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The end of year review with the Mayor of Tahlequah Jason Nichols

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It's that time of year again reader's, my annual year end review with the Mayor. This examiner posed some questions, that some have been asking for awhile but have been either too busy to ask, or were afraid to ask.

Hopefully, you will enjoy this Q & A session, and it might just answer some of your questions you have had going on in your brain.

So here we go:

Question:

With all that has gone on this year, and you entering your last year as mayor, what can the citizens look forward to in your last year?

Answer:

In the next year, there will be some noticeable changes to Tahlequah. South Muskogee between Fourth Street and the Bertha-Parker Bypass should be a five lane road around the end of the year. East Fourth Street will be a three lane road from the bottom of the bridge over Town Branch to Muskogee Avenue. Other streets should begin construction sometime late in the year. Bluff Avenue and West Fourth Street in particular.

The new pool will be completed some time in June. The splash pad should also be finished a little before the pool. The library will be renovated and the police department will have a new station. And, anyone with a child who plays baseball or softball should start to notice some improvements to the facilities available to those sports.

It's going to be an action-packed year. The benefits of the capital improvements plan passed by the citizens of Tahlequah last January will start to become obvious. I was very proud to be a part of the effort to gain the public's approval for the funding for the projects. I can't wait to see the results in 2014.

Question:

Do you plan to run for another term as mayor?

Answer:

Absolutely. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as mayor, it has been such an honor to be able serve in this capacity, and there is still so much more good work that I think can be done that I have every intention of running again in 2015.

Question:

If you plan to run, what can people look forward to as mayor for another term?

Answer:

It's likely that the majority of my efforts would be diverted into fundamentally altering the way the City conducts its business. While we've made great strides in improving the effectiveness of municipal government during the last few years, there are still many business processes that are remnants of a time long past. They are deeply entrenched and, while there has been some success in this regard, its time that we reevaluate the way the City operates.

Those things may not be as 'visible' as some of the things we are doing now. But, they are important if we are going to recreate the City as an organization that is capable of addressing the complex issues of a growing community. What worked for a town of 7,500 people 25 years ago may not work for a town triple that size. We have to be ready for those challenges.

Question:

With the joint effort between NSU and the City on the multipurpose center, what are the benefits to the citizens and what are the benefits to the college?

Answer:

This is one of the more misunderstood components of the capital improvements plan. And, that is completely understandable. This kind of partnership is not something that many municipalities have an opportunity to engage in because they aren't fortunate enough to have an institution of higher learning in their community. But, Tahlequah does. So, it gives us a chance to do some things on the economic development front that most other cities can only dream of. But, since its relatively uncommon, its easy to lose track of the advantages.

The biggest benefit to the citizens of Tahlequah is that thousands, perhaps tens-of-thousands, of extra visitors will come here annually and spend their money. Obviously, you like that if you are a small business owner and someone from out of town fills up their gas tank at your store, eats at your restaurant, or stays in your hotel. That's profit for those business owners. But, its also tax money for Tahlequah coming from a lot of people who don't live here. For every item bought by one of those visitors, there is piece of road built, part of police officer's salary paid, or some maintenance performed in a park that wouldn't have been done otherwise. And, those people then drive back to where they're from after they've made what I like to call a 'donation' to Tahlequah's economy and infrastructure.

I also have a few questions from a concerned citizen of Tahlequah, and here they are:

Question:

Do they plan on continuing the clean up of other housing around Tahlequah, as they did with Stepping Stone, ie: the neighborhood on 5th St by the Sanitation dept, hotels, etc.

Answer:

The answer to that question is, yes, we are going to stay focused the "clean up" of run down properties. There is an important distinction to make about Stepping Stone that many people aren't aware of. Because it was a boarding house, there were additional requirements they had to meet, as well as other legal and technical considerations that don't apply to single family dwellings (or even duplexes or apartments). That means that addressing some of the other issues might not result in immediate gratification for those who want to see action taken. But, we will be more focused on property maintenance that we have been in the past.

Question:

Are they going to address the budget cuts to social programs, DHS, etc. Grant, maybe?

Answer:

These are issues that are handled by state and tribal institutions. Oklahoma municipalities, at least ones Tahlequah's size, aren't normally involved with these types of programs. However, if there is a benefit to us becoming involved, then we'd consider doing so.

Question:

Is Tahlequah ever going to address our homeless problem, do they have a shelter?

Answer:

Tahlequah, as a community, has addressed the issue in the past. But, the approach has been one that serves specific demographics. Those organizations are helping people in need and are doing great work and they will be indispensable to any effort to create a more comprehensive solution. But, we have to identify what populations might be being under served.

