Thursday, March 05, 2020

Mayoral candidates on campaign finance, priorities, Muskogee's future

Voters in Muskogee will be going to the polls in a few short weeks to determine which of two runoff candidates will serve as mayor for the next two years. The initial five-way mayoral election ended with Marlon Coleman (39.63%) and Wayne Divelbiss (29.91%) advancing to an April 7th runoff, as no candidate received a majority of votes cast.

I reached out to Coleman and Divelbiss last week with the following three questions. Both candidates replied back to acknowledge they had received the survey, but only Coleman sent in his responses. Both were given ample time to answer, but apparently Divelbiss didn't want to go on record.

1. Do you intend to release your campaign finance report of contributions and expenditures before the election?

MARLON COLEMAN: Several residents literally sacrificed pennies towards a cause they believed in by supporting our campaign, and it's unfortunate that my opponents waged a nasty, misleading and mean-spirited effort against us. Given the nature of the very personal attacks against me I see no need to allow seniors, young people or other donors to become the targets of my opponent's negative attack ad machine in the aftermath of such a visceral and extremely toxic primary campaign.
WAYNE DIVELBISS: [failed to return survey]

2. What are your top three priorities if elected mayor?

COLEMANMy top three priorities are education, jobs, growth.

EDUCATION. Muskogee has Hilldale and Muskogee public schools as two thriving school districts, St. Joseph's Catholic School, Boulevard Christian School, Seventh-Day Adventist Christian Academy, Oklahoma School for the Blind, Indian Capital Technology Center, Connors State College, Bacone College, and Northeastern State University... and what we need is a synergy in our education system that will prepare Muskogee residents for potential job opportunities and job expansion.

Muskogee and Hilldale public schools have both passed education bonds and I want to highlight to people when considering relocating to Muskogee that they have two exceptional public school districts to choose from, along with a variety of other private schools, each with a unique flavor that makes our city great. It is also important that we try to expand post-secondary programming so that when young people complete their K-12 education they have the option to further their education here in Muskogee.
DIVELBISS: [failed to return survey]

3. What do you view as the top challenge facing Muskogee over the next decade?

COLEMAN: The top challenge facing Muskogee over the next decade is growth. As a city we have experienced negative or stagnant growth over the last 50 years and we have to build a social-infrastructure for Muskogee to be a city people can live, work and play. That means we have to be deliberate in creating a qualified workforce that will attract industry and technical jobs; we have to be very forthright in planning new housing developments while also maintaining existing structures though our housing rehabilitation program. Studies have shown that people who spend disposable income do it after 6:00 p.m. which means we need adequate shopping, food, and entertainment venues. By doing this we demonstrate to industry and families that they can live, work and play in Muskogee.
DIVELBISS: [failed to return survey]

The first question dealt with campaign finance, an issue that attracted some attention during the campaign. Although three of the five candidates told the Muskogee Phoenix that they would report their contributions, shamefully none ended up doing so. Coleman was the only one to directly say he wouldn't, while Divelbiss totally sidestepped the question while claiming he would propose (if elected) a city ordinance change to require disclosure. His campaign and supporters made Coleman's lack of disclosure a big issue, while completely ignoring the fact that he was doing the exact same thing as Coleman in not revealing his campaign finances. Pot, meet kettle.

I have always supported requiring city council and mayoral candidates reporting their campaign finances. Candidates for literally every other office have to do so -- it's not an undue burden, and it's not something that's all that difficult to do.

It's a shame that we have candidates in Muskogee that fail to meet this minimal standard of transparency. It's also a shame that we have candidates who ride the fence, giving lip-service to transparency while failing to act on it. I'd rather have someone be honest with me even if I dislike their position than have someone tell me one thing and do the opposite (that'd be... the height of hypocrisy).

Have more questions that you'd like to see the candidates answer? Let me know and I'll see if they will respond.


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