Ward 6 Enid City Commission candidate George Pankonin spoke during an Enid Noon AMBUCS election forum Friday, while incumbent Dr. David Vanhooser had to attend a meeting in Oklahoma City and provided pre-recorded video.

“It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been four years since I have been on the city council as the Ward 6 representative for the city of Enid. It’s been a real honor to serve as a city commissioner,” Vanhooser, a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon, said in the video.

Elected to the Ward 6 seat in February 2013, Vanhooser actively campaigned to serve as mayor ahead of a February 2015 election, but Mayor Bill Shewey retained the seat.

Vanhooser updated viewers on a number of projects.

The Kaw Lake water pipeline is currently in phase two, he said.

“It is my personal conviction, and that of the other commissioners, that this will come in on budget,” Vanhooser said.

The downtown hotel continues to progress.

“I hope that within the next week to 10 days we have a formal announcement about the hotel,” he said. “There have been numerous roadblocks to that being accomplished, primarily because of the flagship and the franchise for that.”

Hilton withdrew, Vanhooser said, so a lot of time has been spent finding an appropriate flagship for the hotel.

Lahoma Courts, located at Cleveland and Garriott, initially involved a contract with Hunt Properties. The city’s responsibility was to acquire some of the properties, but it ran into a significant roadblock with not being able to acquire two, and Hunt canceled the contract, he said.

“Since then, we’ve continued to work on trying to make that happen,” Vanhooser said. “As is so often the case, the free market is looking at that. There’s a local developer who’s been working diligently for at least the past year to try to put that project together and put that package together to allow some development to occur at that particular property.

“That is still in the works. The city of Enid is sitting on $3 million worth of property that we purchased, but at the end of the day, that can be used either as an incentive for that project, or the developer can buy that from us outright. At any rate, one of these days we will be made completely whole on that, and our goal of having a very active sales tax generating property at that corner will hopefully be realized within the next year or two.”

In his opinion, Vanhooser said a casino deal on the east side of Enid is "dead."

“It was never going to happen. That should have never come out of executive session, and the public never would have had to be concerned about whether it was right or not,” he said. “That project got out of control, as I said, it should have never gotten out of executive session — not because the commission hides things in executive session but because some things need to be confidential, and in particular, when they’re very, very preliminary.”

The city spends about $2 million on street maintenance per year, Vanhooser said.

“When I first came on the commission, and we had an extensive discussion about streets, the number that I remember in my head is we were told that it would take $400 million all at once to repave all of the city of Enid main streets … to get everything up to speed all at once, and then we’d have to do it again in eight years,” he said. “Roads are not permanent, they require constant maintenance and constant upkeep, and so you’re kind of fighting a losing battle. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.”

George Pankonin, an Air Force retiree and local volunteer, chose to settle in Enid.

“In some cases, the council has become a little bit inefficient. I think, like a lot of you, when you go to the council meetings there’s back and forth that’s going on maybe that’s not always helpful and maybe not always in a positive vein,” he said, adding he has been known to be a good facilitator who can listen to both sides and try to bring a group to a common decision. “I don’t think that’s a skill that everybody has, and I think it’s one that they could use on the council and I could offer. So, that’s why I’m running.”

Transparency is an issue, he said.

“Dr. Vanhooser and I, I think, agree on a lot of things. So, we both say we’re for transparency, but I think we mean something different when we use the same word,” Pankonin said.

He said Vanhooser has said residents are most happy when everything happens, there’s no bumps in the road and they don’t need to know all the details.

“I’m not sure that’s what all the citizens want,” Pankonin said. “I think what they want, really want, is information on how’s it working? Where did you get that decision? They don’t want to second-guess every decision that the committee makes, or that the council makes, but I don’t think they want just no information.

“To me, transparency means: Put everything above board that can be. I understand there are times you need to have executive session.”

Pankonin said he does not think the city is getting ahead on roads.

“I think we’re barely keeping up, and I don’t think that’s what we need to do. I think part of the reason is we’re involved in some things maybe we shouldn’t be involved. I’ve not been a proponent of the Lahoma Courts thing since it started, and now what we have is a ($3) million project on hold, waiting for the next step to happen, and I don’t know that anybody has an idea when that might be,” he said. “I think that all started because we ended up getting into a situation where we’re buying land for a possible future economic development opportunity that really wasn’t there.

“I don’t think the city really needs to be in the land speculation business.”

On the casino, Pankonin said he is glad it came up when it did so it would get “squashed where it was.”

“But if there’s an opportunity for economic development in the area, I’m not sure that the city commission ought to be hearing from every person that wants to come in. We have an economic development foundation that I think is appropriate for that, and they should probably be bringing ideas to the board,” he said.

The election for the seat is Tuesday.

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Involved in news reporting for about 15 years, I've been with the Enid News & Eagle since 2014, when my family moved to Enid to be on the family farm.

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