Edmond Ward 1 City Council candidates Ashley Bradley and Tom Robins covered a variety of topics from high-density housing to EMSA’s lagging response times and found plenty of areas of agreement during a debate Tuesday night hosted by NonDoc at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Both candidates said they support the creation of an Edmond homeless shelter, said the Edmond Police Department should release details about an internal investigation and said the city should consider other options for housing arrestees until a new Oklahoma County Jail is built.
Bradley and Robins also agreed on the biggest difference between them: experience. Robins said his history of civic and community engagement would help him hit the ground running, while Bradley emphasized that she filed for office to ensure voters have choices, and she said she would be an open book with “no preconceived notions” if elected.
Ashley Bradley, 38, is a senior engineering technician at Gulfport Energy Corporation. She previously worked as an engineering technician from November 2014 to December 2018. She also held several different positions at HighMount Exploration and Production, according to her LinkedIn.
Tom Robins, 42, is the founder and president of Solid Foundation Consulting and Oklahoma Innovation and Technology. Prior to founding Solid Foundation Consulting in 2018, Robins served as Oklahoma’s deputy secretary of energy from 2016 to 2018. He also worked as the manager of government affairs for Chesapeake Energy from April 2011 to October 2015.
All registered voters within the city limits of Edmond are eligible to vote in the Ward 1, Ward 2 and Edmond mayoral races for the April 4 election. Video of Tuesday night’s debate is embedded below.
NonDoc’s 2023 municipal debate series is sponsored by the Oklahoma chapter of the Urban Land Institute.
Candidates: City needs more housing options
About one year ago, the Edmond City Council adopted the Edmond 2050 plan, which proposes goals and guidelines to address housing needs for the more than 40,000 additional people expected to move to Edmond in the coming decades. Part of that plan includes higher-density housing, which has been a controversial topic in the city for years.
Robins said it’s important to plan for future housing needs while noting the median price for a home in Edmond is already too high for even some city employees to afford.
“The truth is, with a $408,000 median price to buy a home here in Edmond, that’s great for some of our top earners and some of the people in our city, but it’s not meeting the needs of our public servants — of our first responders and our educators,” he said. “So when I met with the REALTORS Association — I received their endorsement — I said, one of the top priorities I have is to look at all types of housing. So the Edmond  Plan calls for density and then spread that out across, not just downtown but also in the east. But I’m all for all the above options when it comes to housing in Edmond.”
Bradley also said the city needs a variety of housing.
“I think one of the current issues that we’re seeing is that we have developers that come in and are literally bulldozing existing houses and lots, and putting up these apartments and homes that they’re labeling attainable but are completely out of reach,” Bradley said. “I don’t have an answer for that, but I want to work with the citizens to make sure that we continue to keep that in mind as we are working towards attainable housing. I want them to know that we all are in it together and we have to come up with a solution together.”
Robins and Bradley also discussed traffic concerns, with Robins emphasizing the need to develop and publish a six or eight-year plan for Edmond’s transportation system. Both candidates said they support the issuance of general obligation bonds — which will require a vote of the people — to fund road improvements and other municipal projects.
Candidates concerned about EMSA response times
The candidates were asked about EMSA’s slow response times. The emergency medical services provider has failed to hit its response times in Edmond since the pandemic began. Some believe there are better options, and the City of Oklahoma City has considered having its fire department provide ambulance services.
Robins said the current situation is not working for Edmond.
“The response times from EMSA are not acceptable,” Robins said.
Given those numbers, Robins said it’s time to consider other options, including how Edmond could potentially fund its own ambulance service.
“The bottom line is, if we need to do it on our own, we can,” he said. “It would be difficult and we’d probably need the support of the people and look at dedicated funding. There is some momentum which I would support in looking at alternative providers that are smaller, where their first call, their first duty is to Edmond.”
Bradley related her own experience with someone she knew who died as a result of what she believes was a slower-than-necessary response time from EMSA.
