By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on Monday at city hall allowed city council candidates to showcase their ideas and viewpoints.
While all of the candidates support the Public Safety Sales tax and agree that quality and quantity of water is one of the most pressing issues facing Norman now and in the future, differences are beginning to emerge.
“Smart growth is planned growth,” said Ward 6 Council member Jim Griffith, an incumbent who is defending his seat against challenger Jerry Lang.
Griffith used his knowledge of the issues moving forward to deflect the challenge to his seat. Lang put forth a low budget, let people pay their own way approach.
“Everybody’s quality of life is different,” Lang said of big projects like a sports complex or aquatic center.
Areas where Griffith and Lang appear to differ most includes how to manage growth and economic development. Griffith supports connectivity between downtown and Campus Corner and sees the Center City Vision project as a means to that end.
Griffith does not oppose high density but believes location and quality are crucial, as is providing a variety of housing models to keep those who graduate from the university but who aren’t ready for houses and yards.
Lang opposed high density.
“I think it’s changing the rules in the middle of the game,” he said.
Lang also opposes “picking winners and losers by giving tax rebates.”
He criticized spending money on amenities like fountains at Legacy Park and bike lanes around town.
“Let’s take care of what we have right now,” Lang said.
The contest in Ward 4 continues to heat up. Rhett Michael Jones and William Hickman are challenging incumbent Greg Jungman for that seat.
Jones said he lives downtown in the arts district, where there is mixed-use housing with second-floor residential. The low vacancy rate shows those apartments are popular, he said.
He wants the Center City Vision project to include downtown housing options as a consideration.
“I would like to be able to take a train to the Thunder game,” Jones said.
Jungman has been an outspoken opponent of high-density housing projects on Campus Corner. His vision for central Norman is conservative.
“In a word, ‘preservation,’” Jungman said. “Preservation is what we need to do in Campus Corner, and that’s enough.”
He wants more public space where people can interact and socialize.
Jungman hammered his theme of quality of life draws business.
“The principle is very clear; we invest in ourselves for the quality of our community, and that’s how we prosper,” Jungman said.
He said incentives don’t bring business to town, customers do.
Hickman was on the offensive most of the evening and said Jungman has voted to approve apartments that will affect Ward 4.
“I do not support high-density apartments in the core and in downtown and in (the) campus area,” Hickman said, clarifying his position.
As a runner, Hickman said he notices what deterioration can do to a neighborhood. He also supports quality-of-life projects.
“I will be an advocate for the Pisces project,” Hickman said. “Talk is one thing, but getting things done is another.”
Themes also emerged in the Ward 2 race. With Council member Tom Kovach stepping down, the open seat drew four candidates: Gary Caissie, Aleisha Karjala, Matthew Leal and Clint Williams.
“I think we’re going to have to pay more for our water,” Karjala said.
She said it’s not a message people want to hear, but it’s a fact. Karjala said higher water rates are related to conservation, and Norman hasn’t raised its rates since 2006.
Karjala wants to keep property taxes low and look at balancing paying for projects with property tax and sales tax.
“A quality of life, MAPS-type project would be good if it had a little something for everyone,” Karjala said of quality-of-life projects.
Caissie wants to negotiate with Indian tribes for water rights. He also hopes the Lindsey widening proceeds smoothly.
Williams hammered home the message of green growth for conservation of water and for growth and development. For the Center City Vision, he said collaboration will be key and all stakeholders need to be heard.
Williams said his experience managing public money in his job will make him qualified for working with the city’s budget.
For quality of life and smart growth, Leal wants to get on board with rail.
“Something I would love to see — some type of light rail from Norman to Oklahoma City all the way to Tulsa,” Leal said.
He thinks the three-person unrelated law should be revisited but is conservative in his approach to high density.
“There are some neighborhoods where high density will not work,” Leal said.
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.