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February 29, 2012

Stillwater mayor candidates make pleas at final forum before primary election

STILLWATER, Okla. — Exactly one week before the polls close on the Stillwater mayor primary election, candidates John Bartley, Mick Hoeltzel and Terrence Murphy answered questions and stated their best case before the League of Women Voters forum on Tuesday night.

Similar to Friday’s mayoral forum at the Chamber of Commerce, the candidates talked about their vision for Stillwater’s economic development and how they would balance pressing infrastructure needs while trying to enhance the quality of life in Stillwater.

Quality of life services have traditionally included city-funded operations managed by the library or parks and recreation. In recent years, Stillwater has been cutting its budget back and seeking ways to boost programs by partnering with private groups such as the Friends of the Multi-Arts to take over operating those facilities with limited city help. Bartley said Tuesday he wanted to continue down that path.

When asked about the golf course’s recent financial turnaround, he said that exact model won’t work everywhere — but the concept of hard work and new ideas will.

“You take a service that the public needs but ... maybe someone other than the government should be the one implementing it. That’s the mindset,” Bartley said. “Government should only be doing what government needs to do or (doing) what the private sector can’t provide.”

Quality of life is different for every person, he said, and the city should look to partner with groups interested in youth sports, dog parks and other projects to provide that to residents.

“I think there are some quality of life projects that could be implemented in Stillwater,” Bartley said. “To me the number one criteria for that needs to be (to) not expand city government’s role.”

By reducing how much the city spends on quality of life services, he said, Stillwater can put that money toward infrastructure needs such as roads or water.

When asked about economic development, Bartley said the city needed to figure out where money was being spent outside the city to bring in those businesses, expand on the Stillwater’s tech industries such as unmanned aerial vehicles and heat pumps and work to improve early childhood education.

Hoeltzel was often brief in his responses, but he argued the city could do more to attract industries to replace jobs lost at QuadGraphics and Mercury Marine.

“We need business development,” he said. “We need to make ourselves attractive to manufacturers and technology businesses.”

Hoeltzel said the city needs to increase the infrastructure available for industries. One way to do that, he said, was by encouraging use of education resources such as Meridian and Oklahoma State University.

“We need to make sure our potential employers have a (workforce) that is adequate for their needs, and a great way to do that is through education and training,” he said.

Hoeltzel also said he felt there was room to improve both the efficiency of government and quality of life services offered in Stillwater.

Murphy said Stillwater needs to bring manufacturing jobs back to the city and attract new technology industries, which requires the city to make itself attractive to potential business.

“The big problem I see Stillwater has is not so much the short term, it’s the long term. We’ve lost so many manufacturing jobs,” he said. “(Business’) biggest complaint isn’t so much the wages they pay workers it’s the health care costs.”

A community-wide fitness initiative, Murphy said, would be one way Stillwater could reduce businesses’ bottom line. Another way to encourage growth, he said, would be to have the city embrace programs like the robot games to encourage kids to seek technical and engineering skills.

On the issue of quality of life services, Murphy added he wanted to see Stillwater opened up more to nature and public art. He said public art, and particularly interactive public art, was one of the first things Oklahoma City did in its MAPS program, and Murphy suggested if the city has a dog park, it should consider a dog statue where residents could inscribe the names of pets they lost.

“I think quality of life would be when you’re inner feelings are harmonious with your environment,” Murphy said.

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