“This is super important to me,” she said. “I would make it one of the biggest priorities that I have the second that I come in. I believe and I know that we have a contract review coming up. I think that we need to hold their feet to the fire. We cannot accept this type of response time. We just can’t. Whatever method that we can determine and find that will help, we’ve got to go to that, even if it’s a short-term fix.”
Other options should be open for jail services
Candidates were asked about the troubled Oklahoma County Jail and whether the City of Edmond should continue to send people arrested by EPD there. The jail has seen 37 deaths in the last two years and was recently the subject of a grand jury investigation.
Bradley said other options should be on the table, including nearby Logan County. Although funding for it was approved last year, a new Oklahoma County Jail won’t open until 2026 or 2027.
“I feel like we should look at the options and go into Logan County,” she said. “Safety for anyone who is in jail is just as important as safety for us in this room or in our community. They are still people that deserve that at the bare minimum. So yes, I support looking at other options.”
Robins said the current jail isn’t somewhere he would want anyone to be housed.
“I would just ask yourself the question that I was talking to our police chief about,” he said. “If you have a loved one — because all of us have different backgrounds in our family — if you had a loved one that for whatever reason something happened to them where they were sent to the county jail, would you feel comfortable with them sleeping there at night? I wouldn’t.”
Robins said law enforcement should have a seat at the table when deciding on whether the jail is a safe place to house those arrested in Edmond
“I believe if we go to them and say, ‘Let’s get creative about this, what are some options, Logan (County) and others,’ they can offer some of those up,” he said. “But no, I am not in any way, shape or form happy with the number of deaths, injuries, the lack of staff or lack of safety for anyone involved.”
Candidates say EPD internal investigation should be detailed
Edmond’s police department has been the subject of a lengthy investigation into allegations of sexism, racism, and workplace bullying against an EPD deputy chief. Those allegations were made by a now-former department employee, and the City of Edmond hired an attorney with the firm Phillips Murrah to conduct an investigation. After more than a year, city officials finally said the attorney’s report had been completed, and an internal review was underway. However, no summary of the matter has been provided to the public, and the City of Edmond denied NonDoc’s request to view the report.
Both Bradley and Robins said they believe at least an executive summary of the report should be made public.
“I think that we all deserve to know what’s going on with our first responders, with our police, with our leadership in this town,” Bradley said. “I think that’s important, and I think that transparency is something that currently kind of lacks in multiple departments. So yes, I do believe that it needs to be at bare minimum a summary of what has gone on, what has happened.”
Robins said releasing the report would help foster a culture and expectation of transparency.
“A summary report would be helpful,” he said. “I want to have a city that has confidence always. We do that by not acting out of fear, but just working on facts, and so we want to bring facts to light. That, you know, that comes with all of city government.”
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Hafer Park conservation use supported
Following a vote of the people in 2021, the city purchased land next to E.C. Hafer Park that will likely be used as a conservation easement. The debate over whether to leave the land to nature or allow it to be developed became hotly contested ahead of the city-wide vote that settled the issue. Bradley said she created the online petition to purchase the land because she feared it would devastate 20 acres of natural wildlife habitat.
“I believe that when you get rid of green space like that, you can’t just get it back,” she said. “So it was very important to me — it still is, and I am really excited that it is going into a conservation easement. I love the idea that we are turning something as important as land into a learning potential for not just today’s community but tomorrow’s community, too. It’s going to be utilized in a way that kids and people of all ages can go out and experience nature in a city that, quite frankly, doesn’t have it just around every block.”
Robins said he also supported the use of the land for conservation. He said it was an example of putting something before voters and letting them decide on big issues.
“I’ve seen the presentation that calls for its conservation use, and I support that,’ he said. “But I believe that just shows us that when Edmond voters are given a clear choice to be able to vote in favor of something that they support (they will). We’ll use the example of the penny jar going directly to that penny project and funding that, and they have confidence in it and it’s transparent — that’s what Edmond voters want, and they’re willing to support that.”