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FELDER: Voters were looking for direction

Ben Felder

Ben Felder, news editor

You live by the grocery store and you die by the grocery store; isn’t that how the saying goes?

New city leaders were voted into office last year because of a level of mistrust the public had with the Williams Foods tax incentive plan. Part of that mistrust came from misinformation but these candidates ran on a platform of being against the deal as it stood and voters said they agreed.

However, it was the classic political blunder for those elected to the council of taking the issue you were elected into office on and not knowing when to let it go. A year later the council was still playing games when it came to the grocery store contract and the same voters were now tired of the issue and ready to put it behind them.

I’ve written before that I don’t mind the council delaying the grocery store incentive deal. It’s what they campaigned on and voters gave them a mandate to at least explore the issue further. But after a while it became clear that at the very least the council was incapable of working with one of the city’s largest business leaders, and at worst was using the issue as a political pawn.

Continuing to make Williams Foods a political issue backfired and a year after a wave of change hit city hall another shift in the political current is taking place.

While the line used to open this column is not really a common phrase used in politics, here is one that is:

“If you are not growing, you’re dying.”

To me that line pretty much sums up a simple truth in almost every area of life, whether it be business, relationships, and yes, even politics and city government.

People want to move forward because we understand that remaining in the status quo is never really a good option. Yes, we all are challenged with change to some degree and there are times in our lives when keeping things exactly the way they are sounds good. But the truth is change is one of the only constants in life and we are either changing for the better or for the worse.

Last year members of the council campaigned on the idea that the changes taking place in Piedmont were for the worse and the direction of the city needed to be changed. There has been some change in direction with the hiring of a new city manager, of which early returns seem promising. But for the most part a new vision failed to be created.

Voters gave city leaders a chance to change course but it quickly became evident that we were just standing still during a time when action was needed on a long list of issues facing the community.

Last year voters felt there needed to be a change in direction. This year voters are simply looking for a direction to head in.

While the grocery store contract might have been the defining issue of the election, it isn’t the magic bullet to solving our problems. The citys not broke, at least not according to the budget, city manager and the accounting firm that works for the city. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t face financial challenges. We need prioritizing in the budget and we need economic growth, something that’s difficult to do when you basically tell one of your largest business owners to “take a hike.”

Piedmont needs to address utility rates, develop a clear plan of action when it comes to roads and there is still the matter of completing the city’s new police station. All these issues and more will not be settled with approval of the Williams Foods grocery store contract and it’s going to take vision, communication and compromise to meet our challenges.

I can sometimes be rather cynical about things but deep down and I’m an optimist. So much so that sometimes my wife says it drives her crazy and I have had at least one former newspaper boss tell me my optimism in life is one of my biggest weaknesses as a journalist. All I know is that I tend to believe in people and I tend to hold out hope that even when things look pretty bad there is also a decent chance our community, nation or world can find a way through.

I know a lot of people are cynical about things in Piedmont right now and often times you can’t really blame them. But what Piedmont needs right now is faith in its future. I’m talking about some kind of blind faith without accountability placed on our leaders. Instead, I am not talking about a faith in our future that believes with healthy debate, cooperation and a clear goal in mind we can move Piedmont forward.

This week someone handed me a letter they received in the mail. It was an unsigned letter criticizing the newly elected council and predicting the demise of the city if Williams is given tax incentives. It reeked of the negativity we saw last year and it was once again a criticism of the direction the city was headed in without offering any real alternative.

I would probably have written this column no matter what the results were this month concerning the city council election and I don’t want this to be taken as a total criticism of the council. I do think the council failed to deliver on some of the promises it made last year and I don’t believe the incoming members are going to bring instant healing. There will be mistakes made and our leaders should be held to the highest level of accountability, but what excites me about the city right now is that we appear to be headed towards the creation of a vision and moving in a direction forward.

It could be that sometime over the next several months and years you disagree with the direction the city is headed in. If you pay even some attention to local policy issues I can almost guarantee that will be the case. But my challenge to you is to get involved and express your thoughts on how the city can do better when it comes to moving forward.

There will be those that offer blind criticism and predict doom and gloom for the city but we can’t afford to go along with those that offer no alternative and simply want to keep the status quo.

The city is either moving forwards or backwards. There is no middle ground.

 

14 Comments

  1. Piedmont Resident says:

    Let’s move Piedmont forward in a POSITIVE direction. Do as much of your business in Piedmont as possible to support the community via taxes, income and jobs. SHOP LOCALLY.

    • Joe Williams says:

      Thanks Ben! I also believe that the new council can and will finally approve the contract with Williams Food and move on to other issues that affect the people on Piedmont.

      Joe Williams

  2. JT says:

    The cynic in me thinks that a year from know, many of the same people will be dissatisfied with the council again, but for different reasons.

