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County Commissioner meeting gets heated

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By Daniel Lapham,

Canadian County budget talks turned heated Monday afternoon when District 2 Commissioner David Anderson questioned how much is being spent to operate the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Randall Edwards took exception to the argument made by Anderson.

The verbal scuffle between the sheriff and the commissioner came after an across-the-board 3 percent pay hike for all county employees was approved.

Commissioners met with department heads to discuss adjustments to the 2015 fiscal year budget. The adjustments also resulted in a $1,200 raise for the fair board secretary as well as a payment to the Central Oklahoma Water Resources Authority, known as COWRA.

County Clerk Shelley Dickerson presented the adjustments, that moved the budget from the red into the black.

“If you remember last month we were down $599,000 in our general fund and now we are up $214,482,” Dickerson said. “I want to show you what changed to make the difference. As you know, there are two ways to adjust a budget, revenue and expenditures. There was a $149,000 gain in revenue and the rest was achieved through adjustments in expenditures.”

Dickerson presented the pay-hike proposal to the commissioners. She said the hike would be for the 334 county employees, and would cost $256,383. In addition to the raise, Dickerson said a $24,000 fee paid to COWRA was included.

Dickerson said the adjustments would leave the general budget in the red by just over $67,000.

Discussion then focused on how to trim the $67,000 so the budget could move back into the black. That’s when talks turned heated.

Anderson presented numbers that he said show the county is spending too much to operate its sheriff’s office.

“I have been doing a lot of research lately into county governments across Oklahoma,” Anderson said. “I have been studying this abstract of county data published by Oklahoma State University.”

The abstract details statistics related to county government spending, size and demographics. Anderson cited out four counties he said are “statistically” similar to Canadian County.

“I prepared these pie charts showing the percentage of general fund dollars that go to support the sheriff’s departments in Comanche, Rogers, Payne and Creek counties,” Anderson said. “To be fair, the other counties’ sheriff’s departments receive only a portion of their funding from the general fund, the rest comes from sales tax.”

Canadian County’s sales tax, collected at one-third of a cent, is dedicated to the Gary Miller Children’s Justice Center. Anderson said other counties have a similar sales tax percentage, but those choose to use it for the operation of the sheriff’s office.

As Anderson began to lay out his statistics, Edwards began to become noticeably agitated.

“We are one of the fastest growing counties in the country and we have two of the safest cities in the state,” Edwards said. “We do what we need to, to protect the citizens of Canadian County and keep a higher quality of life here in our county. We are responsible for keeping that trash out of our county.”

After a pause, Anderson continued.

“We in Canadian County dedicate more to the sheriff’s department than any of the other counties,” he said. “We spend 40 percent of our general fund to fund the sheriff’s department. We cannot continue to dedicate so much of the general fund without sacrifice.”

Anderson said Edwards is asking for $144,000 to cover out-of-county inmate costs that are not reimbursed by the state because they are in and out of county custody within 72 hours. In addition, Edwards requested an additional $110,000 to cover increased fuel costs, Anderson said.

“We cannot afford to pay both,” Anderson said. “I want you to choose one. I would like to see you present us with a budget with $100,000 less coming out of our general fund.”

Edwards was not impressed.

“Just go ahead and take it,” Edwards said, his voice raising with emotion.

The sheriff continued to rebut Anderson, saying the funds they receive from the county are still not enough to cover expenses.

“We use our cash funds to cover our operational expenses. I am pretty sure this is even illegal but you leave us with no choice,” Edwards said.

District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart asked the sheriff for clarification on what he meant.

“So what you are saying is you spend more than you get from us?” Stewart asked. “What is the compromise?”

County Assessor Matt Wehmuller agreed to absorb some of the cuts by reducing his budget to an increase of 4 percent with the understanding the sheriff’s office would also lower its increase to 4 percent.

Stewart made a motion to decrease both the sheriff’s request to a 4 percent increase in addition to the $144,000 requested to fund out- of-county prisoner costs.

The motion was approved in a 3-0 vote.

County Fairgrounds to expand

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By Daniel Lapham,

The Canadian County Free Fair just celebrated its 60th year and members of the board who oversee the event were busy over the four-day fair asking people about the next 60 years.

Members of the fair board were on hand during the fair, passing out and collecting surveys asking county residents their thoughts on a possible new fairgrounds. Fair board vice chair Dan Wedman said more than 100 surveys were turned in during the fair.

“Right now we are looking at doing some more survey work across the county to get more information on public interest,” Wedman said. “We have an independent firm that has offered to donate services to tabulate the survey results so we can have all of the information together to present to the public.”

The current fairgrounds was built in the 1950s, on North Country Club in El Reno. With about seven acres, the site is fairly well landlocked. Wedman said for now the main goal is to get an idea of what Canadian County residents might want in the way of a new fairgrounds.

“Once we get their input, then the fair board can react with what the public wants. We do know the size of the county has grown exponentially,” Wedman said. “If we want to stick our heads in the sand we can, but if we want to keep up with the growth of the county, we need to look at our potential growth.”

The survey asked questions like “Do you think renovated or new facilities would better serve existing and attract new events?” and “Do you think relocation of the fairgrounds to a larger, more accessible site should be considered?”

