MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

December 28, 2013

Ward I duo at odds on blight fight

Councilor says rehabilitation should be used; challenger pushes for demolition only

Muskogee residents have made it clear that cleaning up the city is a top priority for them, but efforts toward that end have had mixed results.

Special interests have resisted proposals that impose — or would have created — duties on the owners of vacant commercial buildings or residential rental property. The city’s demolition program has prompted some lawsuits, but its rehabilitation program has garnered more support than funding.

Candidates competing for the Ward I City Council post in the Jan. 14 election differed somewhat when it comes addressing blight in Muskogee. Incumbent David Jones, who is running for a third term, favors a mixed approach of rehabilitation and demolition while challenger John Lowrimore is a vocal advocate of only demolition.

“I support the Muskogee housing revitalization program, (which) allows low-income people the ability to make up to $20,000 in home improvements to the outside of their homes,” Jones said, adding that program funding is provided by the City of Muskogee Foundation. “I also support ... actions to improve downtown.”

Lowrimore, who ran unsuccessfully in 2012 among a field of three competing for a vacant Ward I seat, said neighborhood blight is a problem he hears about all the time. He said deteriorating houses “need to be demolished.”

“If the house is vacant and not owned and in deteriorating stage and worn down, they need to be demolished and build new ones,” Lowrimore said. “It is a problem that I hear all the time from old and young residents: Those houses are rotted and bring the quality of life ... down — this is a real problem.”

Both candidates say city councilors have a role to play when it comes to cleaning up Muskogee. Jones said he would continue to support an annual $100,000 appropriation for the city’s demolition program, which receives matching funds through community development block grants. Lowrimore said he believes city councilors “should have full control with this problem” and take the “initiative to do something about it.”

With regard to specific proposals they would offer while in office, Jones and Lowrimore differed dramatically. The incumbent advocated a citizen-centric approach.

“To make Muskogee more beautiful, it has to come from the citizens,” Jones said. “I would support anything that would encourage citizens to clean up their properties; when property owners keep their properties clean it encourages their neighbors to do the same.”

Lowrimore expressed support for efforts by community groups to clean up Muskogee neighborhoods. But he reiterated his support for more invasive options.

“I would vote yes ... on the proposition to tear down vacant houses and rebuild,” said Lowrimore, who expressed confidence about his ability to make wise decisions. “I would also continue the ... areawide ... cleanup ... to attract visitors and make them want to come back and give Muskogee the greatest feedback possible.”

Jones and Lowrimore will square off Jan. 14 in the 2014 general election. Residents who live within the northeast Muskogee ward will be able to vote in this contest.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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