NORMAN — City of Norman council and mayoral candidates addressed several key issues Monday night at City Hall during the first public safety forum ever held.
While it was unanimous that everyone was in favor of continuing the Public Safety Sales Tax, there was some debate about whether it should be held at a half-cent sales tax, and whether or not it should be temporary or permanent.
Council member candidates Roger Gallagher, Lynne Miller, Dave Spaulding, Stephen Holman, Linda Lockett and mayoral candidate Cindy Rosenthal were all in favor of keeping the sales tax at half of a cent.
“I support the continuation,” Lockett, incumbent for Ward 7 said. “I’d hate to say forever.”
Lockett said continued support is needed for the firefighters and police to do their job with adequate equipment.
“Talk is cheap, it takes money to ride the bus,” Spaulding, incumbent for Ward 5 said.
Spaulding said he didn’t believe the tax needed to be permanent but it should be extended for a fixed term for equipment needs. During the forum he said from what he understands, the fire department doesn’t even have a fire tanker right now.
“From early on, I said I was committed to early renewal (of the tax),” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal said she would like to hear more debate about making the tax permanent and believes it should be renewed at half of a cent and no less than that.
Rosenthal’s running mates for the mayoral seat, Thomas Sherman and David Kempf, both said they support the tax, but believed it should be cut to a quarter cent tax.
Sherman said he believed cutting it to a quarter cent tax would give some tax payers relief. Kempf’s reasons were that he believed a quarter cent tax would be adequate enough to fund police and fire needs.
Greg Heiple, candidate for Ward 1, also was in favor of cutting the tax to a quarter cent or one-third cent tax but, he said it should become a permanent tax.
“We need to give firefighters and police a sense of where the money is coming from,” he said.
Another question asked was whether or not they would be in favor of using any surplus money garnered from the PSST in the general fund. No candidates were in favor of “flip-flopping” any of the funds as Spaulding put it.
Heiple may have said it best when he said “keep the money in the pot,” expressing everyone’s view on the issue.
Rosenthal and Lockett both said that they didn’t believe there would be any excess money to put in the general funds because of all the unmet needs the police and fire department have.
“I think the question would be better for future candidates,” Sherman said. “From what I understand, we have a lot of catch-up to do.”
Improving community safety:
Candidates were also asked a two-part question regarding improving community safety. One part was if they thought there was an aspect of public safety that has been poorly handled. Another part was what they think police and fire could do to make the community safer.
Several candidates agreed that since Police Chief Keith Humphrey became chief, community policing efforts have made a very positive impact on keeping the community safer.
Other candidates made recommendations of helping the police and fire with communication issues. A specific problem is the lack of communication with other first responders.
Another issue Holman brought up was having enough staff to keep up with the population growth. Rosenthal also suggested police need better facilities as they face space needs.
Kempf took a different turn and said that not all police officers are well informed of laws.
Distrust between labor and management:
Questions about a feeling of distrust between labor and management were also raised during the forum. There was also discussion about a representative of council sitting in on fire and police meetings and representatives from fire and police unions briefing council members in executive sessions.
Most candidates felt the need to repair the trust with the police and fire unions and look at getting those relationships repaired. Representatives from each entity were encouraged by several candidates and some said cutting the middle man out would help exponentially.
By repairing those relationships, Sherman said that arbitration would get better.
However, Kempf again took a different turn and said he believed there should be some distrust between labor and management because “you can’t have confidence in other people to run your life,” he said.
Individually ensuring public safety:
The last question of the night posed by the moderator was what each candidate would do as an individual council member to ensure that fire and police would have the equipment they needed to ensure public safety in the community.
Many candidates pointed back to opening lines of communication and establishing better relationships with the first responders. Some said they would sit down with them and ask what the most important things on their equipment “wish list” would be to ensure that they were getting the equipment they needed to adequately provide the public safety.
The candidate forum was sponsored by the Norman Fire Fighters International Association of Fire Fighters Lodge 2067 and the Norman Fraternal Order of Police Bratcher-Minor Memorial Lodge No. 122.