Payne County Commission 2 candidates Ruth Stover, left, and Chris Reding discuss county experience and economic development at Thursday’s League of Women Voters candidate forum at the Stillwater Municipal Building. Martha McMillian served as the forum’s moderator.

Ruth Stover told voters last week that her knowledge and experience as a county purchasing agent will mean she will have little learning curve if elected while her opponent Chris Reding emphasized a need for county-driven economic development in his bid to be the newest commissioner.

The two Payne County Commission District 2 candidates spoke at the June 12 League of Women Voters Forum and will face one another in the June 26 Republican primary, which will decide the next commissioner as no Democrats filed.

Reding is an ordained pastor who has served as a non-commissioned officer in the National Guard Reserve, managed a restaurant, worked for the Boy Scouts of America, Nomadics and Mercruiser. He said those experiences give him management experience and the skills needed as commissioner.

“Through all those things, I’ve been a leader,” he said.

Reding works in Tulsa and said he chooses to commute from Stillwater rather than move. Reding said that he wants his children to be able to work and live in Stillwater, which is why he is emphasizing economic development as part of his campaign.

“We have the resources. We have the quality people. Let’s keep them here,” he said. “Let’s create jobs and opportunities in Payne County to keep the talent here.”

Reding said he has already spoken with Stillwater Mayor John Bartley about the need for economic development, and he said there are opportunities for the two to work together, particularly with grants that require both city and county support. The two main ways he said he wanted the county to spur growth was by getting government out of the way of business and by fostering entrepreneurship.

Reding suggested the county could help the latter by bringing in more experts from the Oklahoma State University entrepreneurship and agricultural education departments to do programs at the Payne County Expo Center to help provide information for start-up businesses.

“Small businesses (are) really the backbone of our economy,” he said.

Reding pointed to Stillwater fixtures like Kicker and Eskimo Joe’s as examples of small start-ups that grew to employ more and more residents.

Stover said the only restrictions from the county on business start-ups have to do with building on the flood plain.

“I would consider building and bringing revenue into the city more of a city responsibility, but that being said there is no reason why the county can’t facilitate that,” she said.

Stover said one key way the county can encourage economic activity is at the Expo Center through events that bring in people and money to the region. She said the county could even look at bicycle paths or an amphitheater at the fairgrounds, which she said would be a cost-effective way to bring in revenue.

Stover taught as an elementary school teacher for 11 years before going to work in the County Clerk’s office for the past 15 years. As the purchasing agent, Stover said she reviews 6,000 purchase orders annually, prepares bids and contracts and makes sure the county follows government finance law. Throughout her campaign, Stover has argued that experience prepares her well to be the next commissioner.

“I have seen the county grow from one building to a complex of buildings,” she said. “So when you talk about knowledge and experience, I’ve been there. ... I believe experience matters.”

Stover said she wanted to work together with the city of Stillwater to increase the county’s recycling efforts on electronics, ink and toner cartridges and other equipment, which she said is something they’ve managed to do with old metal furniture.

A major campaign point for Stover is the former detention center. The quonset hut has only been used for storage since the county completed its new jail, and Stover said she wants to sell or lease the facility to pay down the bond on the new jail. If that’s not possible, she said maybe the county could work with the city which owns the nearby property.

Reding also said Thursday he favors finding a use for the building but said it might be hard to find a buyer because of the building’s specific use. However, he said the county might be able to repurpose it.

The candidates agreed on several issues, including saying they were against a decision to unevenly split county road tax funds, favored more cooperation between city and county government and would support a public vote to consider whether to allow hard alcohol in restaurants on Sunday.

Stover said previously she would be against the latter issue but said Thursday she researched the issue further and saw there hadn’t been a vote on it in many years and felt it was time for reconsideration.

The June 26 election is open only to registered Republicans in Payne County District 2.

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