As voters head to the polls on Election Day, the Muskogee Branch of the NAACP announced its opposition to a municipal proposition asking residents to repeal the city charter and adopt the statutory strong mayor-council form of government.

The Rev. Rodger Cutler, president of the Muskogee Branch, said the decision to oppose Proposition I and urge all residents to “Vote No” was made after the issue was debated during a forum at Muskogee Civic Center. The proposition was placed on Tuesday’s ballot after Tracy E. Cole, a county employee and unsuccessful mayoral candidate, launched a successful initiative petition just before Muskogee’s municipal filing period this past November.

Muskogee’s charter provides for a council-manager form of government, by which the mayor and city councilors make policy decisions and appoint a city manager. The city manager oversees Muskogee’s day-to-day operations, sets the council’s agenda, and proposes an annual budget.

A statutory strong mayor-council form of government provides for a mayor and city council that act as separate entities, with the council selecting an officer to preside over meetings and setting its own agenda. The mayor would oversee the city’s day-to-day operations, have authority to appoint department directors, propose an annual budget, and possess the power of veto, which councilors may override.

The Muskogee Branch expressed concern about how passage of Proposition I specifically would affect two things: ward voting and home rule. Both would be dissolved upon repeal of the city charter should voters approve the proposition. 

Cutler said fighting efforts to disenfranchise voters is “a key staple” of NAACP’s national platform. Muskogee voters ended at-large voting for ward representatives because they believed it diluted the voice of minority populations within the city. 

“Ward voting was passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2012, guaranteeing fair representation by allowing residents to have a fair and equal voice and vote in who they choose to represent them on the Muskogee City Council,” the Muskogee Branch states. “The council is more diverse now than ever before in Muskogee’s history, and Proposition One promises to derail that progress.”

Home rule grants municipalities the authority to pass laws within the parameters of state and federal constitutions that allow residents to “govern themselves as they see fit.” Cutler said a vote in favor of the strong mayor-council form of government would strip away the discretion afforded by home rule and give it “it to the governor and the State Legislature.”

“Home rule allows your locally elected City Council to make laws and rules in your best interest and at your discretion,” the Muskogee Branch states. “Without home rule your local elected representatives serve at the will of the state and not the will of your community.” 

Rob Raasch, a political consultant, described the statement published by the Muskogee Branch as part of a “pattern of deception by the Vote No campaign.” Raasch managed the initiative petition campaign launched by Cole, which led to Proposition I being placed on Tuesday’s ballot, and has argued for its passage on behalf of its proponents. 

When asked to offer a rebuttal statement about how the municipal proposition would impact ward voting and home rule, Raasch said the Save Muskogee campaign, which opposes the proposition, “continues to mislead voters.” 

“I checked with two of the Muskogee NAACP officers, and they were unaware of a vote taken by the Muskogee NAACP on whether to endorse either side of the strong mayor proposition,” Raasch said. “In fact, the current president of the local NAACP signed the petition to get this proposition on the ballot, and the 1st vice president is the author of the initiative, and the treasurer of the Muskogee NAACP has come out in support of the strong-mayor initiative.”

Raasch said it seems to him “there is a pattern of deception by the vote no campaign on these endorsements, much like the teachers and police unions did not endorse despite what the vote no campaign materials suggest.”

Cutler said it is no surprise the two Muskogee Branch officers referenced by Raasch — Cole and Traci McGee — support the proposition because they work with Raasch. But he said a majority of the local branch’s executive committee voted to oppose the measure “because there has been so much miscommunication” and “too many smokescreens” obscuring the issue.

“You can revoke the city charter, but who’s going to put it back together?” Cutler said. “You can say there will be ward voting later, or that the unions will be protected, but who can be for sure — who’s going to make sure that happens?”

In addition to the municipal proposition, voters will be weighing in on the mayoral runoff in Muskogee, some county, state and federal primaries, and a state question asking voters to expand the Medicaid program. Precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

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