Four hopefuls answer various questions during events at Redlands, El Reno Now
Two forums featuring the candidates for El Reno mayor drew good crowds last week.
“This is a first,” said Juanita Krittenbrink, who served as moderator for the Tuesday night forum sponsored by the El Reno Chamber of Commerce.
Krittenbrink was referring to the turnout that filled a lecture hall inside Redlands Community College. She has served as moderator for several years for various candidate forums. She said this was the first time she’s seen a capacity crowd for a mayor’s race.
The field is made up of Mayor Matt White, 47, Steve Jensen, 52, Rita Thompson, 62, and Kevan Copelin, 62.
White, a developer and businessman, is seeking his fifth term as El Reno mayor.
Jensen is part of a family agriculture operation and served for 20 years on the El Reno School Board, while Thompson and Copelin said they are, for the most part, retired.
The second forum was held Thursday morning and was hosted by El Reno Now, a community information event that meets monthly and was created by White and El Reno School Superintendent Craig McVay. It also drew a large crowd inside the Public Safety Center on Faith Avenue just off SW 27th St. El Reno charities are supported at each event, with the Thursday forum netting more than $625 for El Reno Blessing Baskets.
The two forums differed in format, with the Chamber taking written questions from the audience, while the El Reno Now event featured questions sent to the candidates beforehand.
“The candidates are not as important as you all are,” said Copelin at the Chamber event.
“The legacy of El Reno is what I’m here for. Someday, my children at the earliest or my grandchildren at the latest will come up to me and say, ‘We are coming to Oklahoma, and we’ve chosen to live in El Reno.’”
On Thursday, Copelin said El Reno has made great progress since he returned from living in Texas eight years ago. But he said the town needs to be unified and must set its goals higher. Copelin congratulated White on being named Oklahoma Mayor of the Year by the Oklahoma Municipal League.
Then he drew laughs with a follow-up question, “Why did it take 12 years.”
Jensen agreed, saying White has worked hard to move El Reno forward, but he said there are those in town who do not feel like they have a voice.
He said El Reno’s health-care situation is not where it should be, lamenting that El Reno no longer has a full-service hospital.
Jensen said those who “like the status quo” should not vote for him. He then said those who believe “El Reno has not hit its full potential” should support his candidacy.
“I’m running, not for title or prestige, but to give back and serve the community,” said Jensen.
White said the progress made in the past several years should serve as proof El Reno is moving in the right direction.
“We are proud to live and grow in this community,” White said. “I want to remind you of what we’ve done over the past 10 years as a community. We’ve grown together, made changes, and we’re going in the right direction.”
White pointed to “record housing permits, new businesses and record sales tax” as well as partnerships he’s helped develop as proof of that positive direction.
White said there are some in town who want the mayor to be a “figurehead.”
“That’s not me. That's not who I am,” he said. White said he “fights for El Reno” and that won't change if he is re-elected.
He said it’s important for elected leaders to keep an eye on management proposals. He cited a proposed city budget increase of “33 percent” made last spring. White argued the budget would hurt the city, saying he feared a slowdown was coming in the oil and gas industry. Council agreed and later adopted a flat budget.
Thompson said El Reno needs to work to bring more young people into the process.
“I have a heart for the young people because they often have a tough road,” she said.
Thompson said if elected, she would be mayor for all of El Reno.
Thompson is a longtime El Reno resident. She is the founder of God is Good Inc., a nonprofit that assists in the lives and the plight of young people.
Copelin said if elected he would work to change El Reno election laws to bring term limits to the mayor’s position.
Jensen said “the best days of El Reno are ahead of us” and said if elected he would be accessible to the citizens.
Thompson said she would “roll up her sleeves and get some work done.”
White said his record speaks for itself and he has always been available to the public.