concerts.”
Poindexter said, “The council has been working on this to come up with a plan. We have to stay competitive. We are losing employees due to low salaries.”
Question 3 had the candidates identify the single most important threat to the city, and to state where they would like to see the city in five to 10 years.
Martens said an educated work force was necessary for the city. He said he would like to see the city be able to keep the young people and families in the community.
“We must create an environment where our kids and grandkids want to come back here and live,” he said.
Hudgens said the city’s finances were the biggest threat, because they are insufficient to pay for the city’s $33.5 million debt, which is increasing. He said city employees have been asked to improve productivity, which they have. But the city’s infrastructure must be upgraded, including the north electric substation, the wastewater treatment plant, building another water supply and the expansion of Highway 59.
Jamison said the city’s biggest threat was “Complacency!”
“The city is stagnant and can’t draw new business. We’ve got to do something else, create reasons for people to come here. This town deserves more,” Jamison said.
Poindexter said, “The big issue is our work force. We must focus on education, have competitive salaries, hope for growth and for quality of life.”
She said she hoped to see more small business and tourism opportunities in the future.
Gay said, “The town is dying, is full of empty buildings.”
He said the city needed an overpass to the hospital, because trains sometimes block access, and the city needs more businesses.
“I’d like to see the town boom,” he said.
Vann said he most fears a natural disaster.
The city should “look outside the box,” he said, and devise a laundry list of projects. He said most of the city’s debt was for projects approved by the voting citizens.
“Look to the future,” Vann said. “If you don’t invest in yourself, you can’t expect others to invest.”
Richardson said he most fears “Fear!”
“Fear,” he said, “creates fight, flight or freeze.”
He said the city needs good jobs, entertainments, good housing, a good hospital, and improvement projects.
“We need hope,” he said, “and that’s why I’m running for office.”
Gay said, “I’m proud of the city I live in and I’d like to be your voice.”
Poindexter said, “We must have a positive attitude and we will be successful.”
Richardson quoted, “’Hope is the only thing stronger that fear.’ Hope is a spark that is contagious.”
Vann said he would focus on the city infrastructure and quality of life issues.
“I’m ready to go back to work for you to meet those challenges,” he said.
Hudgens said, “The difficulty is balancing needs versus wants. It makes it very difficult.” But he said he would work toward the goal of fulfilling the needs.
Jamison said, “We must make ourselves attractive to generate money. We’ve got to work together. We’ve got to shake it up.”
Martens said the city faced many hurdles in the future. But, after quoting from the Bible, Martens said, “My moral compass will drive every decision I make.”
The forum was sponsored by the Sequoyah County Times and The Mix 105.1, and was held at People Inc.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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