Four of Choctaw’s seven City Council seats are up for election April 2.
Voters will choose between several longtime city leaders and several newcomers to local politics.
Incumbents include Mayor Randy Ross, Ward 1 City Councilman Ron Bradshaw, Ward 3 Councilwoman Jeannie Abts and Ward 6 Councilman Dale Gill.
Challengers include Zachary Vargas running for mayor, Chad Williams of Ward 1, Ward 3’s Joe Protzman, and Christy Smith in Ward 6.
The general election has been set for Tuesday, April 2.
The current City Council seems united in their pride of accomplishment during their time in office.
Those accomplishments focused on tripling the operating budget of Oklahoma’s oldest chartered town in the last decade. Cities run on sales tax, and actions taken by the current City Council helped grow those funds from under $2 million to around $6 million.
City leaders say that significant increase in sales tax revenue was the direct result of the Markets at Choctaw development.
City officials purchased the land in 2006 and then made substantial improvements to infrastructure in the area that resulted in Walmart opening a Supercenter in 2014. Other retailers and dining options have since followed all of which generate sales tax for the city to operate.
“We’ve been able to develop a market area, but without that we’d have about a million dollars to work with and over 14,000 residents. You can’t run a city on where we were,” said Ross.
Ross says he’s seeking one last term as mayor to complete some projects he’s been working on since taking office.
“I’m putting my name on the ballot for the only reason anyone should, to make my community better,” said Randy Ross. “We know what we’re doing with the Markets at Choctaw, and we want to finish that out. We’re starting the renovation of downtown. Think Bricktown for our downtown district. Give me four more years and we’re going to get this stuff done.”
Vargas is challenging Ross with several changes he’d like to see in the direction of the city. Among those include more emphasis on seeking input from citizens and efforts to improve transparency.
“Our current course appears to primarily focused on the business leaders and developers of the community. The business leaders and developers of the community are very important because the city runs on sales tax. While they are important there needs to be a better balance, where the city focuses upon the wants, needs, and desires of the citizens, not just those of the business leaders and developers,” said Vargas. “I understand that cannot you give everyone everything they want all of the time, but it would be in the city’s best interests to at least discuss what the citizens would like to see happen with the city or conduct polling by scientific method polling to get an accurate picture of what they want.”
Vargas believes the top challenges for the city are a limited budget and a breakdown in communication between City Hall and the citizens.
“I do not want to believe the city embraces secrecy for nefarious reasons. It has become abundantly clear to me however that there is a fundamental breakdown in communication between the City of Choctaw and the citizens of Choctaw. I do not place all of the blame on the city, it is the responsibility of the citizens of Choctaw to ask questions and be informed. While the citizens can do more to be informed, I do in fact place the onus upon the city to make information easier to access than it currently is,” said Vargas.
However, Vargas does agree with some of the work that has been done and is currently ongoing at City Hall.
“The current upgrades to the infrastructure must continue. I am not thrilled with the manner in which the upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant and sewer system have come about, but they must continue. With a growing population and a system that was apparently failing, this is a must,” said Vargas.
“The revitalization of main street is a wonderful idea. In fact it is an idea that I have been discussing since the tornado in 1999 destroyed what used to be on the corner of Gilbert and Main Street. I am cautiously excited to see how it turns out. As usual I have a couple of hopes, there are three properties that I would like to see preserved due to historical significance, and I hope that the city will look into it. I also have a concern with the brewery that is being touted by the Mayor and Councilman Bradshaw as being interested in locating on the corner of Gilbert and Main. That is currently across the street from a splashpad, down the street from two churches, and a few blocks away from an elementary school and a middle school. I would also like to say that I think Tanner McGuire the Parks & Recreation Director for the city is doing a good job. I like the events that are scheduled such as Christmas at the Creek, Rock the Park, and Food Truck Fridays. I am glad that he has listened and will be offering more nighttime events that will allow more of the citizens of Choctaw to attend. I would prefer that more of the advertising budget be spent with local vendors, but I do understand the desire to continue working with vendors that one has an established relationship with.”
Ross is critical of his opponent’s complaints.
Ross says he’s made efforts to be transparent and seeks public input for city planning. However, he’s always willing to improve his outreach to the public such as his recent live social media “town hall meeting.”