Wedman said right now 75 to 80 percent of the survey-takers were in favor of better, newer accommodations and a location that is more accessible.

“If we are going to build for the future, we need to build in an area that will allow for future growth,” he said. “We are asking questions about what areas do you use and how many times do you attend a year? We, as a fair board, are excited about where we are. All three of our county commissioners are on board and are pushing forward to find out the information we need to better serve the Canadian County community.”

The idea for a new fairgrounds has been discussed for several years. In 2007, members of the fair board talked about possibly locating a new fairgrounds on county-owned land, just east of the Gary Miller Children’s Justice Center on state Highway 66. Fair board members have said other locations are being considered as well.

Hader to be Republican candidate

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Marc Hader will be the Republican candidate in the November general election for District 1 Canadian County commissioner.

Hader, 50, of Surrey Hills defeated El Reno Republican Wes Higgins in the Tuesday runoff election, capturing a little more than 59 percent of the vote, while Higgins received just over 40 percent. In actual numbers, Hader had 1,341 unofficial votes to 927 for Higgins.

Hader said Wednesday he credited his victory to spending a lot of time knocking on doors and meeting people.

In November, Hader will square off with Justin Joe Atkinson, D-El Reno. While the district, which covers most of Piedmont, north Yukon, Surrey Hills and a bit of north El Reno, is predominately Republican, Hader said he won’t take anything for granted. He said he was “trying to get a little rest” on Wednesday, but expects to be back on the campaign trail in the near future.

Hader said he knows Atkinson and they have “met from time-to-time” while campaigning. He said he expects the race to continue to take the high road, saying he and Higgins both ran campaigns based on issues and not on “personalities.”

An engineer who has worked in both the public and private sector, Hader said he wants to bring a “professional” outlook to the commissioner job if elected.

The winner of the November election will replace Phil Carson, who is retiring.

Sinnett brings first indoor mural home

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By Rachel Brocklehurst,

Imagine you’re in the most calming and profound area of the world where you can see the ripening of the sky as the air from the wind comes in to blow underneath it and the most beautiful scissortail is gracefully expanding her wings, as though not even the air itself can touch her.

That’s what comes to mind when thinking of Mustang native and artist Rick Sinnett. Well, in a couple words.

Sinnett has painted many outdoor murals across the state, until now. The Mustang Library is where his first indoor mural is located.

The Friends of the Mustang Public Library hired Sinnett to paint a mural for the Mustang Library’s Teen Area. The mural features Indian Blanket wildflowers, a Scissortail Flycatcher, wheat stalks and horses.

The mural is 792 square feet, or 67 ft. wide by 12 ft. tall and will be a major addition to the Library and Teen Area.

Twelve teens were a part of a focus group that discussed the mural project. The teens gave suggestions on what symbols could be incorporated in to the design. One popular suggestion was that the space needed color.

Sinnet’s other public art is visible in towns such as Norman, Tulsa, Pauls Valley, El Reno and Bristow. Currently, Sinnett is working on a series of murals along The Mother Road, America’s famous Route 66, from one border of Oklahoma to the other.

He’s finished three out of 11 of the Route 66 murals, so far. Each one has taken two weeks to finish. In addition to creating fine art murals, Sinnett is also a master printmaker.

He has spent 20 years mastering serigraphy and stencil-making, with paint on paper. It’s only been four years since he started painting murals/creating public art.

Sinnet works with a program called Public Arts Project, which is a group of people that want to connect the network of organizations and individuals who cultivate, promote, sustain and support the arts in America.

He said Mary Beth Babcock is not only instrumental in the P.A.P., but also was a huge influence for him as far as his art goes. Sinnet’s journey began when one of his friends purchased a piece of original artwork and wanted it painted as a mural.

“I wanted to paint something you don’t have to pay for to see,” he said. “For colors, I normally use between 14-16 of the same colors on the painting palette.”

He paints animals to represent the state and local community. For the Mustang Library, it took him a week and a half to complete. He has created artwork for renowned musicians, notable clothing manufacturers and a leading shoe label.

Sinnett’s work also includes letterpress printmaking, glass etching and sculpting.  Sinnett hit his first milestone at the age of 5, it was drawing actively and creating art through pen and ink printmaking.

His second was when he turned 18. By this time, Sinnett had a printing job in Oklahoma City and was printing some of his designs on t-shirts to sale. This print shop was in Wheatland and lasted five years.

He wound up moving to California where he worked as a print maker in the garment industry. He did what they called sampling where he would “decorate” pieces of clothing from Levi’s or Calvin Klein before they actually got sewn together.

He was in California for seven to eight years. “My goal in this industry is that I want to make people smile with my art,” Sinnet said. “I want them to feel uplifted and I want to make a positive impact. I think art is important in communities.”

He said his style is definable yet unintentional at the same time. “Most people take ownership innately and it gives off a still renewed pride in a community,” Sinnet said. “It’s like it’s no longer mine, it’s the peoples’ and I walk away from it. Within rural communities, my art is a history of their community showcased.”

Sinnet has had some loyal followers that make it a point to go to every mural he’s done. He also likes finding out about other artists who do the same thing.

