Mayoral candidates face off on LWV forum | News
As the Feb. 8 municipal election approaches in Stillwater, the League of Women Voters of Stillwater continues its efforts to help residents make informed decisions at the ballot box.
The organization held a forum Thursday with Stillwater mayoral candidates, incumbent Will Joyce and challenger Marc Trotter.
Trotter, owner of an independent lighting design company, is running for office for the first time, but entered the political arena in 2020 as one of the leaders of an effort to recall the set of Stillwater Town Council. The petition campaign, like others in Oklahoma, stemmed from protests against business closures and mask mandates intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. At the time, he told News Press that the recall was about protecting individual freedoms, which he and others believe are being eroded.
Alluding to his professional life, Trotter said his goal was to shed some light and bring clarity.
Joyce, a lawyer who serves as general counsel for Stillwater-based technical consulting firm InterWorks, served on city council for six years. He applied to fill a vacancy on the Board in 2015 but was not selected. He was elected to seat 1 in 2016 and held that seat for two years before being elected mayor.
Joyce spoke of the need to make tough decisions — after consulting with local health officials — in the name of protecting public health. City Council as a whole enacted an ordinance requiring most people to wear a face covering when out in public starting July 11, 2020, and extended that requirement multiple times. It was repealed on May 14, 2021, after local COVID-19 numbers improved.
Although the pandemic is not over and local hospitals are still sounding the alarm about staffing levels and bed availability, Joyce said Stillwater is on the verge of a period of growth and development.
The economy is doing well and he wants to be part of that growth in the future, he said.
Both men said they were committed to having conversations with residents about the issues that concern them.
The town of Stillwater is financially sound, Joyce said in response to a question. He used the Council’s focus on building a healthy reserve fund – which allowed the City to absorb half the cost of natural gas price spikes that other utilities were passing on to their customers – for example.
Trotter said he agrees the city is healthy for now, but said he thinks attempts to collect more taxes should be reconsidered.
He said free market incentives such as low taxes and reduced bureaucracy should be used to attract a diverse pool of employers to Stillwater.
Joyce said businesses considering locating in Stillwater usually first concern themselves with the availability of the infrastructure, water and electricity they need.
They also ask, “What is there to do?” he said. Companies considering Stillwater worry about whether their employees will want to live here.
The pair were asked to comment on the one-cent transportation sales tax and seven-percent resort tax also decided on February 8.
Trotter said he believes the only fair tax is a flat sales tax that is paid by everyone. For this reason, he has no moral objection to sales tax, he said. But he thinks it’s badly timed.
On the other hand, because the proposed increase in the tourist tax is only paid by people staying in hotels or short-term rentals, he does not support it.
Joyce said one could argue that sales tax isn’t fair because people who earn less pay a higher percentage of their income when they buy the things they need. That said, he described the proposed taxes as good, timely investments for the whole community.
The sales tax will help the town of Stillwater complete a list of needed transportation projects that total $75 million to $80 million, and the tourist tax increase will fund amenities to attract visitors, he said. .
Joyce said he also supports the bond issue that voters would consider in April. A new fire station is badly needed and its installation will reduce property taxes for Stillwater residents.
Trotter reiterated his belief that the only fair tax is a flat sales tax. He said he would instead look for places in the city budget where cuts could be made to save money.
Finding ways to save money would be his primary method of funding projects and making improvements.
COVID-related issues didn’t dominate the discussion on Monday, they were broached when the candidates took questions from the small audience, which seemed mostly made up of Trotter supporters.
They were asked if they would enforce mask mandates or require vaccinations.
Trotter, who explained earlier that he believes every person is a king whose body and property cannot be controlled by another, said he absolutely would not.
“No king can tell another king what he can do,” he said.
Although not part of the question, Joyce took issue with Trotter’s description of the United States as a nation of kings.
“America is a nation of laws,” he said. “That’s no way to run a society…”
Joyce, who has never publicly discussed the idea of requiring vaccinations, said he voted for a mask mandate and as an elected official he would do what he had to do to protect the community.
“I think it was the right decision,” he said.
The forum can be viewed in its entirety on the Town of Stillwater’s YouTube channel and Facebook page and will air every night at 9 p.m. through Election Day on Suddenlink Channel 14 and AT&T YouVerse Channel 99.
Early voting will take place from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Payne County Election Board, 315 W. 6th Ave. and regular polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on February 8.