Judging by the attendance at Thursday night’s candidate forum, interest in this year’s Tahlequah municipal elections may be growing – and that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.
In the wake of the sales tax election last month, many city residents complained they felt left out of the loop – despite the concerted efforts of city leaders, Northeastern State University administrators, the election board and other concerned citizens to get the word out. But voter apathy was more likely at the root of the relatively low turnout Jan. 8, and it’s reasonable to hope those who failed to cast ballots will consider it a lesson learned.
Mayor Jason Nichols estimates that about 250 folks showed up Jan. 31 to hear what nine of the 10 candidates for city office had to say. A number of folks also checked out the Thursday edition of the Press, which featured a Q&A compiled by the Chamber of Commerce, and in which all 10 office-seekers participated. Though some of the candidates undoubtedly got help formulating their responses, they still offered a valuable snapshot of priorities, abilities and qualifications.
Determining the best candidate is never a simple task, especially when friendships, family ties and the ever-present “good ol’ boy” network come into play. But it’s worth keeping in mind that no one has to know how you voted – and that the best choice will always be the one that best benefits the city itself.
Research shouldn’t stop with the forum and published Q&A. If the candidate is an incumbent, what sort of record does he have? Those who read the paper, talk to other engaged citizens, and make personal observations will have a good idea. And even candidates who aren’t incumbents also have histories in their current or past occupations. Are they respected by their co-workers? Have they played roles in the city’s progress, or have they just now decided they want to get involved?
It’s always important to play a part in electing officials, but last month’s passage of the sales tax measure adds a new element in the city arena. This leadership team will be responsible for the next stage in Tahlequah’s development – the most crucial phase in many years. The success of the ambitious projects now on the drawing board will depend on the skills of those at the helm, and the willingness of the rest of us to help them along.
Mark your calendars now for the Feb. 12 election, and start doing the legwork. Take the initiative to meet the candidates and find out for yourself whether they have the savvy, the energy and the proper motivation to handle this monumental task. City elections are nonpartisan, so it doesn’t matter whether a candidate is a Republican or a Democrat.
Many voters don’t know what ward they’re in, or whether they even live within the city limits. A call to the election board – (918) 456-2261 – will answer that question. Remind your friends and neighbors of their responsibility to vote, and if you don’t have a ride to the polls, call a neighbor, or City Hall, for help.
It’s a little late for a New Year’s resolution, but it’s not too late to commit to a new, or renewed, involvement in Tahlequah’s future. It’s your future, too – and that of your kids and grandkids.