“I view the state as one whole community,” he said. “There’s a journey from one mural to the next and there’s an economic impact that other aspects can branch out from from the art itself.”

“The difference in feeling from murals to other items in general is that there’s certain serenity within items in general and murals are more engaging for people,” Sinnet said.

Sinnet credits Thomas Surrat, Jake Harmes and Tanner Frady with helping him on the projects. Harmes helped Sinnet with his first two murals and Surrat has helped with several Route 66 projects.

“Surrat is an off-the-record, phenomenal artist,” Sinnet said. “He’s got what it takes to do my style of art. He’s also really busy, so I’m glad he’s been able to help the way he has.” Frady is an excellent artist in Yukon.

As far as influences, Sinnet appreciates his parents encouraging him.

Sinnet said he has “tech guys” changing up his original website, www.mothcollection.com constantly, but there is another website to where there are stock photos of certain designs he’s made and you can create that design on either an iPhone case, tie, messenger bag, mouse pad, decal, t-shirt, other cell cases, etc. This site is www.zazzle.com/mothcollection.

He’s also having an art exhibit with opening reception that’s open to the public at the Myriad Botanical Gardens. The reception is Oct. 16 and the actual event is from Oct. 15-Nov. 11. He will be showing between 20-30 of his pieces at this exhibit and they will be on sale all month long.

Rachel Brocklehurst is a reporter for the Mustang News. She can be reached at rachelb@mustangnews.info.

Mustang to raise water rates

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By Daniel Lapham,

The Mustang City Council voted 8-to-1 on Tuesday to approve a $4.50 capital improvement fee that will be added to all Mustang utility customers’ bills, effective in October.

The council also voted unanimously to increase water and sewer utility rates by 7 percent and signed a contract with Oklahoma Environmental Management Authority that will decrease curbside trash services by $1.50.

Mustang resident Michelle Fuller was the only resident present to speak out against the utility rate increases. She told the council she has abnormally high utility rates and because of this she is concerned with further rate increases.

“Anytime there is a proposed increase in city taxes or fees I have stood against them,” Fuller said after handing the council and city staff copies of her utility bill. “If you look at how much I pay you’ll see why.”

Fuller told the council she knew the rates would probably go through, but needed to be on record with her opposition. Prior to the council’s vote, City Manager Tim Rooney thanked her for respectfully speaking out against the increase.

“It is challenging to stand up here alone and speak against something the city is for,” Rooney said. “We need citizens like you to speak up and I thank you for letting your concerns be known, please continue.”

Rooney and Assistant City Manager Justin Battles presented numbers to the council showing increases in commercial water rates from Oklahoma City over the past several years.

“This 7 percent increase is meant to get us back to even,” Mayor Jay Adams said. “This way we are not taking money out of the general fund to make up the difference in what we are paying Oklahoma City for water and what our customers are paying us.”

Battles presented current and future steps the city is taking to improve Mustang’s infrastructure and decrease dependency on Oklahoma City to supply water.

This led to the approval of the $4.50 capital improvement fee, which is $3 more than Rooney initially proposed at a work session last week.

“Mustang could see a 48 percent increase on their water bills over the next three years,” said Jess Schweinberg, Ward VI councilman. “If this keeps happening, it won’t be long before no one could afford to live in Mustang because of the cost of water. We need to be aggressive with these capital improvement needs. Water is going to go up and we need to start today, $125,000 is not going to make a difference.”

Ward III Councilwoman Linda Bowers voted against the $4.50 increase, saying she agreed there needs to be investment, but an added fee of $4.50 is too much all at once.

“I think we need to do it in stages,” Bowers said.

Adams framed the immensity of the need to be self-sustaining.

“Water is the new oil. This isn’t going away and we need to address these things now.”

Daniel Lapham is a reporter for the Mustang News sister paper, the El Reno Tribune. He can be reached at dlapham@elrenotribune.com.

Mustang City Council looks at Code of Ethics and Conduct

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By Daniel Lapham,

At a special City Council work session meeting on Aug. 11, the Mustang City Council and staff discussed the possibility of implementing a “Council Code of Ethics and Conduct.”

City Manager Tim Rooney presented two examples of current civic “Code of Ethics” standards. The reception from council members was mixed. As of Monday, Rooney said no further action would be pursued.

“There were two different ‘Council Code of Ethics’ presented to the City Council for discussion purposes,” Rooney said. “As a result of the discussion that occurred on Monday evening last week, staff has no plans for action on any Council Code of Ethics unless directed to do so by the City Council.”

Rooney told the council he and staff looked through records of the council and were unable to find a standing code of ethics or conduct.

“I believe many of the issues we have had in the past with social media and conflict between council members could be addressed through a code of ethics and conduct. I believe a code of ethics would instill guidelines and inform the community what they can expect from their council members.”

Ward V Councilwoman Linda Hagan said she does not believe the council needs a code of ethics. She said the oath of office, taken by every elected official, outlines his or her ethics and beyond that freedom of speech should be protected.

“I am not in agreement with adopting a code of ethics,” Hagan said.

