VOTERS in northwest Oklahoma City's Ward 1 have the chance to send an excellent public servant back to the city council by re-electing Gary Marrs on Tuesday. Marrs, 66, is in a runoff with James Greiner, 31. Those two emerged from a three-person race in the March 5 primary.
Marrs has given a lot to the community during his nine years on the council, and before that during his 30-year career with the Oklahoma City Fire Department, which included a stint as chief. Greiner is a fine, energetic young man whose willingness to serve in a time-consuming, low-paying job speaks well of his character.
Like the best members of the council, Marrs works not only for his ward but for the whole city. He's mindful of infrastructure challenges in his sprawling ward but is eager to help MAPS 3 blossom and for the city to continue economic development efforts that help it grow. He's earned another term.
Ward 7 incumbent Skip Kelly, 63, also faces a runoff. His opponent is John A. Pettis Jr., 30, in the northeast-side ward.
Turnout for the primary was extremely light. Council members are critical in deciding the city's course. These seats are important. Voters in Ward 1 and Ward 7 should treat them as such on Tuesday by going to the polls.
A major decision
The MAPS 3 convention center offers an example of the important role city council members play in Oklahoma City. Voters approved the idea of spending $250 million on the facility, which will be built just west of Chesapeake Energy Arena. Still to be decided is whether to build a 600-room hotel, and if so where to put it. Architects provided the council with three design options this week. Two had the hotel attached to the convention center. A third placed the hotel a short distance away. Each proposal has its pros and cons, and ultimately it'll be up to the council to make the final call on whether to proceed with a hotel. The city's convention and tourism director says the hotel is a must if the new convention center is to succeed. This decision will have major ramifications for the city not just in the short term but for years to come.
U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, has gone from being an unknown candidate in a crowded primary to a national figure. Evidence of his growing influence can be seen in a recent profile published in Roll Call, a newspaper dedicated to congressional coverage. The article notes that Lankford's role as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee has made him a crucial link between House leadership and rank-and-file members. This gives Lankford — and, therefore, Oklahoma — considerable influence over future debates on immigration, transportation, and education. Lankford's demeanor is credited with building good relations in Congress while remaining true to conservative philosophy. “I want us to be known more for what we represent and what we stand for than the volume with which we say it,” Lankford said. Oklahomans can be proud to have a congressman who proves that influence isn't incompatible with humility and thoughtfulness.
Cash reserves held by state governments are near the highest levels seen since 2008. According to February's certification, Oklahoma is on pace to have $660.8 million in its Rainy Day Fund by July, a record. Across the country, the National Association of State Budget Officers reports that state rainy day funds now equal 9 percent of general fund tax revenue. The policy question is whether to spend any of that money. Gov. Mary Fallin has been reluctant to tap Rainy Day funds, saying we should “preserve that as much as possible.” Her views are echoed by governors in Michigan and Tennessee who want to add money to state savings, not spend it. In most states, special-interests groups argue the funds should be depleted to restore spending cuts made during the recession. Policymakers must carefully weigh the merits of achieving short-term gains at the potential expense of long-term financial planning.
Oklahoma often gets dinged in government transparency evaluations, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that it performed well in a recent ranking. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund's “Following the Money 2013” report, which rates states on online access to government spending information, has given Oklahoma an A-minus in financial transparency. That's a major improvement from the C-plus grade received last year. Oklahoma was one of only seven “Leading States” getting an A. And Oklahoma achieved that distinction in a cost-conscious way. To establish online access, Oklahoma had start-up expenses of just $8,600, using existing staff, and annual operating costs of just $3,600. In comparison, another state listed start-up costs of $2.2 million and annual expenses of $400,000. Secretary of Finance and Revenue Preston L. Doerflinger said he was pleased his office's efforts have left Oklahoma “among the nation's leaders.” Oklahoma voters should feel the same.
A welcome change
Relief is on the way for those frustrated (or worse) by their experience trying to get a driver's license. This week the Department of Public Safety debuted its Inline Online system, which lets users go online to make appointments for the driving skills tests, learner's permit test and ID cards. Appointments can be made from one to 14 days in advance. This week it was available for three locations in the Oklahoma City area. It'll expand to Tulsa next week and eventually to DPS's other field offices. The service is free for now. When it's fully in place, there will be a fee that DPS says will be “nominal.” Our guess is parents and teens will gladly pay a few bucks to avoid the current nightmare that involves arriving at driving stations in the middle of the night in hopes of being able to take the test.
When silence is golden
Sometimes, the best course of action is to keep quiet. That's a lesson the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club needs to learn. The group just came out in opposition to House Bill 1412, which would prohibit Oklahoma communities from having anything to do with the United Nations' Agenda 21. We actually agree that the bill is a waste of time. Oklahomans are not going to waive national sovereignty to allow the U.N. to take control of local conservation efforts, no matter what conspiracy theorists might say. But by opposing the bill, the Sierra Club has likely increased support for the measure. Now it's a two-fer for state legislators — a blow against U.N. one-world government and the environmental busybodies of the Sierra Club. Lawmakers may figure, “If those people are against this, I should be for it.” With enemies like the Sierra Club, HB 1412 doesn't need friends.
Fame has its benefits
A murder charge may or may not slow the track career of South African double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius is accused of killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day. He says he thought he was shooting at a home intruder when he fired several rounds into a bathroom door. This week a judge in Pretoria said that if Pistorius needs to leave the country to compete, he can do so (with some conditions). His attorneys argued that Pistorius needs to compete in order to earn a living. A 2012 Olympian, Pistorius is a hero in South Africa. As the judge's ruling shows, he enjoys all the benefits that accompany fame and fortune.