MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 31, 2013

Council votes to stay in state municipal league

Councilors have questions about value of group, but OK staying

— City councilors split as they debated the value of Oklahoma Municipal League membership, an issue that has cropped up three times during the past year and a half.

Despite numerous questions and concerns, city councilors voted 6-3 recently to continue its membership with the organization made up of municipalities across the state. The decision to do so cost taxpayers $31,000 this year, but supporters said the benefits outweigh the costs.

City Manager Greg Buckley, who serves as vice chairman of OML’s legislative committee and is a sitting member on a second committee, said the city would be “missing out” if it wasn’t “at the table.” Buckley said continuing OML membership is key to shaping “Muskogee’s future as well as the future of the rest of the state.”

OML critics, however, said the information OML staffers provide is readily available without the associated costs. They also expressed some skepticism about the organization’s effectiveness as a legislative lobbyist.

Ward III Councilor Derrick Reed said legislative accomplishments touted by OML’s executive director as beneficial to Muskogee would be available regardless of its membership with the organization.

“I touched base with one of our state representatives to ask about that,” Reed said before the council meeting. “I got a letter back that said some of the things they claim they are doing wasn’t just a result of the work OML had done — a lot of other factors were involved.”

Reed also questioned the duplicate expenses of belonging to an organization that targets its representation toward mid-size cities. OML represents municipalities of all sizes.

Ward I Councilor Lee Ann Langston expressed concerns about some issues backed by OML that may benefit the city at taxpayers’ expense.

“We have a dual role,” Langston said. “On one side we have to protect the city’s interest, but we were elected to protect our constituents’ interests.”

Ward IV Councilor Kenny Payne, who also voted against the measure, said his primary concern centered on the costs of information obtainable elsewhere. But Ward III Councilor Randy Howard equated the situation to union representation, saying withdrawing the city’s membership would weaken OML’s legislative presence.

Carolyn Stager, OML’s executive director, cited in a letter circulated among city councilors accomplishments that specifically benefited Muskogee. One was City Manager Greg Buckley’s appointment to the Public Employees Relations Board, which administers collective bargaining laws pertaining to municipalities.

Buckley was appointed to the board, which also hears grievances arising from unfair labor or prohibited practices, by Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton. Buckley served as assistant city manager in Lawton before he took the helm here in 2008.

Stager also touted the value of networking the organization provides municipal leaders, echoing Mayor Bob Coburn’s comments. She said OML brings a “unified voice” as lawmakers shape public policy and pass laws.

Questions about Oklahoma Municipal League membership surfaced late in 2011 because of membership costs and the organization’s perceived neglect of mid-size cities. With the appointment of City Manager Greg Buckley to the organization’s legislative committee, concerns about the latter dissipated.

Councilors decided in January 2012 to maintain the city’s OML membership for at least one more year. They revisited the issue in June, when Norman City Councilor Tom Kovach was invited to share reasons why he and his colleagues decided to terminate that city’s OML membership.

Kovach said elected leaders in Norman found the organization’s legislative lobbying efforts — seen by some as one of OML’s most important functions — to be ineffective. City councilors voted then to pay only half its dues for the present fiscal year until further review, which took place Monday.

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

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