Ward VI Councilman Jess Schweinberg said a code of ethics could be a positive step in outlining a standard model of public official behavior and conduct.

“You have to have standards set,” he said. “We are supposed to be setting the groundwork for out future generations. I see how this could be helpful.”

Mayor Jay Adams said at this point he would like council members to take time to think about the possibility. Action may be taken down the road.

“This could be valuable in the future. This brings up some questions. Should the council have a way to hold council members accountable for their words and actions?”

 

 

    PROPOSED

MUSTANG CITY COUNCIL

CODE OF ETHICS AND CONDUCT

 

 

Compliance with all Laws

 

City Council members shall comply with the laws of the United States, the State of Oklahoma and the City of Mustang in the performance of their public duties.  Such laws include but are not limited to: the United States and State of Oklahoma Constitutions, the City of Mustang Charter, laws pertaining to conflicts of interest, election campaigns, financial disclosures, open meeting law, open records law, the City of Mustang Code of Ordinances and all policies adopted by the City Council.

 

Integrity and Accuracy

 

City Council members are expected to perform their duties with absolute integrity. No member of the City Council shall under any circumstances make a statement for any purpose that is known by the member to be inaccurate or intended to be misleading

 

Conduct of Members

 

It is acceptable and expected that City Council members may disagree about issues brought before the Council.  However, it is not acceptable for any City Council member to make derogatory comments and gestures about other Council members, their opinions or their actions.  City Council members shall refrain from exhibiting abusive conduct, personal allegations or verbal attacks upon the character or motives of other members of the City Council, members of City boards or commissions, the staff and the public.

 

The professional and personal conduct of City Council members should be above reproach and shall avoid even the appearance of impropriety. City Council members should conduct their official and personal affairs in such a manner that does not in any way suggest that they may be improperly influenced in the performance of their official duties. City Council members shall, to the best of their ability, serve the citizens of the City of Mustang conscientiously and with honesty and impartiality. City Council members shall seek to perform their duties with diligence, efficiency and courtesy.  Members of the City Council shall each make impartial decisions based upon consideration and analysis of the facts, circumstances, merits and laws of each case without taking into account unrelated considerations.

 

Electronic Devices During Meetings

 

In the spirit of the Open Meeting Act and in furtherance of the City Council’s commitment to conducting government business with as much order and transparency as possible, electronic devices belonging to a Councilor shall be turned off or set on airplane mode during City Council meetings.  Use of electronic devices by City Council members for talking, texting, email or otherwise during City Council meetings is, except for emergency communications, prohibited.  It is the City Council’s intent to prohibit electronic communications between members of the Council and other persons during City Council meetings.  Prohibiting communications of this type enables the Council to operate with maximum transparency and allows the Council to avoid any appearance or perception of engaging in discussions or deliberations not open to the public during City Council meetings.

 

Respect for Process

 

City Council members shall perform their duties with the processes and rules of order established by the City Council. Upon a “Call to Order” of the City Council meeting, Councilors will respect that a meeting is in progress and recognize that it is inappropriate to temporarily exit the meeting unless a recess or adjournment has been called by the mayor.  While a meeting is in progress, Council members should refrain from having “side bar” conversations with each other or with city staff.

 

Public Meetings

 

City Council members have the right to personally endorse candidates for all City Council seats and other elected offices. However, it is inappropriate to mention endorsements during City Council meetings or other official City meetings or hearings. 

 

City Council members shall prepare themselves for discussions of public issues brought before the City Council. City Council members will listen courteously and attentively to all discussion and comment on the issue by the public, City staff and other City Council members. City Council members shall refrain from interrupting other speakers unless compelled to do so to ensure compliance with City Council policies or processes for public meetings and shall additionally refrain from interfering with the orderly conduct of City Council meetings.

 

Impartiality

 

All City Council meetings and hearings shall be conducted fairly and impartially. City Council members shall not show favoritism in carrying out the City’s business. The receipt of campaign contributions shall not in any circumstance constitute a basis for preferential treatment.

 

 

Acting in the Public Interest

 

The primary goal and concern of each member of the City Council is to serve the public interest and uphold the public trust to the very best of their abilities.  Therefore, City Council members will work together for the common good of the citizens of Mustang and not for any private or personal interest, and City Council members will strive to assure fair and equal treatment of all persons, claims, issues or transactions brought before the Mustang City Council.

 

Conflict of Interest

 

Any member of the City Council who has a conflict of interest, financial or otherwise, in any matter brought before the City Council for consideration or action shall declare and disclose the conflict of interest to the City Council and shall not participate in discussion or voting on the matter. A conflict of interest shall be defined as a statutory conflict of interest or any situation, circumstance or financial interest that has the potential, in the City Councilor’s opinion and judgment, to interfere with the proper exercise of public duty.

 

The minutes of a meeting wherein a declaration of a conflict was made shall not record a vote on behalf of a City Council member who leaves the room during discussion and voting upon the issue. The minutes of such meeting shall, however, record a “no” vote if the City Council member remains in the room and abstains from voting, such recordation being in accordance with Oklahoma State Law and the Mustang Code of Ordinances.

