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3/27/2013 10:06:00 PM
Candidates face voters at LWV forum
By Michelle Charles

A crowd of less than 30 people gathered to watch candidates for two seats on Stillwater's City Council field questions Tuesday night.

Incumbents Joe Weaver and Philip Pina faced both public scrutiny and their opponents, Micah LeFebvre and Gina Noble.

All said they want a seat on the council because they care about Stillwater and its citizens, although LeFebvre said he has a special concern for lower income Stillwater residents, who he thinks are under-represented in city government. "It's a voice for the working class people that's currently lacking," he said.

Questions ranged from how to involve more citizens on city committees and boards to how to serve more of the community through public transportation whether new businesses should receive financial incentives for coming to Stillwater.

The candidates had similar views on most issues although LaFebvre said he doesn't think enough effort is made to involve citizens on boards and committees and Noble said they should be publicized more through social media and talking to community leaders.

Weaver and Pina said they strongly encourage citizen involvement and wish more people would apply for committee positions. Weaver said people often have to be personally asked before they'll apply.

LeFebvre said he'd like to see public transportation expanded to better serve low-income people and people living on the edges of the city with expanded routes.

Weaver said he's proud of the bus system, which he has worked on during his time at Oklahoma State University. He said funding is difficult, it's hard to extend service everywhere and you can't always please everyone.

A question about sales tax incentives for new businesses drew consistent responses.

Weaver said the city has joined other entities like OSU and the Chamber of Commerce to form an Economic Development Council that will deal with business recruitment and incentives. He said the city needs to encourage new development in strategic, targeted niches that fill market gaps instead of competing with existing businesses.

The other candidates echoed his assertion that new businesses shouldn't be encouraged or incentivized if they compete with current businesses.

Pina said he generally favors the idea of developing partnerships over tax breaks or incentives.

LeFebvre said he thinks the city should consider how the business treats its workers before providing any support. He also thinks new business shouldn't compete with existing, he said.

Noble said the city needs a long-term plan that considers existing businesses and puts everyone on a level playing field. Complementary businesses to improve quality of life or provide jobs with good wages should be targeted, she said.

When asked, all agreed that infrastructure improvements are vital and that more money needs to be budgeted for things like roads. They also identifi ed roads and other infrastructure as the single greatest budgetary need.

A question about rate increases for city water saw Weaver, Pina and Noble fundamentally agreeing on the need to follow a plan of stepped increases that provides funding for water system maintenance and repairs. LeFebvre said he doesn't see why all the cost should be passed on to the customers and some revenue from another part of the budget could be transferred. A question about campaign funding divided the candidates. When asked if they would accept campaign contributions from someone who might one day have business before the council, LeFebvre, Noble and Pina said they would not.

Weaver said he makes decisions based on the facts and would not vote based on a sense of obligation to a donor. He also said Stillwater is a small town and a candidate that refuses to accept contributions from anyone who might someday have business before the council wouldn't raise much money. In their closings the candidates communicated what they offer voters.

Pina and Weaver emphasized their experience and independence. Pina said he thinks of the Rotary International Four Way Test when he makes decisions as a member of the council. He primarily asks himself 'Is it truth?' and 'Is it fair to all concerned?' he said. Noble cited her belief in fairness above all else and her skills as a communicator. She said she has the ability to make decisions and stand by them.

LeFebvre said he understands the issues facing working men and women and he'll look at every issue through the lens of how it affects the 'little guy' because the well-being of businesses isn't necessarily his focus. Municipal elections will be held on Tuesday, April 2. Early voting will take place at the Payne County Election Board, located in the County Administration Building at Sixth and Duck St., on Friday, March 29 and Monday, March 1 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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