  3. donya hau says:

    JT….Im curious as to what reasons? I was NEVER involved in city politics before last years Mayor & city council race. And regardless of what others might say…the nasty flyers were indeed the only reason my husband & I decided to start looking into what in the heck was going on. I moved to Piedmont when I was 8 yrs old. Pretty much lived here my entire life. I’m sure there has always been political drama in one form or another going back as far as one can go but when you are young you are oblivious to these things. I got married & moved away right out of high school and was gone for 6 yrs & moved back to Piedmont in 1997 & boy how things had changed. Used to be you went to the bank, gas station or school event & you knew everyone you saw. When we moved back I didn’t know half of the people I saw. I’m sure with a bigger town comes bigger problems but nothing could prepare me for what kept coming in my mailbox day after day after day last year. All about two very fine, honest men I have known practically my entire life. One I went to school with the other was my coach & mentor for more years than I can remember. I knew the things that were on these flyers was not true & was meant to harm & discredit them but I for the life of me couldn’t figure out why. Some out there kept saying we were a “small group of 15 trouble makers”. I am telling everyone now…I didn’t know half of the people in the room when this “small group” met for the very first time. We were all just a group of people who loved this town & were there to discuss the negative campaign that had just transpired and where to move forward from there. As time grew so did our group…& boy did it grow. However…many supported us silently from the sidelines for fear of being harrassed or bullied. We were fine with that. My husband & Lauren had already been followed & harrassed so they weren’t frightened…so several of us who had already spoken out publically became the voices for those afraid to speak out. We said what others wanted to say but couldn’t. We did what others wanted to do but couldn’t. On more occasions than I care to remember…others tried to silence us…they spread lies & rumors about us. But we were determined to have truth triumph over the lies. I am in hopes that our efforts have shown others that it is okay to speak up. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right. You may feel like you are all alone in your efforts but when you look back you will have more people than you know supporting you. Like I have said before. Educate yourself on the issues. Do your research. Attend the city council meetings & ask the council the hard questions. Hold them accountable!!! They are there for the people of Piedmont. Not just one or a few…the TOWN as a whole. I hope in a year we can all look back and see how far we have come as a town and how much farther we can go as long as we all work together.

    • JT says:

      Politicians at any level will always let you down in one way or another. Sooner or later they will do something that you will disagree with. The pending utility rate increases are a good example. My dad was the mayor of a small town I grew up in. He oversaw the town take back over the water system from a rural water district. There was also a slight increase in trash or sewer rates (can’t remember which). He got all kinds of phone calls from people who were irate over the increase in rates. The bond issue is another example. Some of the proposed items are simply absurd in my opinion. If some of the city council members approve it as it stands now, they are making a major mistake. Granted it will still need approval by voters. Bottom line your happiness should not be determined by who wins and loses elections.

  4. Sue James says:

    Ben you are so right. i just hope people don’t start recalls as happened right after the last election. We all know this was not right. It’s kinda hard to get a job done when you are constantly trying to defend yourself and your position. I honestly feel like the current council wanted Williams paid just not willing to give him his 1.9 PLUS interest of over 1 Million dolllars. They just couldn’t come to an agreement with Williams on what they felt like the city could afford. I hope these people can understand utility rates and probably property taxes are on the increase, but you can’t please everyone.

  5. donya says:

    Ms. James…Horace Cooley had ample time to get things done & continued to play games w/ the Williams Contract…his recall didn’t start until 2 1/2 yrs after he was elected into office. Mr. Wade Johnson’s recall wasn’t started until 6 months after he was elected & he too played games with Mr. Williams, admitting after 2 months in office he still hadn’t read the Williams Grocery Contract. These two men had a YEAR to get Mr. Williams paid but instead of getting that accomplished used every stall tactic known to man to avoid that very thing. I am in hopes that your last statement was made in continued ignorance & not in another feeble attempt to mislead the public once again. Mr. Crosby just had a workshop w/ current & newly elected councilman to go over the rate increase by OKC of 4% per yr since 2005 that they have charged us to purchase water from them in the summer months. The city has never passed those rate increases on to us. They discussed several different options to make the necessary utility rate increase as painless as possible. So, once again your attempt to blame Mr. Williams has been shot down. Mr. Crosby was also just quoted in this weeks Gazette as saying per himself, the budget & the city Auditor our city is NOT broke & Mr. Williams WILL NOT be paid $1.6 more than his contract so any attempt in the near future to blame the newly elected council should they reach an agreement with Mr. Williams will also be an invalid claim. I would encourage you to attend the workshops & council meetings so you may educate yourself on the current issues regarding our city. We need more public involvement so more people can begin relying on first hand information they gain straight from our city government rather than vicious rumors intended to mislead the public. Hope to see you @ the council meeting on Monday.

  6. Ron says:

    Sue; you & your friends talk like Mr. Crosby is the greatest thing since sliced bread & even he was just quoted in the Gazette as saying “Gravely Concerned Citizens” comments concerning Mr. Williams being paid $1.6 million in interest was a false statement. The letters sent out during & after the campaign weren’t comments made due to a simple misunderstanding, they were & are being made to intentionally mislead the public. A lie is a lie. No more, no less.

  7. Darlene says:

    Well said Donya! I’d like to see all people at our next historical council meeting Monday evening, April 23rd at 6:30 p.m.

  8. Lauren says:

    Darlene, that’s the same night as City Council Meeting.

  9. donya hau says:

    Darlene….I’d like to join the Historical Society. Can I just get with you to do that?

  10. Darlene says:

    I mentioned “historical council meeting” tonight because it will be historical – the men we supported are getting sworn in as councilmen. It is a “Positive move forward for Piedmont”. Tonight’s meeting has nothing to do with the Historical Society meeting on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m.

  11. Donya Hau says:

    JT…you are so right in your statement that we shouldn’t base our happiness on who wins or loses an election. We should let their success or lack of determine how satisfied or not we are with their job performance. Just because one wins an election doesn’t guarantee anything. Our last election is proof of that. Many candidates on both local & national levels promise the world while campaigning but fail to live up to their words once in office. While no one is going to be able to please everyone all of the time we should expect those elected to be men/women of character who are honest & forthright & listen to the voices of their constituants & do what is best for all. The council is not going to agree 100% of the time either but as long as they can communicate their ideas & agree to disagree respectfully & realize they all have the same final finish line in common…they should be able to come together in the end with a result that is what is best for all of Piedmont.

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