El Reno Mayor Matt White will remain on the Nov. 12 ballot after the Canadian County Election Board denied a protest from a fellow candidate who claimed White has committed “unfair campaign practices.”
Kevan B. Copelin contested White’s candidacy, prompting a hearing that was held Thursday afternoon.
Copelin, 62, said White is often “tagged” on social media by entities such as the public school district for attending events.
He also complained television commercials promoting El Reno and with White speaking are unfair to other candidates in the race.
White, 47, is seeking a fifth term as El Reno mayor.
Besides Copelin, Steve Jensen, 52, and Rita Thompson, 62, are also seeking the mayor position.
Copelin filed the protest and posted $250 in the effort to have White disqualified, election board records show.
At the hearing on Thursday, Copelin called into question several of White’s “campaign practices” involving social media and television appearances.
“I think it’s an unfair field,” Copelin said. “I base that on the ability the incumbent has to campaign himself as mayor during this campaign through social media exposure.”
Though the campaigning hasn't technically started, Copelin said White is tagged in many Facebook posts from outside entities such as El Reno Public Schools.
He said these social media posts often mention White being present at functions and events. He also said many of these event posts bring in the words, “Matt White, Mayor.”
“If the school doesn't outright endorse him, they shouldn’t tag him in their posts,” Copelin said.
Copelin said television advertisements in which White says, “El Reno, close to you, but far from ordinary” are also unfair.
“It’s unfair to compete against a candidate with that ability, which is in some sense provided funding by some other entity that is not speaking up or endorsing him.”
Copelin said White should withdraw his name from the ballot.
White said that would not happen.
“We don’t feel that it’s unfair,” he said. “We haven't started the campaign or accepted money for it. We think these are silly charges that we don’t understand. They don’t have anything to do with my candidacy or my ability to run.”
White said that he didn’t understand the objections to his name being mentioned at certain events and in social media posts.
“I am the mayor of El Reno. I have that title through good, through bad, through whatever situation. I can’t shed that until I’m unseated.”
Copelin said it should have been the city manager rather than White speaking to media after the deadly tornado of May 25.
David Halley, White’s attorney, responded to that complaint.
“Is it unfair in campaign practice if we were to have another tornado, and White’s being interviewed by TV cameras? I got the impression that Copelin would like for Matt not to say he's the mayor of El Reno.”
Copelin chided White for calling his protest silly.
“I am glad that Mayor White saw that the ‘silliness’ of this petition merited him to bring his attorney. It's admirable of him to take it serious enough to do that, no matter how much he laughs about it.
“This is a serious matter to me. I’m not contesting the fact that the incumbent is the mayor. That is not the issue. It’s the abilities that there are with organizations such as the school system that are constantly tagging the mayor. I’m trying to level the playing field not just for me, but for all the candidates.”
Copelin returned to arguing about television exposure.
“If the city of El Reno is going to pay for the commercials that tag Matt White as mayor, he should pay for those commercials as part of his campaign during this election or repay the city for all of those commercials.”
Members of the election board weighed in.
“It is my opinion that we have no reason to deny Mayor White’s petition for mayor,” said election board secretary Wanda Armold. “We should retain his name on the ballot.”
Assistant District Attorney Tommy Humphries said petitioning the election board was not a proper avenue for Copelin to offer his objections.
Humphries said the normal issues preventing a candidate from the ballot include things like age or residency.
Armold motioned to dismiss the claims. The three-member board unanimously denied Copelin’s petition.