“I’ve never met him, and don’t know what he looks like. If you want to know what’s happening in the city just come to our public meetings,” said Ross.
Ross says public hearings are held and legal notices are published, as required by law, to keep the public informed and included.
“The comprehensive plan is not really for us as a city. It’s more of something that you, the citizens, have put in place as a guideline to move us forward. So that’s what we’re pushing through the first phase of that could take us 10 or 15 years,” said Ross. “When I first became mayor, the No. 1 request was Taco Bell. Now we have a Taco Bell. We’ve also helped bring in some other things the public really wanted like Starbucks. We have a lot more we want to accomplish, and we’re working for the people of Choctaw.”
Lifetime Ward 1 resident Ron Bradshaw has served on the City Council since 2002.
Bradshaw served on the city’s planning commission for four years before moving up to City Council, and believes he’s put the work residents can trust.
He’s seeking four more years to complete some major projects he believes will benefit residents for years to come.
“We want downtown Choctaw to be a destination. We don’t want it to just be a drive through zone. I find myself not even leaving Choctaw some weeks. It’s really becoming a cool area,” said Bradshaw.
“Other opportunities are on the horizon that we as a council have been working on that will bring people to Choctaw and the citizens of Ward 1 will be able to take advantage of everyday! It takes time and a lot of effort to make things like this happen. Relationship building takes a lot of time.”
Bradshaw says recent retail improvements in the area are just the beginning as residents will soon see results and improvements throughout his ward and the city.
“With the additional sales tax coming in we’ve been able to hire more police officers and firemen. The crime rate is way down. We’ve bought three more police cars. We have a fantastic ne police chief, Kelly Marshall. She’s doing an awesome job. We’ve been able to hire three new positions at City Hall. We’re reinvesting back into the city with quality man power, which is something we haven’t had in the past. I think that is a wonderful example of our city manager E
d Brown. He’s retired from the Air Force and just an excellent leader. I think we made a perfect decision hiring him at the right place and the right time. The staff is excited about him being their leader, and that’s something you haven’t seen in a long time,” said Bradshaw. “We have new people coming in and new exciting ideas, and it’s not just the old style of running a city. Coming from a corporate world I appreciate seeing things run like we’re not the only business or city in town, so to speak. Customer service is better than it’s ever been, and we have a plan to fix everything. We did a survey, and we know every street we need to fix. We just have to get there. If we had more help from the county that’d be great, but we virtually get zero assistance from the county. It’s like eating an elephant we just have to do it one bite at a time. With these new businesses coming the retail will help us do that. The only income we receive is sales tax from our retail businesses.”
Chad Williams is challenging Bradshaw in Ward 1.
Williams has expressed his disapproval with current city leadership on projects such as Choctaw Creek Golf Course and the reconstruction of the Choctaw Road and SE 29th Street intersection.
“If elected, my first priority would be to stop the frivolous spending habits and to sell off assets that bring zero value to the city. The city’s purchase of the golf course and subsequent renovations has only managed to help the previous owner. This purchase was sold to the people as a driver for business development. However, the only golf courses that improve business development are private courses managed by professional organizations. Public courses, such as Choctaw Creek, only improve home values of the houses surrounding the course. While, this is good for those specific home owners, it is a huge liability to the city as a whole. Taxpayers often have to cover the losses of these courses with money that would otherwise be earmarked for crucial infrastructure repairs. These losses occur frequently, especially when, according to the PGA, the sport is in decline. As stated earlier, in order to attract businesses that the residents of Choctaw desire, we must provide amenities that cater to the largest segment of our population, families with young children and teenagers. According to the survey provided in the Comprehensive Master Plan, over 60% of the working residents work outside of Choctaw. While, most of that is attributable to Tinker AFB, this shows the ability and willingness of residents to drive elsewhere for shopping and entertainment. By offering more convenient, comparable alternatives to the amenities found in Midwest City, the people would be more willing to spend their money here in Choctaw. Many of these amenities are affordable with the help of federal grants, private donations, and partnerships with local organizations like the Rotary Club or the Oklahoma City Thunder, who helps communities build outdoor basketball courts,” explained Williams.
