Infrastructure dominates city council candidate forum

Michelle Charles/Stillwater News Press City Council candidates John Wedlake (left) and Slade Mielitz (center) stayed after the forum sponsored Thursday by the League of Women Voters of Stillwater to talk with people like LWV member Elaine Courtright (right).

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that infrastructure, especially streets, sidewalks and bike paths, was one of the topics that dominated the City Council candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Stillwater on Thursday.

Roads are a major issue in most cities and Stillwater, which has seen rapid growth in recent decades, is no exception.

Slade Mielitz, a military veteran who moved to Stillwater 18 months ago when his wife joined the faculty at Oklahoma State University, faced off with incumbent city councilor John Wedlake, a native of Stillwater and an Army veteran who returned to his hometown to establish a neurology practice.

The men had slightly different priorities but agreed more than they disagreed on most issues.

Mielitz said one of the things he’s been concerned about is the city’s sidewalks or lack of continuous sidewalks that are in good condition.

He said Stillwater has a “hodge-podge of dangerous sidewalks” that need to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards as a matter of inclusion.

He also said he was surprised by the amount of street flooding he’s seen since moving to Stillwater.

Wedlake agreed with the assessment of the city’s sidewalks. All types of transportation, including bicycling and walking, need to be considered in city projects moving forward, he said. It’s something that’s important to the entire city council.

Wedlake referred to “multi-modal transportation” several times during the night and advocated for the passage of a bond to direct more money to transportation infrastructure.

Cities are limited in how they can generate revenue, he said. A general obligation bond for transportation would be a way to speed up the rate of street repairs if it piggybacked on the $26 million in projects already allocated over the next few years by the City of Stillwater.

It would spur infrastructure improvement and possibly, economic development, he said.

Getting more residents to walk or ride bikes would be a good thing because it would improve their health and get cars off streets, Wedlake said. That would even reduce parking problems.

But building bike trails isn’t enough. It will take a cultural change, he said.

When talk turned to development, Wedlake said he would like to see the city’s specific use permit process streamlined to make development more affordable and reduce red tape.

Both men said they support Payne County’s question that would extend and repurpose a one-quarter cent sales tax even though it’s not something the city controls.

They also agreed that the development of citizen-driven initiatives like Love Our Stillwater and Envision Stillwater to encourage growth and development is a good thing.

Wedlake said he is encouraged to see private citizens organizing and he hopes they have a big impact.

“I’m supposed to be your mouthpiece,” he said.

Both men also support the city’s recycling program.

Mielitz said he recently moved from Oregon where many things are recycled and he enjoys the city’s curbside pick-up.

Wedlake said market forces have made it harder to find financial incentives to recycle but it’s not a purely financial or economic decision. There isn’t a simple solution but he favors continuing if it can be done in an economically responsible manner.

A question about the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries and CBD shops in Stillwater led both men declare they don’t have any personal or moral hangups about people using marijuana if they choose to.

“As long as it doesn’t affect my family, go ahead,” Mielitz said.

He would, however, like to see some sort of viability test for businesses seeking approval.

Wedlake said state law prevents cities from putting many limits on dispensaries. Having said that, he symbolically votes against every SUP for a medical marijuana establishment that comes before the council because he hasn’t seen convincing scientific evidence.

Both men said communication is the key to having good working relationships with OSU, Payne County and Stillwater Public Schools.

Wedlake admitted those lines shut down last year during the contentious passage of a tax increment financing district.

Wedlake emphasized that the TIF is a way to get funding without creating new taxes. He called it an investment and said everyone involved will eventually benefit from it.

In closing, Wedlake said he hopes his voting record speaks for itself and he vowed to continue to listen to people, if he’s re-elected.

“It’s the single most important thing I do as a city councilor,” he said.

Mielitz said he thinks Wedlake and the other city councilors are doing a good job but he believes fresh faces and fresh ideas are always a good thing.

Twitter: @mcharlesNP

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