 

Gifts and Favors

 

City Council members shall not directly or indirectly solicit, receive or accept any gift if 1) a reasonable inference could be drawn that the gift was intended to influence them in the performance of their official duties, or, 2) the gift is intended to serve as a reward or in appreciation of any official action taken by the City Council member. City Council members shall not solicit or accept any gifts, favors or promises of future benefits which might compromise the independent judgment and action or which might give the appearance of being compromised. City Council members shall not take special advantage of services or opportunities for personal gain, by virtue of their public offices that are not available to the public in general.

 

Political Advocacy

 

City Council members shall not provide testimonials or endorsements that identify themselves as city council members to any political candidate, business, program or other entity or activity unless brought to a vote before the City Council and approved by a majority of the seated Council members. Personal endorsements or opinions without prior Council approval should make clear that they in no way reflect the official position of the City Council or the City of Mustang.

 

Political Fundraising Activities

 

No City Council member shall use his or her position, authority or influence, whether actually possessed or anticipated, to interfere with or affect the results of an election or to obtain a political or other type contribution. City Council members shall not use or attempt to use any political endorsement in connection with any appointment to any City board or commission.

 

These rules are not intended to preclude City Council members from political fundraising activities, but to ensure that these activities are undertaken only at private initiative and expenses in their role as private citizens and thus do not reflect upon the official activities of the City.

 

Communication

 

City Council members shall endeavor to share with all other councilors in timely manner any substantive information that is relevant to a matter under consideration by the City Council which was received by the Council member from sources external to the public decision-making process.

 

Confidential Information

 

City Council members shall respect and preserve the confidentiality of information concerning the property, personnel or affairs of the City. City Council members shall neither disclose confidential information without proper legal authorization nor use such information in any way to advance or further their personal, financial or private gain. Confidential Information shall not include any information that is or becomes publicly available other then as a result of disclosure by Recipient, which is disclosed by any third-party not known by Recipient, and who Recipient has no reason to believe to be under any contractual or fiduciary obligation not to disclose such information; was in the Recipient’s possession prior to disclosure, or is independently developed by the Recipient.

 

Advocacy

 

City Council members shall represent the official policies or positions of the City Council to the best of their ability when designated as delegates or representatives of the City. If a City Council member acting as a delegate or representative of the City presents their personal opinions or positions on such an issue the member shall explicitly state that their comments do not represent the City of Mustang or the City Council.

 

Policy Role of City Council Members

 

City Council members shall respect and adhere to the Council–Manager form of municipal government implemented in the City of Mustang through its charter and as outlined in Title 11 of the Oklahoma Statutes.  The Council–Manager form of government provides for the City Council to determine all matters of policy for the City of Mustang. Additionally, the Council–Manager form of municipal government provides that the City Manager shall be responsible for all day-to-day operations of the City. Accordingly, City Council members shall not interfere with or impair the ability of the City Manager and other City staff to determine and implement day-to-day operational matters.

 

Implementation of Code of Ethics and Conduct

 

This Code of Ethics and Conduct is intended to be self-enforcing by members of the City Council.  City Council members shall be thoroughly familiar with this Code and shall make every reasonable effort to adhere to its provisions. The Code of Ethics and Conduct shall be included in the orientation training for newly elected City Council members. All City Council members shall sign a statement affirming they have read and understand the City of Mustang Code of Ethics and Conduct.

Daniel Lapham is a reporter with the Mustang News sister paper, the El Reno Tribune. He can be reached at dlapham@elrenotribune.com

Excitement surrounds Mustang as new school year begins

MPS Three

By Kyle Salomon,

The 2014-2015 school year is under way for Mustang Public Schools, and more than 800 new students and a new elementary school provide the headlines for the new year.

The new school is Prairie View Elementary and will have grades kindergarten through fourth grade. It is the seventh elementary school in the Mustang school district. The new school is located on 59th Street and County Line Road.

Mustang Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel said there is a lot of excitement and several changes surrounding the new school year.

“The biggest single change is the number of new students that will attend Mustang schools. The number of new students has increased to over 800. We expect more to enroll in the next few days. This is not a ‘net’ total, rather just the new kids. We still aren’t sure of the total number of students who may have moved out of the district over the summer. By Oct. 1, which is the statewide official student count day, we will have a pretty good picture of our total enrollment.”

Even though this is the first day of school for the students, the teachers and other faculty have been at school all week preparing for the arrival of the children and the new year. Monday morning, faculty and staff kicked off the new school year together.

“We began the day with a country-style breakfast in the MHS Commons,” McDaniel said. “Administrators, varsity football team members and many high school students served more than 1,000 employees. The place was buzzing. People are excited for the new year. Great things are happening in Mustang. At 8 a.m., we all moved into the MHS auditorium for the celebration of students.”

McDaniel said several Mustang High School students provided entertainment for the teachers.

“MHS students Garrison Brown and Ashley Getz performed a couple of songs, the JROTC presented colors, Mustang Trails second-grader David Farnham led us in the Pledge of Allegiance and then read a poem, the MHS drum line performed, MHS student council president Heidi McDaniel addressed the crowd and thanked teachers for their influence they have had in her life and in the lives of all the students.

