— In the more than 50 years that I have lived in Stillwater, I have never seen Stillwater face the turmoil in City Council activities that I have seen over the past several months.
We read about it in the Stillwater papers, the Tulsa World and other Oklahoma papers and hear about it in conversation around the city.
We held a fair election for mayor last April, but since he has taken office we have had numerous conflicts. The majority of the City Council seems to be getting the necessary work done, but often at a 4-to-l vote, with the mayor seemingly opposing any issue that the other four councilors vote for. While the mayor’s vote carries no more authority than other councilors, he is in a position that requires leadership and ceremonial responsibilities.
We read about disturbing activities in the social circles where considerable conflict and drinking seem to be going on, and sometimes the mayor is present — though no arrests have been made. We read about the mayor using his office to get into certain paying events without his willingness to pay; and his using the position of mayor to gain meals and other favors. I have witnessed none of this, but it has been expressed by more than one source.
The group that seems to be supporting the mayor has raised questions in the press about the activities of the city manager, and questions have been raised about speaking time before the council being limited to three minutes.
First, let me point out that having served as president of Stillwater Medical Center Board and earlier as president of the Stillwater school board, the amount of time allotted for citizens to speak has to be reasonable, and limited if the situation requires it. If a person needs more time legitimately, it was offered under my leadership; and I have seen that happen when I was present at City Council meetings. The process has to be orderly and time constraints are reasonable in a democracy.
In terms of working with the city administration, I am involved in business activities that from time to time require approval from the city. I have found the city administration reasonable to work with and quite conscientious about public expenditures. I have met with the city manager and found him to be professional and effective in discussing specific issues. Overall, he is performing very well in the interests of the city.
The democratic process provides procedures for resolving the kind of conflict we are experiencing. The argument that the mayor is young and other councilors are not willing to cooperate does not seem evident to me. He is 28 years of age. In World War II, I briefly worked with a full colonel who was 28 years old, and I have seen other young people assume major responsibilities and perform very well.
As a department head at OSU I hired a young professor who had been the mayor of Norman. Checking his credentials, I learned that he worked constructively with members of the City Council and did an excellent job. He was much younger than 28 at the time. Age is not our problem.
The city of Stillwater has serious economic - water, sewers, empty manufacturing buildings - and other development problems to deal with, and we need a fully functioning mayor and City Council working together to resolve our critical issues.
We do not have time to waste on petty conflicts. Steps must be taken to resolve our city conflict situation; and responsible people are attempting to do that.
Harold Sare is a regents service professor, emeritus, political science, at Oklahoma State University.