I've met with some representatives of those organizations, local clergy, people involved with non-profits, and other concerned citizens to see how we might be able to sew closed the holes in the safety net. It's something that isn't directly City-related as, again, that isn't something that municipalities in Oklahoma are involved with much. But, I certainly want to lend whatever personal help I can to the effort. And, if a way is found that the City can play a role, that would be good, too.

My next question:

I know you have covered before but with this past winter storm of 2013, that socked people in, will there now be a prioritized plan of action put into place by the city, or the street department, that can put people at ease? Also will that plan be available for people to view as part of governmental transparency?

Answer:

Last week, I asked for a meeting with the Street Commissioner and the Emergency Management Director to discuss our response to winter weather- related events. While the storm that struck earlier this month was somewhat unusual, it became obvious that our response wasn't ideal either. We had two trucks sitting idle even though we had the manpower to utilize them. The Street Commissioner wasn't aware that we'd increased the budget for sand. Offers of help for additional labor were rejected. There was duplication of effort that cost us time and supplies (I was so frustrated, I could have bit a nail in two when my street got sanded a second time). And, it seems as if the temptation wasn't resisted to clear streets by request (that creates a set of problems all its own that are to lengthy to go into here).

You overcome those things by writing down your plan. This creates a clear set of benchmarks for performance that the public can measure against. Expectations are managed, the process is clear, and, hopefully, this leads to streets that are clear as well.

If this winter has another storm in store for Tahlequah, and I have a feeling it does (which is why I proposed, and the council approved, increasing the sand budget this year), I hope the plan that is created will let the public know what roads are likely to be safest to travel and some assurance that emergency and critical services installations will be accessible.

Question:

I know citizens have seen the new waste transfer station going up for a while as they drive the bypass, and they are all asking, when will it be officially completed and ready for use? Also any update to the progress of the sports complex, that people see out that way?

Answer:

The solid waste transfer station is having the final touches put on it now. When I took office nearly three years ago, we had a target date of August or September of 2013 for completion. Earlier this year, we became aware that we'd need about 30-60 extra days to complete the facility. Then, some oversights were discovered during some of the more in-depth, and yet still informal, inspections. That set us back some too. We have a sewer situation we are still addressing there, but expect to be open shortly after the new year.

The sports complex is functionally complete. Soccer was played there this past season. Football will be ready in the spring, even though they won't play until the Fall. There are still some lights that need to be erected and some details tended to. And, the second phase on the northern 40 acres will start soon. Those fields will be softball fields. While operational, there will still be some work taking place there for the next year or so to complete the entire project.

Question:

In the final analysis, what do you see as the greatest achievement of 2013, and what is the worst for you of 2013?

Answer:

The best part of 2013 was the passage of the capital improvements proposal. This is the year where the benefits are going to become unavoidably apparent.

The most disappointing thing about 2013 has been how limited in effectiveness the efforts at streamlining and improving our business processes have been. The City is still, despite all efforts and some successes in the fight against this, an inefficient organization. All attempts to put an end to the wastes of taxpayer money have, despite my best efforts, resulted in political dust ups and not, unfortunately, in productive action. The long term health of this community depends on the City making necessary changes to how it functions.

Question:

Also, as like last year, how would your report card look for this year? How would you grade yourself, better yet how would you grade the interaction between you and the citizens of the city?

Answer:

It's always difficult to grade yourself (This was the hardest question to answer!). And, in this job, you also never quite know how good or bad an action or decision was until a couple of years have passed. But, I think that the capital improvements passage made this a good year. Despite that, I have high standards and can never quite give myself any kind of "A." So, I'd hope a "B+" doesn't seem like too much of a conceit.

As for interactions with citizens...I have about 12-15 ways that I can be reached. Sometimes, ironically, that can get in the way of effective interaction since I can occasionally lose track of a message, email, conversation, etc. But, most of the time if you do one of the following, I'll get right back to you:

1. Email me at mayor@cityoftahlequah.com
2. Call or text me at (314) 596-2443
3. Message me on Facebook
4. Catch me at Wal-Mart
5. Mail me a letter to 111 S Cherokee, Tahlequah, OK 74464
6. Come by my office at 211 E Delaware

I try very hard to be responsive and transparent to everyone who takes the time to contact me. I hope everyone feels free to do so.

Thank you for the chance to answer these questions...

Thank you Mr. Mayor for taking the time to respond to the email, looking forward to next year's interview, as you run for another term in office.

Have a blessed and fun filled 2014!

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