“Alyssa Moon and Hayley Bledsoe performed a theatrical poetry reading that also thanks teachers for making a difference. Faculty, staff and students are excited to be back at school. This is an exciting time of year.”

McDaniel said the goal for him, the school board and administration is for Mustang Public Schools to be the premier school district in the state of Oklahoma. He said adding more than 800 students to the Mustang school system is an example of how the district is heading in the right direction.

“Adding more than 800 students to our schools speaks volumes about our school district and our community. Our school board’s vision is to be the premier district in Oklahoma, combined with the vision our city has to be a hometown community, one that is service oriented and is very appealing to people. As a district, we are very excited to welcome new families to our schools. We are proud of the education we offer and believe we are a wonderfully unique district with the best teachers anywhere.”

There are numerous parents who are concerned with the number of students that will be roaming the halls in Mustang Public Schools. Their concerns focus on overcrowded classrooms that could impact the  learning that will take place.

McDaniel said with new schools coming online, that should not be a problem.

“With the addition of two new intermediate centers (fifth- and sixth-grade schools Canyon Ridge and Horizon) and the opening of a new elementary school this year, overcrowded schools won’t be a problem. Our constant challenge for the next couple of years will be to keep class sizes at a manageable level.”

Kyle Salomon is the sports editor at the Mustang News. He can be reached at ksalomon@mustangnews.info.

High rainfall has effect on local agriculture

weather expert  (2)

By Daniel Lapham,

After two consecutive years of above average rainfall in June and July and drier than normal conditions in the fall and spring, a regional climate specialist and a Canadian County farmer agree that adaptation and hard work are the keys to continued success in Oklahoma agriculture.

“With the rains that started in late May and continued through June and then July, we are seeing definite improvements to the drought in Oklahoma. The break in the drought has made a big difference,” said Dr. Jeanne Schneider. Schneider is lead meteorologist for the Southern Plains Regional Climate Hub and Great Plains Agroclimate and Natural Resources Research Unit. “I have noticed that the cattlemen and women that sold their cattle during the drought last fall and winter have acquired new stock.”

And if the rains continue, a local farmer believes it is possible for a second hay crop and a really good wheat crop to be harvested. Cody Stine, 23, is a fifth generation farmer with Stine Farms. He said the rains are having a great impact.

“The grass has been great, just like last year,” Stine said. “The wheat stubble has been growing like crazy. At this point we are just trying to stay on top of it. Usually in July we wouldn’t have any grass. It would be all burnt up, but because of the rains it’s still lush and green. We are usually already using our hay to feed to the cows by now.”

Schneider said according to the website drought.gov, conditions have drastically improved, but the dry spell is far from over.

“We have roughly the southeast quarter of the state out of drought, but in southwest Oklahoma and all the way up to northwest Oklahoma and the panhandle we are still seeing extreme to heavy drought,” Schneider said. “The rest of Oklahoma and most of Canadian County is still in what we call a moderate drought. The scale ranges from D0 being no drought to D4 being extreme. Canadian County is currently ranked at a D1.”

To clarify how droughts are measured, Schneider said they are placed into three categories. A meteorological drought is defined as an area that has received less than average moisture over a long-term period. Agricultural drought deals with vegetation and topsoil indicating that moisture levels are too dry to effectively grow most crops. The third kind of drought is the most damaging and severe. This is a hydrologic drought. This occurs when the water supply is affected by a long-term drought and there becomes a decrease in water levels not only in lakes and rivers but also in wells and aquifers.

“The drought.gov data combines all three of these drought types to give us a big picture,” Schneider said. “Basically we are holding our own in the agricultural area, but we are still in a little bit of trouble with our hydrologic area. For Canadian County we are doing OK, but in southwest and northwest Oklahoma we are still in a serious drought. It’s actually scientifically much worse than the Dust Bowl, but we have gotten better with our farming practices so it hasn’t appeared as damaging. This is why last spring the dust storms were back in the panhandle.”

Despite the long-term dry outlook, Stine said his family couldn’t be happier with current conditions and hopes it lasts through the fall and winter.

“Usually you’d have to cut your grass by the Fourth of July,” Stine said. “A lot of people this year are getting hay crops off the crabgrass that has grown up in their wheat stubble. From my standpoint, it is a really good year. If we keep getting these rains there will be a second harvest for sure.”

Whether the rains will continue or we are destined for another dry fall and spring is still uncertain, according to Schneider, but one thing is certain, she said, and that is the increase in the unpredictability and severity of weather patterns.

“I am both a research meteorologist and the lead for the Southern Plains Regional Climate Hub. It is my job to coordinate the research on all of the research dealing with climate change across this region. As a part of this I see all of the data coming from every direction. Climate change is something that has already happened. It’s not something that you can look at one event and say this is it. It is when you put it all together that you see the bigger picture. The data shows us that the changes have been happening since at least 2000. We did not use to see the things we are seeing. For example, we are getting cold fronts in July. Before 2000 you did not see that. This feels good. It’s nice out and we are getting the moisture, but what we are seeing is an increase in extremes.”

Cool weather in July is not a bad thing, but droughts are. What is really happening is a breakdown in the wisdom of the past where there has always been a spring and a fall rain. This is not true anymore.

