Edmond mayoral and city council
Edmond City Council Ward 2 candidate Barry Moore speaks during an Edmond Chamber of Commerce forum on Thursday, March 2, 2023. (Joe Tomlinson)

Mayoral and City Council candidates participated in an Edmond electoral forum today, discussing the direction of development in Edmond, methods to garner funds for transportation infrastructure projects and sending taxpayer dollars to local charities.

Ward 1 Edmond City Council candidate Ashley Bradley and Ward 2 candidate Judy Rau did not attend. Edmond Planning Commissioner Kenneth Wohl, who served as the moderator of the forum, said Bradley withdrew from the forum Wednesday, while Rau stated weeks ago that she could not attend. The forum was organized by the Edmond Chamber of Commerce.

The mayoral, Ward 1 and Ward 2 elections will be decided on Tuesday, April 4. Edmond residents from all wards are allowed to vote in the municipality’s general elections.

‘You don’t want candidates that ghost the Edmond Chamber’

Following opening statements, Barry Moore, the longtime chairman of the Edmond Planning Commission who is seeking the open Ward 2 seat, pointed to the growth of east Edmond in response to a question asking how to increase sales tax revenue.

“If you look over across the street to the south of us, there’s a half-dozen businesses over there and they’re busy all the time. When they opened, I didn’t think any of that would work,” Moore said. “The east side of Edmond is growing.”

In response to that same question, Ward 1 candidate Tom Robins — the founder and president of Solid Foundation Consulting and Oklahoma Innovation and Technology — referenced Bradley’s absence with the term, “ghosting.”

“You know what I’m talking about. That’s people that apply for a job, even get an interview, then they don’t show up.” Robins said. “You don’t want candidates that ghost the Edmond Chamber. You want candidates that show up. I consider this a job interview, and this is my number one priority.”

Later in the forum, candidates were asked what makes them better than their opponents, to which Moore took Robins’ lead.

“I’m here,” Moore said. “And if you invite me back tomorrow, I’ll be here again.”

Development in East Edmond

East Edmond 2050
The East Edmond 2050 plan sets out a long-term development strategy for the growing Oklahoma city. (Screenshot)

In response to a question on developing east Edmond, mayoral candidate Brian Shellem — the president of Advanced Automotive Equipment — said the city needs to focus on developing the placement of businesses along Interstate-35.

“We have a seven-and-a-half-mile stretch of highway that will bring people here from all over the state,” Shellem said. “We need to develop that. We need to make it easy for people to come and go.”

Shellem added the city should not increase housing along the highway.

“We do not need to change the demographic [by] increasing our housing along I-35,” Shellem said. “That would be truly a waste of our resources. We need to make it a commercial space where business can be done.”

Incumbent Mayor Darrell Davis, who was first elected mayor in May 2021 and previously served almost 10 years as Edmond’s Ward 3 councilman, said the city has started the East Edmond 2050 Plan, which will guide the development of the city’s largely undeveloped east side.

“That’s a look at the east side of town and how to smartly populate it. Where does your residential go? Where does commercial go? Let’s keep the trees, as many of them as possible, over there,” Davis said. “That plan is going to help us smartly populate the east side of Edmond.”

General obligation bonds in Edmond?

Route 66
U.S. Route 66 and U.S. Route 77 intersect at South Broadway and East 2nd Street in downtown Edmond, Oklahoma. (Joe Tomlinson)

Many transportation infrastructure projects have been discussed as key needs for Edmond, but funding for several projects has yet to be identified.

Robins, who spoke first on the dilemma of finding funds for road projects, said he wants to bring the usage of general obligation bonds to a municipal ballot question.

“Right now, we’re the only city (in Oklahoma) over 50,000 that does not utilize a general obligation bond,” Robins said. “I believe as a leader, it’s my duty to bring to the voters the option.”

Davis said he also wants to discuss the possibility of a municipal election to utilize general obligation bonds, which are essentially loans taken out to finance projects with the city’s full faith and credit backing repayment over time. But Davis emphasized that transportation issues need to be solved collaboratively.

“Yes, I want to have a conversation about GO bonds. I don’t have the answer,” Davis said. “Let’s gather a roundtable and get the big white board up and figure out the pros and cons for that.”

Even before any decision is made on GO bonds for a broad package of projects, Moore said the city can “start small” to improve traffic during school drop-off and pick-up times.

“We have some aggravation between the hours of seven and nine, and four and six. These are things that can be fixed,” Moore said.

In response to the question on finding funding for road projects, Shellem said he knows the answer: change the city’s growth.

“We have about $200 million for road projects and roughly about $40 million slotted for it. That’s not just a little gap, that’s a Grand Canyon,” Shellem said.

Shellem noted that the city does not have impact fees on development projects but should consider implementing them.

“It’d be the equivalent of me saying, ‘I want a new set of tires for my car. I’m sending you the bill,'” Shellem said. “I don’t know anybody who thinks this is a good idea, including the people getting the tires, so we need to actually change the way we’re growing.”

‘We should not be giving money away.’

To a question asking candidates whether they support the city’s allocation of taxpayer funds to nonprofit organizations, Shellem said he supports nonprofits, but opposes the city giving tax dollars to them.

“We should not be giving money away. We should be expecting that they’re going to provide invoices, just like we expect our businesses to know what they’re paying for,” Shellem said.

On the other hand, Davis said he does support the city’s funding of local nonprofit services.

“These entities are important to the fundamental three pillars (community, safety and schools) that I talk about for Edmond,” Davis said. “If we do not support our community, who else is going to?”

To the same question, Moore responded emphatically.

“Damn right,” Moore said. “Look around, we all have a very charmed, comfortable existence. There are people who don’t, and we need to help them.”

Robins agreed.

“Whether it’s for our schools, our community, mental health or whatever it may be, I want to give a dollar to get 10 back every single time,” Robins said.

Edmond voters will decide the Ward 1, Ward 2 and mayoral races on Tuesday, April 4.