Oklahoma City voters gave thumbs up to four out of five city charter amendments at last week’s election. All of the amendments dealt with the city council as a body and two passed easily. But the two amendments targeted at being a member of the council had mixed results.
A proposition which provides a temporary council appointment in the event of a vacancy within 30 days ” and calls for an election as soon as possible after the seat is vacated ” passed with 81 percent of the vote. Another proposition determines that each council member will serve as vice-mayor for six months, according to seniority, received 66 percent support. And a proposition to continue to prohibit city officers, including the mayor, council, council appointees and city employees, from contracting with the city passed with 76 percent.
But a proposition increasing the pay for the mayor and city council members failed 52 percent to 48 percent. And a proposition lowering the age to serve on the council from 25 to 21 passed, but just barely, with 51 percent of the vote.
The proposal to increase pay had a tough road to drive as even current members of the city council were hesitant to allow the measure on the ballot.
CITIZEN TASK FORCE
However, former council member Willa Johnson, who chaired the citizen task force recommending the charter amendments, said the pay increase was important.
“Because of the way the council is paid, it keeps a lot of good minds off the council,” Johnson said. “I recommended that several years ago and I couldn’t get anybody to agree with me. Because of the work, normal every day working people would have a difficult time doing it. Once I got a divorce, it became glaringly clear to me that is a job you have to be able to afford.”
Johnson, who is now an Oklahoma County Commissioner, said while there was no open opposition to the proposal, opponents conducted an effective whisper campaign to help defeat it.
“I’m not angry with them at all because that is what you do,” Johnson said. “They want the council members to be public servants and that’s OK if you can afford to be a public servant.
“But in this city, the only way you can afford to be a public servant is to have a generous retirement income, you must be wealthy or you must be working for a corporation that is willing to pay you to be on the council, and that’s the bottom line.”
As for the proposition to lower a council member’s eligible age from 25 to 21, Johnson said the age reduction should still put qualified people on the council.
“The discussion was if a person is old enough to serve in the military, he or she should be old enough to make decisions that impact people,” Johnson said.
“There’s always a downside. You can have somebody that is so young … lacking absolute required experience that they aren’t willing to look at the big picture.” “Scott Cooper