‘WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?’ That was the question Councilman Joe Schaef asked Mayor Rob Talley in last month’s meeting, during which the council ended its latest effort to impose higher fees on water and sewer service customers beyond the city limits.
Who do you work for, Schaef asked Talley, the city or yourself? It was a good question, stemming from Talley’s lead role in organizing the petition that led the council to rescind an ordinance imposing the higher service rates.
Talley responded by saying that, as a business owner and taxpayer, he has the right to disagree with the council, and to sign a petition protesting the rate increase which would affect his business.
We find ourselves in rare agreement with the mayor.
Yes, citizen Talley has every right to disagree with the council’s decision, and to sign a petition protesting its ordinance—just as every property owner affected by that ordinance does. Several did.
What Talley does not have the right to do, however, is to use his position as mayor to represent his own personal and business interests, and to do so in direct opposition to the best interests of the city and citizens he was elected to represent.
Thus the correct answer to Schaef’s question: In protesting that ordinance—and in actively and consistently opposing it at every council meeting in which it was discussed—Talley was working for himself. He was attempting to keep his own city service rates low and to save his business money. He had every right to do so—just not as our mayor. He was not representing the interest of city residents. He was representing his own—and to our considerable detriment.
Likewise, citizen Talley had every right two years ago to fight the ill-fated city annexation plan, which would have expanded the city’s borders and brought his business into the city limits. As Mayor, his opposition posed a conflict of interest.
The annexation plan he fought, and that his fellow council members agreed to pursue, would have accomplished many things beneficial to the city and to its taxpayers. Chief among those were the expansion of the city’s sales and property tax revenue base, and the planned and orderly growth of new residential and business sectors and city infrastructure.
But citizen Talley would have paid more taxes. Mayor Talley was representing his own interests—not ours.
Today, our city council is faced with some serious challenges. In last month’s council meeting, City Manager Joe Jarosek reported that—according to preliminary estimates—city property values have declined.
What does that mean for city residents? In order to maintain the same level of services, the council must choose whether to raise the tax rate at least three cents, which would generate the same amount of revenue last year’s tax rate did, or reduce expenditures by cutting services. So city residents either pay more, or get less.
Jarosek also warned the council that neither of those solutions would address the city’s need to begin replacing its aging and decaying water and sewer lines—a capital expense that has not been adequately funded by either city service fees or property taxes—or to make needed improvements to its streets and sidewalks.
What does that mean for city residents? Barring any alternative, city homeowners and business owners will likely see yet another property tax increase if the city decides to pursue those projects—both of which are goals of the city’s comprehensive plan, and essential to its strong future.
In a recent council discussion about funding those improvements, Mayor Talley smugly announced that the service lines running to his business are all brand new. Citizen Rob Talley has every right to be pleased—and certainly every reason. But Mayor Talley should be ashamed of himself for putting his own self-interests ahead of Canadian’s. And city taxpayers should be outraged.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mayor Rob Talley’s rebuttal to this column, which was originally published in the June 15, 2017 edition of The Record, as well as another letter from Enid attorney David Ezzell (the editor’s brother), on “Navigating ethical waters as a public official,” can be found in this week’s eEdition.