Hafer Park
Edmond residents will head to the polls Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, to vote on a temporary sales tax increase, which would be used to purchase 22 acres adjacent to Hafer Park for the its expansion or protection. (Megan Prather)

Voters in 25 counties around Oklahoma will head to the polls Tuesday, Oct. 12, to consider a slate of issues (links below). In Edmond, residents will decide whether the city should buy a controversial 22-acre property abutting E.C. Hafer Park and add the land to the municipal park system.

Voting “Yes” on the ballot question will impose an additional 0.25-cent sales tax in Edmond city limits for 12 months to finance the roughly $4 million purchase. Voting “No” will end the effort to buy the property and will pave the way for the proposed private development of a 276-unit mixed-use residential and commercial complex. (A separate initiative petition to call for a vote rescinding the development project’s approval is pending a legal challenge.)

Turnout in Edmond for a single ballot question could be light owing to the complicated nature of the proposal. About 10,800 Edmond voters participated in the election of a new mayor and two new City Council members in April.

While those individual candidates for office were required to file campaign finance reports with the Edmond city clerk, Edmond director of management services Casey Moore told NonDoc that no such requirement exists for individuals or organizations that spend money to support or oppose ballot initiatives.

“We do not have a local ordinance that requires any type of filing related to spending for a ‘Vote Yes’ or ‘Vote No’ campaign,” Moore said.

State law and Ethics Commission rules also do not require campaign finance reporting for municipal ballot initiatives.

That means Edmond residents will head to the polls without a clear understanding of who has spent what amount of money in favor of or in opposition to the sales tax proposal, even though signs have popped up across town both for and against the temporary tax.

Lydia Lee, an attorney who has been vocal in favor of the sales-tax-funded purchase of the 22 acres, is listed as the contact person on a “Vote YES – Expand Hafer Park” Facebook page liked by 90 people. According to the Facebook political advertising library, the page spent less than $100 boosting a post about the Oct. 12 election:

But Facebook took down the ad early because Lee’s page was not properly registered with the social media giant to run boosted advertisements about social or political issues. The Facebook ad library does not appear to have registered any advertising that opposes the ballot proposal.

Former Edmond Mayor Randel Shadid wrote in a Sept. 14 letter to the editor of Edmond Life & Leisure magazine that he believes the temporary sales tax question should be defeated.

“It is bad public policy. Every time a disgruntled group is unhappy about a land use decision, they should not expect the consumers/taxpayers of the City of Edmond to purchase private property with taxpayer funds,” Shadid wrote. “If approved, the tax would fund purchase of the property by the city, a tax-exempt entity, and a proposed development with a $30 million dollar market value for ad valorem tax purposes of funding schools is negated and replaced with a tax-exempt piece of vacant land.”

Lee responded with a letter to the editor of her own Sept. 28 that questioned Shadid’s arguments against the proposition.

“Is is ‘bad public policy’ to put an end to the constant battles over this 22-acre piece of land? Is it ‘bad public policy’ for the city elected leaders to actually listen to the citizens’ concerns and offer a reasonable solution? Is it ‘bad public policy’ to support a unique opportunity that has brought the land owner, the developer and the grassroots citizens group all together to forge an agreement to accomplish an extension to Edmond park system. The answer is absolutely not!” Lee wrote. “What is ‘bad public policy’ is to deny the citizens the right to be proactive and encourage positive change, an activity that Mr. Shadid has scorned for decades as a representative of most developers in Edmond.”

Other Edmond sales tax election details

Hafer Park
A fishing pond at Hafer Park, located at 1034 S. Bryant Avenue in Edmond, is also home to various water fowl throughout the year. (Megan Prather)

Prospective Edmond voters can find more information on the details of Tuesday’s ballot initiative on the city’s website. A special page answers 11 frequently asked questions about the sales tax proposal, and it links to the specific ballot language and the pending purchase contract between the city and the landowner (which would take effect if the ballot measure passes).

The land owner listed as the “seller” on the contract is SCV Development LLC, an apparent subsidiary of Sooner Investment. Bob Stearns is the registered agent for SCV Development, and Stearns was a principal founder of Sooner Investment. He signed the contract from Florida, where Sooner Investment also does business.

The 276-unit mixed-use development proposed for the 22 acres is being led by developer Richard McKown of SSLM Development LLC.

Other relevant details regarding the Oct. 12 ballot question include:

  • Located near the northeast corner of East 15th Street and North Bryant Avenue, the parcel of property has been controversial in Edmond for years, most recently in 2017, when voters rejected a zoning change and functionally killed a development project on the site. A decade earlier, voters also made developing that property more difficult by approving new zoning requirements.
  • The 12-month 0.25 cent proposed sales tax is estimated to generate about $5 million, about $1 million more than the asking price for the 22-acre property. City Council members said the difference would potentially finance property cleanup and support other park-system efforts.
  • Tuesday’s special election was called by a unanimous vote of the City Council in an effort to end a dispute over the property.

Read NonDoc’s prior coverage of the decision to call a special election for the proposed purchase of the land near Hafer Park:

School bonds, other propositions around state

As always, Oklahomans can check the State Election Board’s voter portal to determine if they are eligible to vote in an upcoming election.

Beyond the Edmond sales tax election, communities in 24 other counties also have items on which to vote Tuesday, Oct. 12.

That includes school bond proposals in 11 districts. Details linked:

In addition, eight other communities also have propositions up for consideration in the Oct. 12 special election. Details linked where available:

  • Bryan County (0.5 cent sales tax for roads and bridges)
  • Town of Binger (Renewal of PSO service agreement)
  • City of Noble ($2.73 million in bonds for a new fire station, new dispatch facilities and remodeling of the police department)
  • Town of Slaughterville (Renewal of Oklahoma Electric Cooperative service agreement)
  • Town of Hammon (Renewal of PSO service agreement)
  • City of Heavener (Renewal of OG&E service agreement)
  • Town of Howe (Renewal of electric cooperative agreement)
  • Town of Clayton (Renewal of PSO service agreement)

In Oklahoma, polls are open on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.