The mayors of some Oklahoma cities have had to contend with high drama and heated controversies recently, but the Edmond mayoral race promises to revolve around the more staid, nitty-gritty business of municipal administration.
After one man withdrew his candidacy, voters will decide April 6 between the two candidates running for the job: Edmond City Councilman Darrell Davis and Nathan Walters, who owns a local development company. City planning, infrastructure and development are key issues for both candidates, and both see challenges ahead as the city expands. Both say it’s important to make sure the city plans for that growth and has a smart approach to development.
Edmond, which currently has around 95,000 residents, has grown significantly in recent decades. In the past 10 years, the population has grown by approximately 16 percent, compared to approximately 13 percent growth in Oklahoma City.
As the city expands into new, as-yet undeveloped areas in the coming years, city leaders will be making numerous decisions about how to direct and maintain that growth. Davis and Walters say similar things about the city’s pressing needs, but they offer the city somewhat different approaches to those needs as Davis appeals to his long experience in city government and Walters points to his perspective as a newcomer.
Whoever wins will be taking over from current Mayor Dan O’Neil, who has served two stints in the job, once from 2007-2009 and then his present term, which started in 2019. Edmond operates under a council-manager system, meaning the mayor is essentially a member of the City Council and much of the administration of the city is carried out by the city manager.
Meet the candidates
Darrell Davis, who works as a contract manager at Tinker Air Force Base and teaches business classes at Southeastern State University, is running for mayor after almost a decade on the Edmond City Council. He has lived in Edmond for more than 30 years and has been involved in a number of city initiatives and organizations. He served on the Tomorrow’s Edmond Committee in the mid-90s and went on to serve on the Parks and Recreation board from 1996 to 2011.
“I was part of the smart planning and expansion of our great city, and I want to help continue our progress while not losing our values,” Davis said in a recent online candidate forum.
At the same forum, Davis listed his three top priorities as: public safety, street improvements and having a smart approach to the growth of the city.
His opponent, Nathan Walters, is the owner of MassaRossa Luxury Homes, a custom-home builder. He moved to Edmond 14 years ago to attend the University of Central Oklahoma. His wife, Emoly, a former Miss Oklahoma, is from Edmond as well.
Walters wrote on his campaign Facebook page that he was inspired to run by recent political events.
“I have been intrigued by national level politics since high school,” he wrote. “My wife has been around accountability groups for politicians her entire life. Both of us enjoy engaging with others about politics, but not until this year did I feel called to the arena. This year has brought a new perspective to me, not as much to my wife because she understood this well before I did. National level politics is fun, but local level politics impact our daily life!”
Walters said at the candidate forum — sponsored by the Edmond Summit Rotary Club and Edmond Active — that his main priorities are maintaining Edmond’s strong schools and public safety, coming up with a growth plan, and preserving individual liberties.
Figuring out development
As Edmond grows, several development issues are becoming increasingly pressing, including developing new areas, reworking development plans that haven’t panned out and making sure existing areas of the city continue to thrive.
In a phone interview, Walters spoke mainly about the question of how to develop east Edmond, near Arcadia Lake, an area where housing is already springing up (some of it built by Walters’ company), but which doesn’t yet have a grand development plan.
“East Edmond needs a master plan,” he said. “I do believe it needs a master plan because I believe what happened in the hub of Edmond where we’re at now, I don’t believe Edmond was ever prepared for the growth that it took on. (…) We’ve been playing catch-up, it feels like. We’re just now widening roads that needed widened 10 years ago.”
He pointed to planned communities such as Rosemary Beach, Florida, and Frisco, Texas, as examples of places that have done growth correctly.
Walters said he believes many in Edmond are resistant to change and that their mentality hampers growth. He said he believes his opponent holds this mentality, though he does not know Davis personally.
“I believe Darrell being around Edmond as long as he has (…) I do believe he comes from that mindset more of trying to keep Edmond where it is and not understanding how impactful it is and how it’s going to grow out,” he said.
Walters added that he believes in individual liberties and letting businesses and individuals make their own decisions and that Davis, he thought, was on the other side.
Davis, however, does not talk like someone resistant to growth or who wants extensive government control. He said he does recognize a change-resistant mentality in Edmond, but he said that is not his approach and that he is proud of how Edmond has developed already.
“A few years ago, if you travelled to downtown Edmond, it was like they rolled up the carpet and put it away once the sun went down,” he said. “Because there was nothing to do downtown. (…) And now you look at what we have. We have several restaurants downtown, we have four or five other restaurants being built right now. And it’s about talking with the community and saying, ‘This is how we need to revitalize our community for it to continue to give you the quality of life that you have right now.’”
Change is important, he said.
“Some of the economic generators we had in the past, they’ve changed. They’ve gone away,” Davis said. “That’s one thing COVID has shown me, is that you have to have some flexibility in your development for businesses and your communities to be flexible.”
Like Walters, Davis is thinking about the development of east Edmond as a major issue the mayor and council will have to address. He said that will start with talking to the community and with consultants to help come up with a plan. He also pointed to a number of other development issues, such as making good economic use of the I-35 corridor and bringing in businesses that will improve life in Edmond.
Masks and taxes
It has become almost obligatory to ask local leaders about mask mandates these days. Walters said he believes the question of masks comes down to personal freedom and that businesses and individuals should be allowed to make up their own minds.
Davis said he supports Edmond’s existing mask mandate, but pointed out that masks are just one of many issues that Edmond’s next mayor will have to address.
Among these is the annual question of the budget. Edmond’s city budget comes solely from sales tax. The city has done better, budget-wise, than many during the COVID-19 pandemic. It did not bring in as much sales and use tax revenue as last year, but collections were higher than expected.
Maintaining the budget in the future will require creative thinking and flexibility to keep businesses operating and revenue coming in, Davis said at the candidate forum.
Walters said maintaining revenue will require long-term thinking about planning and catering to Edmond’s youthful demographic.
“We have to entice the right businesses and give them an environment to thrive,” he said.
Watch the recent Edmond mayoral race forum
(Correction: This article was updated Tuesday, Feb. 9, to note that the Edmond mayoral race will be decided Tuesday, April 6, because one of the three original candidates for the position withdrew.)