“My next priority would be to eliminate restrictions that have kept businesses out of Choctaw. Free markets only work when they are free to work. The last challenge would be to address infrastructure problems across the city. When talking about road repairs and other projects, funding is always an issue. The city’s recent renovation of the 29th St and Choctaw Rd intersection has been a colossal failure. While the city may have saved $250,000 in upfront costs even with the extra expense of repairing the repairs, the inexperience of the crew will lead to a shorter life expectancy of the pavement causing unplanned expenses in the near future. I believe by addressing the funding mismanagement challenges, we can more effectively address our infrastructure problems through the bidding process and allowing private contractors with more experience to repair our crumbling streets.”
Williams says he would prioritize fiscal responsibility, smarter planning for better and longer lasting roads, development that focuses on children both in and out of school and modernizing the way citizens interact with city government.
“Choctaw has a bright future, and with the right leadership it can be even brighter. Preparing Choctaw for new growth takes new ideas and a fresh perspective. On April 2 I ask that you vote for me, and together we can make Choctaw a better place to raise our children. A place where we can work, shop, eat and play,” said Williams.
Bradshaw believes his commitment to Ward 1 is evident by a lifetime residency and over 20 years of service, while he also doubts his opponent shares his dedication to the area.
“Everything my opponent is talking about is already in the works,” said Bradshaw. “A great concern is he isn’t even a home owner in Ward 1!”
Ward 3’s Abts wants to see the current council continue to work together.
When she started serving the community the population of Choctaw was less than her current city ward, but she says her age or time on City Council doesn’t mean there’s any lack of progress.
“Unbelievably, my ward has 1,400 registered voters. We’ve lived in our house for 50 years so we’ve seen a lot of change. We have a good group, and I feel we get a lot done,” said Abts, who is Choctaw’s longest serving councilmember. “I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished and I think we’re a good group. We work well together, which you don’t see on a lot of councils, and if we disagree we can calmly work if out.”
Abts has been on the Choctaw City Council since 1995. During that 24 years she’s had just two challengers before this year’s election.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who has put as much time into Choctaw as my husband and I have. We did the historic gardens along NE 23rd Street fulltime for 15 years. We paid out of our pocket for those gardens. Eckerd Drug, who later sold their building to CVS, decided to build their largest store here because the gardens looked so progressive. We started the Choctaw Parks Foundation fund, and are trying to get sponsors to continue maintaining those gardens,” said Abts.
This year Abts faces a challenger in Joe Protzman who is an 18-year resident of Choctaw’s Ward 3.
Protzman says he loved Choctaw as a small town, but has also witnessed rapid growth throughout the years.
“My main goal if elected as councilman is to make Choctaw an even better place to call home,” said Protzman. “Currently Ward 3 is growing in population. With this growth we need to expand our infrastructure as well. We cannot expect to add more residents without an increase in utilities, police, and fire protection. Schools will also need attention with more teachers and larger facilities.”
The third generation small business owner knows increasing the city’s sales tax revenue must be a top priority to allow for additional police, fire and other services.
“More income is vital. In general sales tax is the life-blood of a city. We need to attract small businesses so that we have close to home options for our purchases and services. If we can attract more retail and restaurants, we can fund the necessary services for our city. It is difficult to balance the country feel of Choctaw with an increase in businesses. The solution is the size and type of business that we encourage to become a part of our community,” said Protzman.
Gill was appointed to replace Larry Goeller on City Council in November of 2018.
He must now be elected to complete the remaining time of that term.
Gill was selected because he had previously served on the Choctaw City Council, 1997 to 2005.
He hopes to work on restoring a relationship with Oklahoma County that Choctaw had previously had for assistance with some road repairs and other projects.
Gill also believes the current City Council is a quality group of leaders that understand what needs to happen to keep Choctaw moving forward.
“I served back during a time when we had to deal with the outer loop scenario, which became the new northeast loop turnpike. That was the biggest controversy of that time. That was a period when we had a lot of cooperation with the county, and I hope we can do something to get that going again. I want to finish out this term, and then see the direction we’re headed. We have a good group, and that makes a big difference on how well we move forward. Quality is important and understanding the resources we’re working with is key. We’re going to need all the sales tax revenue to keep up with the growth out here,” said Gill.
“I want this to remain a family community. I have heritage here dating back to the 1940s. Both my mom and dad graduated high school here. My grandmother was a teacher here and my grandfather was city clerk. We moved back to this area from Norman to put our kids through this school system. I worked at Tinker, and now we own our own business.”