Ward 2 Candidates Talk Downtown, Spectra – Shawnee News-Star
Vicky O. Misa The Shawnee News-Star [email protected]
At a forum Monday at City Hall, Shawnee City Commission neighborhood candidates participated in a question-and-answer session with opponents as residents learned more about their stance on local issues.
Four positions are up for grabs on the Shawnee City Commission: The four-year positions in Wards 1, 5 and 6 conclude the first terms for Daniel Matthews and Mark Sehorn, and a second term for Ben Salter, respectively.
In addition, quarter 2 must be filled. Since former Shawnee City Commissioner Bob Weaver stepped down earlier, voters now have the opportunity to elect a replacement to complete the final two years of the term. Weaver left the seat in September. Shortly thereafter, Mayor Ed Bolt nominated Cami Engles to serve in that role until the next election.
Monday’s public Q&A for the candidates was sponsored by PAVE (Pottawatomie County Advocates for Voter Education). PAVE, the successor organization to the county’s League of Women Voters chapter, is a nonpartisan group dedicated to a more informed electorate.
All candidates for the Shawnee City Commission seats in the June 28 ballot were invited to participate; Shawnee City Ward 5 Commissioner Mark Sehorn was the only candidate absent.
The candidates are:
Ward 1 (New term ending 2026) – Daniel Matthews (incumbent) and Rob Morris. Ward 2 (To complete term until 2024) – Amy Camarata and Cami Engles (incumbent). Ward 5 (New term ending 2026) – Mark Sehorn (incumbent) and Joey Ward. Ward 6 (New term ending in 2026) – Edwina Butler-Wolfe, Lauren Richter and Alan Rogers.
The vote on June 28 will decide the seats in Wards 1, 2 and 5. A second round is possible for the seat in Ward 6 if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.
PAVE member Ronnye Perry Sharp, acting as the forum moderator, asked questions submitted by residents.
Ward 2 hopefuls Cami Engles, incumbent, and Amy Camarata answered questions collected from members of the public.
Here are their answers to some of the questions they were asked:
QUESTION: What would you do to regulate events to prevent the closure of Main Street for various events that block traffic and create loss of business revenue and sales taxes?
CAMARATA: I don’t have a business in downtown Main Street. And I can’t, if elected, tell you how to run your business. Downtown Main Street business owners are our experts. They need to tell us as a city what we can do to support them. That would be my recommendation. If they have a problem where they don’t want their parking lot closed, we have to fix it. They are the experts, let’s listen to them and see what solutions they have.
ENGLISH: I have a business on Main Street and I see things differently. In fact, I host events downtown because I see them attracting more customers to my business. I get it – I think the problem in the past has been the lack of communication so the company can properly prepare and educate their customer base. This weekend, the police department held an event in a small section near Broadway and Main, so some businesses were blocked from different sides. But I believe if communication was probably deeper with these business owners and they were able to educate their customers, they would be much happier.
QUESTION: Why was there no monitoring of the marquee project for the Blue Zones when we are a certified Blue Zones city?
ENGLISH: I wasn’t a commissioner at the time, but I came to advocate for this because it affected my front door – I live on Broadway. I was a supporter of this marquee project because I knew it was going to increase the value of my property, increase lighting – which reduced crime. I also wanted to see our sidewalks improved. There was a bike element that – I really think the reason this project didn’t pan out was, quite frankly, the marketing that came with it. It was just deployed probably not ideally. So residents were scared of a parking issue before a design was actually defined – which now, as a commissioner, I understand the process. There is a particular way to determine a design project and to obtain the opinion of the citizens in order to prevent some of these problems.
CAMARATA: I’m not a sitting commissioner, so I don’t know the details of why the marquee wasn’t completed. If I were a city commissioner, I would ask the questions to get that answer for you.
QUESTION: Shawnee Economic Development is currently pushing low income housing and low economic growth south of Independence. If elected, what would you do to encourage and enhance housing opportunities and job growth?
ENGLISH: I actively did this as a business owner. I have personally renovated several properties that have been condemned for decades. Our entire downtown – and, I believe, the other side of Harrison – is an opportunity zone. And for investors, it is extremely attractive. But we need to update our unified development code so that we have a consistent code plan to present to these developers so that we are easier to work with when someone wants to bring in a lot of money to do a big renovation project or set up a development. We can also update some of our codes to create smaller entry-level homes on smaller lots. Right now we have a lot size that prevents some people from being able to put homes at this entry-level price on the market.
CAMARATA: I may be reading more than what was originally written, but when I think of economic development – and even though that goes hand in hand with housing, I also think of jobs. But what this question is asking is to push low income houses, not starter houses, but low income houses to a certain area. And that concerns me a bit, particularly because when we come back to the conversation about crime, we also have a high density of crime in this area. So it says, “if you have a low income, we’re going to push you into this higher crime area.” I guess in general I just have real concerns with this question.
QUESTION: According to aspehss.gov, health care is one of the largest employers in the country and contributes to economic growth. Many citizens of Shawnee spend their time traveling to Oklahoma City for care not available in Shawnee. With that in mind, what would you do to encourage other healthcare options such as Integris, OU and Mercy to join our community to create economic growth and provide our citizens with healthcare options health ?
ENGLISH: This question is personal to me because my husband is a doctor, so I can talk about it pretty well, I think. Shawnee, quite frankly, is not an attractive city for many professionals. And so when we bid for new doctors, they often let us through because, quite frankly, they can. We need to make our city more attractive to the specialists we desperately need in the city. And we do that by improving the quality of life, by giving those professionals things that they would like to see in the city to settle there. We also want them to live in this city, not just work in the hospital and then live in Edmond or McLoud or wherever. We want all their tax money to stay here in the city. I feel like we need to make Shawnee more attractive to professionals so we can attract more of the specialists we desperately need, and that’s the real issue here.
CAMARATA: I like the last part, about giving health care options. Shawnee is 44 miles in circumference, and we have a major medical center, and the benefit of having additional options is that you get some diversity which improves the quality of care you provide. So diversity in offerings would be good. In addition, our insurance often tells us who you can go to for medical care. So by having another offer – be it Integris or whoever – we would have more choice. I think it would also bring people from our outlying regions. And then, to tie in with a previous question, if we’re thinking of doing something south of Independence, that might be a good place to do it. Maybe we should haul more here to downtown to help offset even some of the hauling north.
QUESTION: An hour ago, 15 Town of Shawnee employees were receiving paid overtime to perform tasks that Spectra management should be responsible for. Please provide details of how Spectra is fulfilling its contract and how it has discharged its responsibilities.
ENGLISH: It’s pretty obvious that we’re having significant issues with Spectra right now. Our municipal employees have been called in to fill positions that Spectra simply did not have enough workers for earlier (Monday). I imagine our city manager is going to have a long, hard conversation with the manager of Spectra about these staffing issues and the responsibilities they’re going to have – for which they’re being paid through a contract.
CAMARATA: I am not currently part of this commission, so I do not know the details of the contract. But (regarding) my experience with contracts, here’s my answer: it’s a two-way street – you get paid for a service, the service isn’t provided, you don’t get paid, or you get paid a part of that. And that would involve city staff and city management sitting down with Spectra and deciding which services should be paid for and which not. We still have a 16 month contract, so we have to figure out how they are going to be paid for the next 16 months.
The event was recorded and can be viewed on the town’s website at shawneeok.org.
Also check out past/future editions of The Shawnee News-Star or visit news-star. com, for more candidate answers during the Q&A session.