“I am only 23 so I am young, but I don’t remember it being like this,” Stine said. “I remember it being muddy during planting season. But not like it’s been the last couple of years. It’s been the worst I’ve seen it. In the past you might have had your hail damage or storms, but not like this.”

The changes have been developing slowly but now they are reaching a crescendo, Schneider said. There are no longer regular rain patterns.

“The big change and problem with this is that with these changes we are seeing more flooding events and droughts,” she said. “What we are seeing as indicators for the future is drought punctuated by flood. The variability has increased. Everything indicates that variability is going to continue to increase. So we need to adapt. Not wait to go back to what it used to be. I do believe we have the ability to adapt. I am concerned about this because when I talk to our producers, our farmers and ranchers, they say, ‘We just need to wait for it to go back to normal.’ Well, there is no normal anymore.”

Stine said although he sees the change, he and his family are still seeing results through traditional farming and although it is traditional, there are ways to adapt within tried and true farming.

“We are kinda old-fashioned with our farming,” Stine said. “It’s really hard to go out and turn it around to a no-till farming method. There are a lot of chemicals and equipment that you have to use and that’s not something we are really excited about getting into. It’s kinda hard to change and go a different way of farming. We have been doing this for five generations and it has worked. We can adapt and still do it our way.”

Schneider disagreed with the idea that things can stay the same.

“Everything we have thought we knew for centuries is wrong,” she said. “So if you leave the stubble and plant into that you actually get more water absorption and retention. Having all of that plant matter insulates the soil. It will help to insulate the soil against the extremes. The weather is more dynamic so bad things are happening more often. The more we can do to support that life the better off we are.”

Although no-till is not an option for Stine Farms, Stine said adapting is something farmers have always done.

“We will usually change our patterns and planting times to a different time of year and we will space out our crops differently. We just set it aside and don’t plant everything if it doesn’t sprout. Wheat likes it cool so we couldn’t change up the planting season, but you can fluctuate it within reason. The yields just fluctuate from year to year. It’s just how it is with farming.”

Stine said he has spoken with several farmers that are going to summer crops or canola in order to deal with the fluctuation.

“I have seen a lot of summer crops like hay grazer or millet or a grain crop like milo or beans,” he said.

Schneider said her role is not to tell anyone what they should do, but simply to look at the data and help coordinate every possible resources to provide producers with the best options to adapt and thrive for generations to come.

“I do believe we can adapt but it is not going to be easy,” she said. “We are still figuring it out. That is my job as the lead for the climate hub is to help figure out the best options and to answer the question, ‘How do we adapt?’ It’s all these little things adding up that constitutes climate change. The people that are making it are the ones who have already made changes to modern methods. Going from traditional till to no-till is a solution I have seen work. A healthy soil is a soil that is alive in terms of keeping a biological life inside of it. This is what you see in a prairie that has never been tilled and this is what you strive to achieve with no-till methods.”

Information and additional resources are available to the public through the Natural Resources Conservation Service website at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov. Once there one can select his state to find specific area resources.

“We are trying to figure this out in real time,” Schneider said. “Increasing soil health and developing a soil health plan is a good place to begin. It does take a couple of years to make some of these changes. It is going to take investments, but we are seeing results from those who have made changes. We are not here to tell anyone what to do but to give options. The bottom line is we can no longer treat agriculture as a factory, we must be more adaptable and be able to adjust. We can no longer work on a calendar. This is now a matter of taking advantage of the rains when they come and hunkering down when they don’t. It’s going to be hard for a lot of people. I appreciate that. I know it is going to be hard. But that is the beauty of humankind. We can change, we can adapt, and we must.”

Daniel Lapham is a reporter for the sister paper of the Mustang News, the El Reno Tribune. He can be reached at dlapham@elrenotribune.com.

Mustang City Council considers needs of growing city

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By Daniel Lapham,

Mustang’s City Council, along with City Manager Tim Rooney and members of his staff discussed several areas dealing with the municipal government Monday in a special work session at the Mustang Town Center.

One of those areas dealt with the need for capital improvements and how to pay for them. Another area discussed was the cost of buying water from Oklahoma City. Rooney said Mustang can longer afford to “absord” the cost of doing business with the much larger neighbor.

Rooney presented a breakdown of the upcoming rate structure changes to Mayor Jay Adams and members of the council. The fiscal year 2014 to 2015 City of Mustang Budget, which was adopted and approved by the city council on June 3, included a proposed water and sewer rate increase of 7 percent. The rate was proposed to go into effect beginning Oct. 1.

“Revenues and expenditures within the Mustang Improvement Authority that were included in the budget were based on the 7 percent increase occurring in the October billing cycles,” stated Rooney’s utility rate review. “Since the June 3 meeting in which the FY 2014-15 budget was approved, RFP’s (Request for Proposal) for refuse service were also opened.  OEMA, the city of Mustang’s existing refuse contractor, was the low bidder and staff was directed to develop a contract based on the bid submitted by OEMA.”

