Alva City Council and marshal contenders participate in candidate forum
March 31, 2023
The Woods County Democratic Party hosted a [non-partisan] candidate forum at Northwest Technology Center Tuesday night for Alva's city council and marshal races. Not all candidates attended, but those who did were seated in front of an almost-full conference room of attentive citizens, including incumbent Mayor Kelly Parker and his challenger Taylor Dowling, and city councilmembers Sadie Baier, Daniel Winters and, later, Troy Brooks. (Former mayor Arden Chaffee was also in attendance.)
Lenny Reed kicked off the event, stating it would not be a debate but a chance for candidates to introduce themselves and tell why they were running for office and what they hoped to achieve. After each candidate spoke, Reed opened the floor for the audience to ask questions.
Alva City Council Candidates
Ward 1 Seat 2
Candidates are Justin Scribner, Jeramie Bradford and Garret Lahr.
Justin Scribner – Justin Scribner started by introducing himself and sharing his relations: he is the son of Jim and Cleo Scribner and the grandson of James Scribner, all lifelong residents of Alva. He runs two businesses in town: a trucking company and a retail store downtown.
"I'm running for city council to help bring in ideas from places I've been. I've been all over the United States. I've dealt with a lot of different companies. (...) I'm hoping to shed light and bring in new ways to maybe improve our infrastructure, our streets, our water, trash service. Hopefully we can get some stuff accomplished," he said. Bradford and Lahr did not attend the forum.
Ward 2 Seat 2
Candidates are Mary Longhurst and incumbent Gail Swallow.
Mary Longhurst – Mary Longhurst, an Alva High School graduate and longtime resident, said she decided to run for city council because she believes there is a real need for her generation to start getting involved. "I think civic engagement is really important," she said, citing it as an excellent way to lead by example. She said though the election has been controversial and divisive locally, she believes more people are paying attention to local politics, which is a good first step towards change. "From here, if we can just bring ourselves together, that we can start to make good, positive change. I feel like everybody in the community has a place in that."
Economic growth is one of Longhurst's goals, as well as improving infrastructure and increasing civic engagement. She said she knows running a business in a small town can be difficult because there isn't always enough to go around, and she believes her three goals would tie together to remedy that.
Gail Swallow – Gail Swallow, who has lived in Alva for 40 years, said she believes her experience and background give her an edge in the race. Swallow, who currently serves on the city council, has 31 years of teaching under her belt and 22 years with the ambulance service. (She is now retired from both.) Her position on the city council allows her to serve on the Public Safety Committee and Parks and Recreation Board.
"I would like to continue to see the ambulance service get new ambulances, the fire department get new trucks, and the police department get new cars. They haven't received vehicles in a long time due to our budget," she said. She also noted her desire for improved infrastructure, a new swimming pool, and bigger, better Hatfield and Bud Rose Parks.
Ward 4 Seat 2
Candidates are Joe Parsons and incumbent Randy Stelling
Joe Parsons – Joe Parsons, an Alva High School graduate, addressed what he called the elephant in the room: his age. The 20-year-old, who also attended NWOSU for a few years, acknowledged perceptions some might have about his young age, like inexperience. To that, he said, "I don't want you to think my age holds me back because it doesn't," he said. "I look at it as an advantage." He said that is because he wants to raise a family here and open multiple businesses, ultimately living here his whole life to make Alva a better place.
Parsons holds a license in real estate and said he had generated several million in real estate production. Currently working in brokers school to bring a new business to town, he said he was ready to put the work in. "I would like to see all the council people more involved – servant leadership. I believe you should be out there working with the people to make your town better. It's so much more than meetings. (...) Whether I win or not, I am going to be there because I want to do what's going to make Alva the best place it can be."
Randy Stelling – Randy Stelling began his introduction by stating he wanted to keep it short and sweet. Stelling said he has lived in and been invested in Alva all his life and has served locally in different capacities: the high school, fire department, ambulance, and the city council over the last eight years.
"You want to serve, to try to do your best, help out, and do things. As far as accomplishments, what I want to try to accomplish, I can't really say any one thing. It's just whatever is best for Alva. We've got to all work together to try to make it happen. (...) If you have a disagreement about something, you listen to each other and work through that to where you know the common goals," he said. He acknowledged that people have different visions but hoped everybody could work in the same direction.
Alva City Marshal
Candidates are Jim Darr and incumbent Jim Scribner.
Jim Scribner – Jim Scribner shared some history about the city marshal position, describing it as kind of "goodwill position," saying, "All I want to do is keep doing what I'm doing," of the role that pays $1 per year and has no duties.
Jim Darr – Born and raised in Freedom in a family of 10 kids, Jim Darr said his motivation for running was to get his foot in the door in Alva after spending many years in Freedom. "I don't really have anything to promise anybody. I'm just here to get my foot in the door. Maybe I can do something in the future."
After each candidate spoke, Reed opened the floor for questions. John Wiebener was up first and asked each candidate if they leaned liberal, moderate or conservative. There was one libertarian, four conservatives and two democrats.
Dr. Kay Decker asked each their stance on the three dedicated places Alva's revenue goes to, outside of general operations: the hospital, the Northwestern scholarship fund, and parks and rec.
Oklahoma is the only state in the U.S. that requires municipalities to operate on sales tax and fees for service. Besides Darr (who did not feel he had enough background to make a statement), each candidate expressed support for the programs and processes in place. Parsons said if any of those three resources were taken away, Alva would not be what it is today. He said he understood people's concerns about higher taxes, but truly the only way to grow without adding additional taxes is to make the pie bigger. "I don't believe in taking a piece of pie out and changing it or adding in another piece of pie. I believe we need to be focused on making that whole pie bigger."
Agreeing with Parsons about the critical nature of the hospital, university, and parks and rec, Swallow said another point to consider is that it's hard to pinpoint exactly how much economic development money they're bringing into Alva, saying it "is probably a whole lot more than we realize."
Longhurst also strongly agreed the three resources are vital to the town. She said some of her goals are important in this context because as Alva grows and expands and its economy develops, the tax burden will become less and less on citizens. She said that more economic growth and engagement would help make the pie bigger and bigger.
A gentleman in the audience started a dialogue about how Alva could be cleaned up because it had gone downhill over the last several years. The discussion garnered a lot of talk about the long and arduous process of what it takes to have a property condemned and the associated expenses. Justin Scribner mentioned he's heard of some companies that demolish properties and accept payment in lumber, which would be an idea to explore further. Stelling emphasized the importance of taking pride in your property and acknowledged the differences in how people live. He spoke about the difficulty of getting people onboard, saying you never know what you will run into.
KP Pharis, in the audience, asked which candidates had attended a council meeting recently and, a little later, engaged directly with Justin Scribner. "Justin, I understand you have a history of financial difficulties. Why do you think you can help with the large budget of the City of Alva?" Pharis didn't name his source but said that he "really did have that knowledge." Scribner rebutted, saying he didn't know where Pharis got his information but that it was untrue. He said he did downsize his business last year because of the economy – two of his biggest customers went bankrupt, leaving a lot of debt, but he had worked through it and was still afloat and moving. Jim Scribner spoke up, saying a city council member is one vote, and it would be highly unlikely that one person out of eight could tank a whole vote.
Alva citizens are encouraged to contact any city council member with questions, ideas, concerns, complaints or compliments.
The full video of this candidate forum can be viewed on YouTube at Lynn L. Martin's channel. Early voting started yesterday and continues today, while election day is Tuesday, April 4.