Christine Pappas, Contributing Writer
Which of the following issues is Ada City Council not involved in: Placement of a new firehouse? Maintaining clean and affordable water? Attracting new businesses to town in order to create jobs? Selecting a waste management company? In fact, Ada City Council has a hand in all of these issues. Policy set by city council affects every one of us every single day. In fact, local politics may shape our lives more directly than policy made at the state or federal level. Being a member of the city council – including the mayor – is complicated, difficult, beset by conflict, and, perhaps most surprising of all, completely unpaid.
Ada City Council represents the “council-manager” form of government described in Oklahoma Statutes and it is one of several ways a city government can operate. Basically, it is a “weak mayor” or “city manager” style where city council makes policy decisions and the city manager carries them out. One of the most important things a city council can do is select a city manager. If you compare this form of government to the federal level, city council is like Congress and the city manager is like the president or head of the executive branch. City councilors serve for a term of two years, and the city manager serves at the pleasure of the council. The current city manager is Cody Holcomb who formerly served as the city engineer.
The mayor is actually a member of the council and is selected by the council and not the public. According to Oklahoma Statue, he or she is the ceremonial head of the city government and the mayor lacks special executive powers. Basically the role consists of running city council meetings and being more visible to the public. The current mayor is Greg McCortney, a local business owner.
City councilors are selected based on wards. As according to state law, wards are drawn so that the population of each ward is about the same. A councilor must live in the ward from which he or she is elected. There is also one “at-large” councilor who represents the entire city and who may live in any ward. All five councilors are elected “at-large” by all voters in the city. Many cities in Oklahoma utilize “ward based voting” so that only residents of a certain ward could elect the councilor for that ward, but Ada does not. On one hand, at-large voting is good because it focuses councilors on issues that affect the whole city. On the other hand, councilors lack an incentive to pay attention to the voters in their own ward. The other four members of city council are Guy Sewell, Bryan Morris, Darrell Nemecek, and Shane Sweeney. If you aren’t sure who your representative is, check the ward map at www.adaok.com.
Despite the importance of Ada City Council, voters turn out in lower numbers for these elections than in any other. Average turnout in a city council election may range from 7 percent-12 percent of registered voters. Only about 600 voters out of the 8,600 registered voters in the city select the architects of city policy. This low turnout is surprising because city policy has the most bearing on our daily lives, including how much sales tax we pay, when we put out our trash cans for collection, or whether the unkempt properties near our houses are cleaned up through the abatement process.
Ada City Council meets on the first and third Mondays of the month at 5:45 p.m. Under public meeting laws, times and agenda items of these meetings must be made public. City council meets in the Dr. Ray L. Stout City Council Chamber at City Hall, 231 S. Townsend Street. Meetings are also broadcast on the public access channel. Councilors welcome any input from the public at any time and welcome citizen input at their meetings. In fact, the ability to do their jobs properly and fully represent the people depends upon citizen communication. To have an item placed on the agenda, an Agenda Item Request Form must be submitted. The city manager also welcomes feedback and comments. The best way to contact the city is to call 436-8135 and speak with Lisa Bratcher. Since 2011she has been Ada’s customer service specialist and can connect you with the correct department or person. There is also more information at www.adaok.com.
(Christine Pappas, J.D., Ph. D., is Professor of Political Science at East Central University and an Oklahoma Bar Association Attorney)