MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 28, 2013

Field of four in Wagoner council contest

Two have held Ward I seat before

— Four men are vying for the Ward I post being vacated by Wagoner City Councilor Diana Cantrell, who decided not to run for re-election.

The candidates include two former city councilors, Jimmy Butler and John E. French. Butler won the post in 1999 but was defeated four years later by French, who stepped aside after one term because of health concerns.

The vacancy also drew two political newcomers. Marvin Stanley, a local game warden, said he has a desire to “serve the public and the citizens of Wagoner.” Jerry Merrell, who was unavailable for comment, posted a message on his campaign’s website, encouraging his supporters to “vote for a new beginning in Wagoner.”

Wagoner County Election Board Secretary Larry Wilkinson said the candidate with a plurality of the vote will win the race. In plurality voting, the candidate with the most votes wins; no runoff is necessary.

French, who retired from Ross-Martin Co. in Tulsa, said that now that his health has improved, he wants to tackle some of the things he began during his first term.

“One thing Wagoner needs is to be cleaned up and tear down the old dilapidated housing and other structures,” he said. “They started that back when I was on the council, and they finally decided to tear down some more. We have a lot more to clean up, I can guarantee you.”

In addition to the demolition of vacant and dilapidated structures, French said, uniform enforcement of the city code would go a long way toward making Wagoner  look more inviting.

“My main concern is that we don’t enforce our ordinances,” French said, adding that he has seen a sense of favoritism within the community. “Everybody should be treated equally, and if they do that the problem would solve itself.”

Butler, who is semi-retired from American Airlines, said French beat him in 2003 by just 86 votes in a two-way race. He said he “wasn’t ready to run again” when French stepped aside in 2007, but he reconsidered that stance this year after he was approached by several people who asked him to run.

“What I want to do now is revitalize our downtown area like Broken Arrow is doing,” Butler said. “I want to bring retail and jobs back to Wagoner. I am tired of people saying they can’t find a job around here.”

To accomplish that, Butler said he would favor forming a committee, then visiting  different towns to see what is working in them. He would tailor those ideas to fit the needs in Wagoner.

Stanley said continuing efforts to improve the city’s infrastructure is among his top goals. Business retention and recruitment also rank high on his to-do list.

“Developing a partnership with existing and new businesses in Wagoner is kind of a pressing issue. Retention and recruitment is extremely important,” Stanley said, noting that he would bring a new voice to the City Council. “I think Wagoner has a lot to offer. While recent job growth has been flat, they say future growth is expected to be about 33 percent for the next 10 years.”

Merrell, who did not respond to inquiries about his candidacy, states on his campaign’s Facebook page that he would “be a problem solver and work with the citizens of Wagoner.”

“I am a critical thinker that will ask tough questions for the citizens of Wagoner,” Merrell wrote on the website. “Wagoner is a great place to live. With a few small changes we could make it an even better place to live.”

Three of the candidates distinguished themselves from their opponents, touting their professional backgrounds, experience and commitment to serve.

French touted his record as a city councilor and his involvement with several civic organizations. As a councilor, he said, he worked closely with Ward I Councilor Paula Templeton to create a farmers’ market at no cost to the vendors and produced television commercials promoting Wagoner as a great place to live.

“We were able to accomplish a lot of things,” said French, who cited his business experience with a multimillion-dollar company as another plus. “I think if I could get back on and work with her, we could accomplish a lot of things.”

Butler, who said he has been attending City Council meetings regularly during the past six months, cited his experience as a former city employee and city councilor as qualities that set him apart in the field of four.

“I worked for the city from 1980 to 1995 before I went to work at American Airlines,” he said. “I know the employee side of the city, and as a city councilor I learned the management side of the city.”

Stanley said he would bring “a new voice” to the City Council, whereas two of his opponents have already had their chance to make a difference.

“I think I bring the City Council a positive attitude,” he said. “My work provides a good background as a problem solver, and that is what serving on the City Council is all about.”

All candidates in Wagoner’s four City Council contests are invited to a political forum at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Wagoner Civic Center.

In-person absentee voting will be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Monday at the Wagoner County Election Board. Precinct voting will begin at 7 a.m. Tuesday and continue until 7 p.m. that day.

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

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