By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
Two incumbents and three political newcomers are competing for three open positions on Okay’s Board of Trustees.
The incumbents are Paco Frye, who was elected in 2009 to a four-year term, and Dennis R. Liles, who was elected in 2011 to fill an unexpired two-year term. Three others are Johnny Wilson, Bradley A. Mathews and Johnny Merrill.
The candidates in Tuesday’s municipal election offered a variety of reasons for declaring their candidacies. However, one common theme seemed to surface: All expressed a desire to serve the southwestern Wagoner County town they call home.
Wagoner County Election Board Secretary Larry Wilkinson said the open positions will be filled by the three candidates with the most votes. The winners will be sworn in as trustees during the board’s first monthly meeting following the election.
Wilson, a retired police officer who worked about seven years with the Okay Police Department, found it hard to pinpoint his reason for running. He said for “some odd reason” he “decided to give it a shot.”
“I would like to see the town grow and get some more businesses in here,” he said. “Maybe we could try to get some grants to improve the street situation.”
Wilson said he has no complaints with the current trustees and believes they have done a pretty good job. But he quickly noted his philosophy that “there is always room for improvement.”
Frye, a native of Rayne, La., who moved to Okay eight years ago and was elected as a trustee four years later, said he wanted to continue and expand upon his work. Frye, who said he was instrumental in bringing the Dollar General store to Okay and spearheading new community events, also mentioned streets as a top concern.
“I have been working the past three years to get the streets overlaid to cover up all the potholes,” Frye said, adding that he also has been trying to work with state and county officials to repair a one-lane bridge near the Verdigris River. “It’s been like pulling teeth out of a crocodile’s mouth.”
Although Frye has yet to accomplish those goals, he said another project of his is close to completion. It includes transforming the school’s old museum into a community storm shelter that he said could hold 100 to 150 people.
Mathews said he is running for office because “the town of Okay needs much more professional representation.” Mathews, who said he has worked for large corporations his entire adult life, touted his professional experience as a plus for the board.
“I’ve worked for large corporations all of my adult life, and in previous jobs I have done staffing and financial analysis,” Mathews said, noting that he would like to bring more new businesses to town. “I also have a great deal of background in technology and communications, and I would like to use that to bring the government of Okay and the people together.”
Mathews, whose wife was elected to a four-year term as town clerk in 2011, said he has experience dealing with people and businesses. He said he would draw on that experience to elevate Okay’s profile while selling its strengths to business prospects.
Merrill, a retired grocer who now works for the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office as a booking supervisor in the jail, said he has never campaigned for public office. He was unsure about how he got into the race.
“We just need somebody to help us fix our roads and everything,” he said. “I think we just need to all work together and see if we can’t get the county to help us some since we are in Wagoner County.”
Merrill said he has no complaints with any of the other candidates. He just thought he would try to see what he could do to serve the community and the people who live in Okay and visitors.
Liles, who has been a member of the Board of Trustees since 2011, said he enjoys “being able to help people.” He wants to continue doing “whatever I can to make Okay a better place to live.”
“The main problem we have — like everybody else — is the economy. It’s a small town, so you have no income other than the sales tax,” he said. “We accomplished getting the dollar store; that has helped, but we are trying to figure out what we can do to get some industry ... improve what we have to work with, and hope the economy gets better.”
All five candidates expressed pride in their community and a desire to serve. When asked what sets each apart from the other, they cited their desire to serve, their reputation within the community or, in the case of the incumbents, the accomplishments realized during their tenure in office.
Mathews cited his business experience as a plus and said he would bring “a positive and professional attitude” to the board. He said he has attended almost every board meeting during the past two years as “a concerned citizen,” so he has some working knowledge about the town and how its board operates.
Frye described himself as a family man and “an easy-going guy who loves to be involved.” He said he had been instrumental in organizing community events such as the Christmas parade, a community garage sale, and a catfishing contest — “family- friendly events that cater to the community.”
“I don’t just sit around and go to meetings,” Frye said. “I actually do my job on a day-to-day basis to help the town.”
In-person absentee voting will be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday at the Wagoner County Election Board. Precinct voting will begin at 7 a.m. Tuesday and continue until 7 p.m.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or email@example.com.
Dennis R. Liles
Family: Widower, one son, two daughters and three stepsons.
Occupation: Wastewater treatment superintendent of Wagoner.
Education: Some college.
Religious Affiliation: Pentecostal
Hobbies: Fishing and hunting.
Family: Wife, Valarie Wilson, two daughters, Carla and Melinda, and a son Donald Wilson.
Occupation: Retired police officer.
Education: Okay High School.
Religious Affiliation: n/a
Hobbies: Fishing and golfing.
Hometown: Rayne, La.
Family: Wife, Cindy Frye, two sons, Justin Frye and Spenser Frye, and a daughter, Katy McComb.
Religious Affiliation: Christian.
Hobbies: Riding horses and dealing with the public in my town.
Bradley A. Mathews
Family: Wife, Donni Lynn Baker, two sons, Hawk Mathews and Braden Mathews, and two stepsons, Britain Moran and Johnny Moran.
Occupation: Information technology, systems technician for US Cellular.
Education: University of Phoenix, multimedia and visual communications.
Religious Affiliation: Methodist.
Hobbies: Riding motorcycles.
Family: Wife, Sue Merrill, two sons, Ricky Merrill and John Merrill Jr., and two daughters, Donna Merrill and Nancy Russell.
Occupation: Booking supervisor at Muskogee County/City Detention Facility and retired grocer.
Education: Okay High School.
Religious Affiliation: Pentecostal.