The action item to accept or decline the contract with OEMA will appear on the Aug. 19 agenda for action by the city council. The bid submitted by OEMA included a proposed $1.50 reduction in the monthly refuse rate. Rooney is proposing an additional fee of $1.50 be added to all customer utility bills as a capital improvement fee. This fee would be used for water and wastewater system capital improvements and would balance out the savings seen from the refuse fee reduction.

Assistant City Manager Justin Battles gave a slide presentation to the council outlining the current and future capital improvement needs. Current projects under way include the 74th Street booster station and County Line water tower budgeted at a cost of $201,743.15, and the Lakehoma Lift Station budgeted at $174,021.

“Any capital improvement fees added to utilities bills could give us a starting point to funding these projects,” Rooney said. “Currently, the city of Mustang has no identified method or revenue to be used for these improvements and this would provide a method to do so.  The cities of Lawton, Edmond and Norman already have this sort of funding in place.”

With the current amount of customers in Mustang, the capital improvement fee would generate approximately $125,000 per year to be used toward capital improvements.

“I don’t think that’s enough, $1.50 just doesn’t look like enough of an increase to meet our capital improvement needs. We need to get these projects going now.,” said Councilman Jess Schweinberg, Ward 6.

In addition to the 7 percent increase in the water and sewer rates for everyone, Rooney recommended the possibility of changing or adding one-time fees for residential, commercial and rental deposits. He also included ideas to encourage responsible customer habits by charging fees for chronic disconnect due to non-payment, account holds, pull meter, illegal hook-ups, stolen meters, tampering and re-reads at the customer’s request.

“Many of these fees have not been changed since the late ’80s or early ’90s, while others are fees that are currently not being charged at all,” Rooney said.

The final change city staff recommended to the council concerning utility rates is to include wording for any future utility-related ordinance that would pass cost increases through to customers.

“While utility rate increases are never popular, they are necessary,” Rooney said. “The city of Mustang cannot afford to not pass along utility rate increases that are passed on to it from Oklahoma City, nor can it afford to continue to fail in addressing capital improvement needs of an aging system.  Staff plans to place an ordinance/resolution with the above referenced fee adjustments on the Aug. 19 agenda for action.”

Daniel Lapham is a reporter for the sister paper of the Mustang News, the El Reno Tribune. He can be reached at dlapham@elrenotribune.com.

Canadian County candidates answer questions at Redlands

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By Daniel Lapham,

Canadian County District 1 commissioner candidates Marc Hader and Wes Higgins answered questions and laid out their platforms to more than 25 county residents last Tuesday night at Redlands Community College.

Hader, R-Piedmont, and Higgins, R-El Reno, will meet in the Aug. 26 runoff election with the winner taking on Justin Joe Atkinson, D-El Reno, in November’s general election.

In addition to the commissioners race, candidates running for State Superintendant of Public Instruction and U.S. Senate candidate Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, were also present.

But it was the race for District 1 commissioner that drew the most interest and in particular how they would treat the Children’s Justice Center. The center is supported by a one-third cent permanent sales tax that has been generating over $500,000 per month. In the past, some have sought to have the sales tax redirected to help support other areas of county government. Those efforts have met with staunch resistance.

At least 10 different questions regarding the justice center were submitted. The majority of the questions wanted to know if the dedicated sales tax that supports the center should be redirected or cut.

Both commissioner candidates said they had toured the center and each said the staff and administration do an “excellent job” and provide a valuable service to the Canadian County community.

“I don’t know how many kids there are at the center off the top of my head, but I know they are doing a great job,” Higgins, an El Reno Republican, said. “They are in the black and I believe they are doing great with the resources they have been provided.”

Hader appeared to agree.

“I don’t know specifics in terms of the numbers, but I got to do a tour of the facility and it was a positive experience,” Hader said. “I believe it is safe to say that both of your candidates believe in the value of the juvenile justice center and support it.”

Another question addressed the scope of duties expected of a county commissioner.

“Roads are 20 percent of a commissioner’s job,” read moderator Juanita Krittenbrink. “How would you administer the rest of the duties required of your position including management of facilities like the courthouse, jail, etc.?”

“It has been my experience that the smaller or more rural a county is, the more roads and bridges are a part of a commissioner’s job,” Hader said. He said his background as an administrator qualifies him to handle not only the roads and bridges but also the management of all projects and responsibilities of a commissioner.

Higgins agreed that the percentage spent on roads and bridges is higher than 20 percent, but also said he sees many areas that should be addressed immediately in addition to bridges and roads.

“I believe the addition to the jail should be addressed immediately,” Higgins said. “If we broke ground today it would be at least a year before we could move in. We need more space there.”

With a bachelor’s degree in management from Southern Nazarene University and experience in project management, Hader said the future of Canadian County depends on commissioners’ abilities to manage multiple projects and play the role of administrator.

“I have the interpersonal skills necessary to do this job as it becomes more and more of a management position,” Hader said.

Higgins said he is already immersed in county government as the current foreman for District 2 under Commissioner David Anderson.

“My degree is from the school of hard knocks,” Higgins said. “I have run my own business for over 20 years. I am doing many of these things now as District 2 foreman and I believe these things speak for themselves.”

Daniel Lapham is a reporter for the sister paper of the Mustang News, the El Reno Tribune. He can be reached at dlapham@elrenotribune.com.