Candidates for Alva mayor speak at Rotary-Kiwanis

The two candidates for Alva mayor were invited to speak during a joint meeting of the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs Thursday noon, March 27. Extra tables and seating along the wall of the Cancun Restaurant meeting room helped to accommodate the overflow crowd.

Rotary President John Ryerson welcomed the guests and asked each of the candidates to speak briefly before asking for questions from the audience.

Taylor Dowling

Taylor Dowling, currently serving his second year as a Ward 2 councilmember, spoke first. He emphasized the need for greater community involvement and input to guide the city council. "We as a governing body must seek greater involvement in the community."

He said to involve "this network of neighbors, community leaders and local businesses at the individual ward level, we will start a series of public hearings." Those would address the most prevalent issues in Alva such as water and sewer systems and unproductive lots. "It is my hope that the city will be the major push with the citizens' advice on how to get these major concerns addressed," he said.

"My desire is to create a system that allows those with the greatest buy-in to determine what their local ward will seek and is most valuable to them so that the governing body can use that plan that the citizens can collaborate and develop," Dowling said. "One that members of the governing body can get done because Alva deserves the future its citizens want."

Regarding public safety departments like police, fire and EMS, Dowling recommended having a mechanic on staff to develop a city-wide replacement and maintenance schedule for vehicles to stop "the cycle of deferred maintenance that has been building for years in all departments."

He added, "This will not be enough to secure that bright future, for we must also button-up the incredibly important projects underway such as the swimming pool, plans for the Hatfield and Bud Rose Parks, development of the arena, improvements to the Homestead like the community garden and pond, just to name a few. Not to say anything about the importance of developing a stronger relationship with all entities that receive an allotment of sales tax so that we can better understand the roles to improve upon a cooperative relationship that better protects them from the volatility of sales tax and grant greater partnership with the city."

Kelly Parker

As he began to speak, current Alva Mayor Kelly Parker recalled his first run for office eight years ago. "In 2015 I had the humble honor of standing in front of this same group and talking about what it meant for me to be mayor of Alva if I were to be given the opportunity. And at that time, I remember clearly feeling like 'You know, there are people in this room right now that support me that will not support me after I complete a term, and there are people in this room that don't support me that will after completion of that term.' I feel like that has certainly panned out."

Continuing that thought, Parker said, "At the end of the day when you guys elect people that are going to serve as mayor and city council members, you've got to have faith that you're voting on people who are measured in the way that they make their decisions – that they're honest and truthful and have a faith in something greater than themselves. The people that you vote for have to have a general appreciation for the magnitude of this position, because it's not a position, whether as council members or the mayor, it's not a position of great reward. Really there's very little reward in doing this job. There's a little bit of money involved, but it's very little. Certainly not worth the time invested that your elected leaders put into serving this community.

"I want nothing more than to have the very best Alva, Oklahoma, that is possible. I want waterlines that are in good repair. I want streets that are easy to drive on. I want parks and recreation opportunities for our kids and our families. I want to make sure that we continue to have healthcare and high quality education available in our community. Most of all, I want Alva to be a place where people love to live or love to visit, and maybe if they visit they'll decide they want to live here. I've had more than a conversation or two with people in the last few weeks that said, 'We only intended to be here a couple of years.' Thirty years later, they're still here, and they love this town. And it is a great town."

Parker said Alva has a lot of opportunities, but he thinks people lose track of the great things going on because of issues that need addressed. He said the community has faced challenges but "we've been able to learn from them in order to not repeat the mistakes we had made in the past."

He continued, "Standing in front of you, I'm not going to say I've been a perfect leader. Nobody who serves in this position is going to be able to stand up here and make any other kind of comment, truthfully. When you get into this position, you do make mistakes. The way it works in our town and so many other towns like us, we didn't train our wholes lives to be public officials. We have careers, we have jobs, we have professions that we have entered into. What we do as an elected official of our community is because we have a passion for what goes on in our towns."

Audience Questions

Rotary program coordinator Adam Jordan acted as moderator for the question and answer session. He posed the first question, addressing Parker because he didn't think Dowling was on the city council when they voted on the water rate increase. He asked they not take offense at the question "because my parents were there too." Both of Jordan's parents served terms on the city council.

He said he knew part of the problems we have now with water systems is that the city was selling water and sewer service too cheap. Concerning the city's plan, Jordan asked, "What would your vision for that be?"

Parker: "So in 2017 we implemented a progressive rate structure for our utility system, and with that it is rooted in conservation so there is incentive to conserve water, but it's also rooted in insuring that as the cost to provide water service increase, our water rates don't get behind. It is graduated, and annually we will budget for a percentage increase that is equal to the consumer price index from the previous year. ... It can be voted out annually. So the city council, if they decide it's not necessary to implement a rate increase, it can be voted out, but if the council does not take action, the rates go into effect for the next fiscal year."

Dowling: "I think we have to stop the rate increases. I hope that by this time, we have engaged in those increases because they were low to sustain our system. I think that a lot of the continuation has to do with bad debt, the purchase of water meters that we weren't able to pay off that we will have to purchase it. My goal would be to stop the leak so that we don't have to increase the utility rates further because it does hurt people on a fixed income."

Jason Gaisford asked each of the candidates to explain what in their backgrounds, their work history, that allows them to be the best mayor candidate.

Dowling: "I've been a network administrator for people who weren't necessarily computer science savvy. I've worked with teams and departments, both remotely and locally, to facilitate systems for things – for hospitals and everything from working for companies that have half a billion dollars of assets. I do consulting work, and I work with both county and state agencies to develop data bases and things like that. I'm a member of the (Alva) cemetery board which I was treasurer of. I was a board member of the Kiwanis.

I like to help and volunteer at local community events like the Campus Cabinet and the food bank. It's one of those things where I think the greatest involvement you can have is understanding the citizens and so the last two years as part of the city council, I've made an effort to attend every single event the city has had."

Parker: "I've had a pretty heavy professional career in management. I've been responsible for multi-million dollar budgets. I've been responsible for grants and donations well over $5-$10 million dollars. I'm quite experienced in large budgets. I'm very experienced in working in an open meeting, open record environments. When I was in Arkansas, I worked for a public hospital. In Alva, I work for a public entity in the hospital. Employed with a public entity, I understand all the rules, all the open meeting, all the open records, I understand all that stuff.

Gosh, I've buried myself in this town. Not literally ... I will be cremated, but .. sorry Arden, it won't be a green burial for me. Between my involvement with the university on the Rowdy Rangers, with my church and our youth group with my church ... and you know, I spent the last day and a half out at the vo-tech working with the school district on their strategic planning. I've been heavily involved with the Lt. Governor's Turkey Hunt the last few years. Many of the key component units of our city, I've been actively involved with one way or another. And in the last 10 months, 11 months, since Angelica (Brady, city business manager) left us ... I've got a very intimate understanding of some of the things that we as elected officials have not been familiar with when we've been trying to work with business managers and department heads to make sure projects get completed. ... I'd say serving in the capacity of business manager for the city of Alva, I've learned a boatload. I'm ready."

Several more questions were asked and answered. A video of the entire meeting may be viewed at http://www.AlvaReviewCourier.com.

Municipal candidates and school board candidates will be on the ballot Tuesday, April 4. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 

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