The City of Lawton has made its case, largely in the form of Mayor Stan Booker, defacto spokesperson for the CIP vote Feb. 11. The mayor has made the case that, with declining population, falling housing values and deferred infrastructure needs, the city needs to take some aggressive action to reverse the negative trends that affect the economy and the health and well-being of residents.
In our mind, one additional component needs to be added before voters make their way to the polls: Priorities.
There’s a lot to study in this proposal, and The Constitution’s Kim McConnell has committed a great deal of effort to boil down each project to a story residents can digest before voting. And since this is an “all or nothing” ballot measure, folks won’t be able to say “I like this one, but I don’t like that one.”
Still, some of the components are “warm and fuzzy” like the youth sports complex and beautification, while others are more basic, like streets and water. Think of it as a combination of “wants” and “needs”. And sometimes, those wants and needs are lumped together in one generic project title.
Each of us is faced with a bevy of wants and needs in our everyday lives. At the end of the day, we might have $50 left after all bills are paid. When we get paid in a couple more weeks, we may have another $50. So, when that first $50 comes in, do we spend it going out to eat because it’ll make us feel good, or wait because we’re going to need a new battery for the car and that’s going to cost $100? There’s no wrong answer. Sometimes, you need that night out.
However, before going to the polls, we’d like to see city officials prioritize how they’re going to rank these many projects. Last weekend, Mayor Booker outlined his plans for transparency of the CIP projects and that’s also an important component. Along those lines, we’d like to see the citizens committee have more “teeth,” a group that does more than receive information, but actually studies the information and recommends go/no-go to the council.
We think the last two CIPs have demonstrated some progress, but priorities seem to shift too often and not as much has been brought to completion as we would have hoped when we voted first in 2015. Focus on the newly revised list of projects should be making sure progress is consistent and demonstrable.
It’s easy to spend the money on the “fun, sexy” projects, but we hope a premium is placed on CIP needs that will affect the most people in a positive fashion. And if a particular need hasn’t been fully planned, or vetted by proponents, it’s our sincere hope that it’s not at the top of the list, just because it’ll make folks feel good, while kicking the more pressing, and less-attractive, projects to the end of the term. Even if the priorities are in thirds or quartiles, i.e., “We think these are the most important ...”, it will give voters a sense of, once that money comes in, what will get the first look.
To date, city officials have done a commendable job explaining their rationale, and the mayor’s pledge of transparency and a more active role of the CIP committee is another crucial step.
But, before we cast our votes, we’d like to see some outline of priorities. And, just so we’re transparent as well, we think, right near the top of the list, is streets (especially the main arterials in the city) and the water treatment plant. (The CIP contains $17 million for a treatment plant to be built to treat water which will be pulled from water wells.) And while we don’t necessarily oppose any of the projects, we feel they haven’t been fully developed to move them to the top of the list. We can still support them, but not as a critical “need.”
A focus on transparency, a commitment to demonstrate progress and some manner of prioritization are, in our minds, as important as the projects themselves.