June 2015 Editorial Winner

Flip a coin?

Wayne Trotter, The Countywide & Sun

It ought to be apparent to most people bynow that the impasse at Shawnee City Hall over selecting a new commissioner to represent Ward 1 is unlikely to be settled by the people who currently sit on that city’s governing body.
This issue has come up for a vote seven times over three meetings and despite a strong field of applicants, not once has the magic goal of four votes been reached. Alas, most of the attempts have ended in a 3-3 tie.
To make things a little worse, both sides are now resorting to hyperbole ... no, make that balderdash. On the one hand, there is a consistent suggestion that an appointment is somehow preferable to an election, mostly because an election would cost money, perhaps as much as $12,000. That’s probably true but so what?
Elections, not appointments, are the basis of democratic government. Furthermore, many past appointments in Shawnee have been aimed more at controlling the commission than serving the public. That’s pretty much the case in the dispute, wouldn’t you say?
And unless some other special election is called or this deadlock is broken, it will be about a year before the citizens of Shawnee go to the polls again. Under existing law, the Ward 1 seat will automatically be added to that ballot for a two-year term whether or not it has been filled by appointment. If it has not been filled by then — and that certainly is possible — and if the real cost is 12 thousand bucks, that would mean the sitting six members would have saved about $33 a day by denying direct representation to one-sixth of the city. A false economy? You bet!
Speaking of denying representation, let’s examine another bit of hyperbole that emerged for the first time Monday night. This is the notion that the other six members can take care of the needs of Ward 1. Okay. They’re all good people and we know they would try, but it’s not the same thing. The city is broken into wards to insure that somebody on the commission lives in each part of town, knows the people in that part of town and is aware of and protects their needs. While every member of the commission has a duty to consider the welfare of the city as a whole, with the exception of the mayor each member also has a special responsibility to represent the area he or she was elected to serve.
Let’s face the truth. This dispute is deeper than most because it is a hangover from the city’s attempt to impose its sales tax on purchases made on Indian trust lands. One side sees that as an affront to the sovereignty granted the four Native American tribes whose territories cover parts of Shawnee. The other regards it as an unfair and probably illegal denial of much-needed revenue the city could certainly use. Unspoken or not, those are hardened positions and the probability is they will not change as long as these six individuals, good people all, remain on the commission.
We are reluctant to mention this because we strongly believe all government should be open and above board but ...
In 35 states, including Oklahoma, if a general election ends in a tie, the outcome is decided by lot, generally either flipping a coin or drawing one of the two names from a container … maybe not a real hat but a container nevertheless.
It would be a fantasy to think that for the sake of full representation something like that might happen behind the scenes between say a couple of the ladies and gentlemen of good faith who are now sitting on the Shawnee City Commission, wouldn’t it?
Sure it would!

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