City council candidates
Transcript Staff Writer
Two former mayors with 11 municipal elections between them had lots of advice for potential council candidates at a forum Tuesday, sponsored by the Norman Chamber of Commerce "Get Out the Vote" committee at the Norman Public Library.
"The goal tonight is to provide a tutorial, a primer," said Michael Bergey, president-elect of the Norman Chamber of Commerce. He said although the Chamber can't endorse candidates, they believe encouraging business people to run for council is good for the community.
Council seats in even-numbered wards are up for election -- wards 2, 4, 6 and 8. The filing period opens Monday and goes through Wednesday at the Cleveland County Election Board, 122 S. Peters Ave.
About a dozen people attended the forum, including Mayor Cindy Rosenthal, Ward 2 councilmember Richard Stawicki and Ward 4 councilmember Carol Price Dillingham.
Dillingham, who was appointed to fill the Ward 4 seat vacated by Rosenthal, said she will run for her seat. Stawicki, the longest serving councilmember and vice mayor, said he won't be running.
"I think eight years is enough," Stawicki said.
Ward 6 councilmember David Hopper previously had announced he won't run for re-election. Ward 8 councilmember Dan Quinn has not announced his plans officially.
Former mayors Bob Thompson and Bill Nations joked that they're far enough removed from the council to provide some good insight to potential candidates.
Thompson -- not the same as Ward 1 councilmember "Midway Bob" Thompson -- outlined duties and what kind of time commitment is required for councilmembers. Thompson served four terms on council from 1984 to 1992 and was mayor from 1998 to 2001.
"The role of the city council is to set policy for the city manager," he said. "The most important thing the city council does is approve the City's budget."
Thompson said it's important to realize the city manager is responsible for the department heads and other employees.
"The department heads don't work for council. The employees of the City don't work for council," he said.
Thompson said he knows that a lot of times one issue sparks the desire to run for council.
"But you can't be a one issue councilperson," he said.
Thompson said it's not unusual to have to cast a vote on controversial issues that aren't all black and white.
"A lot of times what your constituency wants and what's best for the community as a whole are at odds," Nations said.
And Thompson said there would be votes that aren't perfect.
"You're going to vote the best way you know how," he said.
And then there are conflicts between different factions and philosophies.
"People in different wards don't know the problems of other wards," Thompson said, noting that some west Norman residents may never drive east of Berry Road if there isn't a football game. "You need to bring the needs of your ward forward to try to solve problems."
They said a time commitment is a minimum of about 20 hours per week.
"It's a lot of work, but it's very rewarding," Dillingham said.
Nations served three terms on council from 1986 to 1992 and two terms as mayor from 1992 to 1998. He has served as the state representative from House District 44 since 1998.
He had lots of campaign advice for potential candidates.
"Dollars, direct mail and doors," he said. "Doors in a city council race are the most important. ... Knocking on doors allows two things to happen. You get to engage in democracy face to face. More importantly, the person who answers the door gets to engage in democracy."
Nations sends cards out that he's going to be in the neighborhood, then knocks doors there. If residents aren't home, he sends a card out afterward, saying he is sorry that he missed them.
"You have to ask yourself, how much time do you have to knock doors," he said.
He called having to raise money "distasteful."
"Part of running is asking your friends for money," Nations said. "Fortunately, in a council race, it doesn't take enormous amounts of money."
He suggested checking campaign contributions and expenditures from previous council races to see about how much is needed.
Nations recommended yard signs and direct mail, although he had a warning about yard signs.
"There are a lot of people who will let you put signs in their yards that just don't vote," said Nations, noting that there have been elections where there are more yards signs out than the total vote in the election. "Don't get tricked by them. The ones that knock the doors win. The ones that don't knock the doors lose."
He said debates, while they do inform voters on the issues, don't garner many votes.
"It won't win the election, it won't even move it," he said. "People vote for you because they trust you."