He also stated during the meeting that one of the most powerful men in Oklahoma City was behind a much-criticized election campaign and held sway over many important decisions made in the city, and that municipal government was in danger of becoming more of a plutocracy rather than a representative democracy.
Shadid’s comments, made during the July 19 City Council meeting, came two weeks after the council voted to approve a controversial timeline for MAPS 3 projects and a location for the MAPS 3 convention center.
Just prior to the July 5 council meeting, Shadid (pictured right) had asked that the votes on the two items be deferred because he was on a delayed return flight from a long-scheduled overseas trip.
Councilwoman Meg Salyer was also absent from that meeting and had requested that the items not be deferred.
Only councilmen Pete White and Ronald “Skip” Kelly voted to defer the items for two weeks, and the measure failed.
During the most recent meeting, Shadid addressed what appears to be increasing tension among council members.
“Much has been made of the discord over the past couple of weeks,” Shadid said. “I would ask the public to give us some time to work through the boundaries.
I would not be concerned with the discord; I think debate is healthy.”
During his address, Shadid named Devon Energy Executive Chairman Larry Nichols as one of the driving forces behind this year’s City Council elections, which saw more than half a million dollars in independent expenditures used to oppose and support different candidates.
In the election, an incumbent — former Ward 5 Councilman Brian Walters — was attacked by an independent expenditure group named Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum, for which money was funneled from the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s Forward IV program through a nonprofit group. Nichols is listed as Forward OKC vice chair, according to the chamber’s website.
Walters voted against a tax increment finance district around Devon tower that secured funds for Project 180. Despite being one of the most conservative members of the council, Walters was labeled as a liberal in mailers from Momentum and ultimately unseated.
Momentum also went after Shadid in its campaign, and backed his opponent, Charlie Swinton.
“That campaign was very cynical. It rewarded one candidate for being liberal and progressive, and then chastised another for being liberal and progressive. It wasn’t that somebody was spending all that money because they believed in that particular political ideology. Something else was at play,” Shadid said. “Many people who are in a position to know are indicating that the primary ideological and financial force behind this campaign was Larry Nichols.”
A Devon spokesman said Nichols (pictured right) was unavailable for comment.
Shadid said Nichols, who sits on multiple public boards and subcommittees, wields an enormous amount of power, and expressed concern that it was not good for a democracy that only a few high-powered individuals make decisions that affect everyone.
“Everyone indicates Larry Nichols is a very good man who deeply loves Oklahoma City, that he for me personally would be a tremendous ally for building density and walkability and a healthy city, but he and the people around him are engaging in policy-making the way a surgeon does surgery: They’re telling everyone what to do and then executing,” said Shadid, a spinal surgeon. “It’s not particularly democratic. You can have a benevolent plutocracy, you could agree that what he is doing is best for the city, but it’s still a plutocracy and not a representative democracy.”
The tactics used during the election by Momentum and its backers and a firefighter group that got its funding in much the same indirect, anonymous way as Momentum left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, Shadid said, and could create backlash favoring or opposing those groups’ interests, depending on whether the respective elected officials were opposed by or helped by those groups.
“I think those wounds are still festering. I think that needs to be vetted for us to have healing and for the level of discord to decrease,” Shadid said. “I don’t think we can operate under the threat or reward of potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on the next City Council elections if we do or do not fall into favor with a certain individual or a small group of individuals.”
Shadid said he wanted to move past the controversial election and wanted to get everything out in the open to be vetted.
“I don’t believe in just holding resentments and not publicly vetting them. I think the healthiest thing to do is put it out there instead of it festering,” Shadid said. “Let us vet it, let some healing occur, let us figure out a way that the private sector and firefighters cannot mingle to that degree in our elections and then let’s move forward.”
You can watch Shadid’s recent speech at the OKC City Council meeting about Larry Nichols and continue with further reading below.