ENID, Okla. — Enid City Commission candidates answered questions on a variety of topics during a public forum Tuesday at Stride Bank Center’s Grand Ballroom.
Enid area media — Enid News & Eagle, Williams Media Group, Chisholm Trail Broadcasting and Enid Buzz — held the forum Jan. 26 in the Stride Bank Center Ballroom, and the panel consisted of News & Eagle Staff Writer Alexander Ewald, Williams Group Operations Manager Alan Clepper, Williams Group Production Director J. Curtis Huckleberry and Chisholm Trail Broadcasting General Manager Kevin Waltman.
All eight candidates in Enid’s regular ward elections were in attendance: Ward 3 candidates Kent Rorick and Keith Siragusa; Ward 4 candidates Loyd Kaufman, Whitney Roberts and Jonathan Waddell; and Ward 6 candidates Ryan Redd, Scott Orr and Michael Shuck.
All candidates answered a question asked by Ewald about the city’s mask mandate: “What responsibility do city leaders have to public health during an unprecedented pandemic like COVID-19? Do you think the mask mandate is helping or not, and does it need to be extended in Enid?
Rorick again answered first, saying it’s a touchy subject and that the election could be won or lost on this subject alone: “I am going to say that this council did vote, and they did pass a mask mandate, and that’s not going to change due to the election. If the people get flipped, the vote is still going to be the same. I do think that it does make a difference. I think we need to wear masks, and that’s just my opinion. I have some health issues, my wife has some pre-existing health issues, and for us with compromised immune systems, we definitely have to wear masks. I realize freedoms and opinions of people, and it’s a touchy subject, but I do believe that data … shows that masks have been helping and I do believe it’s the council’s responsibility to citizens to vote on it, which they did.”
Siragusa followed: “(Section 83 40) Health powers, the city of Enid shall have the power by ordinance duly passed to regulate and prescribe such rules and regulations deemed advisable or necessary to protect public health, public safety and comfort. And comfort. Very uncomfortable situation the city commissioners were put in and the mayor was put in. The mayor did not bring it up. The mayor is voted by everybody in the city. Wards are voted by their constituents in the ward. I feel that the mask, if it was brought up by the mayor and pushed by the mayor, then it would have been more of an issue, but it wasn’t pushed by the mayor. It was pushed by one commissioner. General powers, the Board of Commissioners shall be vested with the power and charged with the duty of adopting all laws and ordinances. All laws and ordinances not inconsistent with the Constitution of this state, and (laws) thereof touching every subject matter and subject within the purview of local government, instituted by this charter. Once again, we’re discussing one individual that was pushing, finally made everybody else vote on it. Does the mask work? There’s possibility. Doesn’t the virus spread through the mask? There’s a possibility. There’s nothing concrete either way. I operate out of the farm (Bennie’s Barn). We have people with disabilities, they do not wear masks. I do not have one case of COVID back to the farm. The reason being is we sanitize everything. We social distance. Hand washing before and after lessons with my clients, and still there’s not one case ... (The mask) gives people false hope because they get into social distancing issues because of wearing this.”
Current Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell pushed for a city mask mandate, which was voted down twice. When a mask mandate was considered for the third time, two proposals were brought up, including one drafted by Mayor George Pankonin, which was the one accepted.
Kaufman answered next: “That’s a big question, whether the city ought to take a role in forcing people to wear the mask. Personally, I don’t think it helps a bit. It’s everybody’s responsibility to take care of themselves, and they can’t expect the city or the government or anyone else to do what they need to do on their own. I don’t wear a mask at home. I very rarely wear it out in public, but I will abide by whatever people want to do to protect themselves from me or anybody else who doesn’t want to wear a mask, but I don’t think the city government ought to dictate any terms like that to anybody. It’s their own personal responsibility … The kids don’t have any choice, but the parents ought to have enough sense to protect their children. They are our future. Personally I just don’t care. I take care of myself the best I can … Take your own personal responsibility … ”
Roberts answered after Kaufman: “I believe that everyone should be able to make their own decisions regarding their health care. I am not a health care professional. I would always advise everyone to seek the advice from their health care physician and abide by what their doctors would deem acceptable for their situation. As far as the government’s role in public health, I believe that the government has limited resources and the government needs to provide those resources for our most vulnerable population, such as my grandparents … My dad lives in a state that requires masks everywhere you go, and he still got COVID. Just from my personal experience, yes, it may help, but I have not seen evidence that it is a definite, ‘Yes, this will help.’ I think keeping our distance and hand washing, I think that is the best deterrent to get this virus.”
Waddell gave his answer next: “This was a crazy decision to make, but I don’t think anybody involved ever wanted to make it. What I’ll say is this: from the very beginning, I voted for the mask mandate. If given the opportunity, I would vote for it again. The efficacy of masks has been debated at length. The determination from the information that I have found has been simply this: depending on the type of mask that you have, there are certain degrees of efficacy … These masks are not 100%. They’re not perfect, but what they have the ability to do is to mitigate the risk, and I understand the individual liberty aspect of it. I put on the uniform in order to be able to defend it, but we are a community, and we live, die, survive together as one people together, working together for the preservation of our society. And if we tried to live and exist in silos and the thought process that our actions don’t affect our neighbors, our society won’t last for very long. Our country was predicated on the thought process that we were united. Together, we work together towards a unifying purpose. This is what I thought that was going to be. Unfortunately, it turned into something entirely different, which was never the intent, but I hope we could find a reward in a more positive way.”
Orr followed up with his answer: “I consider myself a fairly educated guy, and when I go out there, this virus is indiscriminate. Who knows who it’s going to strike … Yes, there are deaths, and those are very unfortunate, but I’ve seen seen studies go both ways … I’ve got friends who are medical doctors who don’t wear masks, and I’ve got doctors who are scared to death … But the bottom line is, I feel blessed to live in one of the most conservative states of the union and one of the most conservative cities in the state, and I think it’s up to the individual to decide, and I’m all for civil liberties. I encourage our businesses to make the decisions that are good for them. If they require us, that’s great. I would wear one in. If they don’t, that’s awesome, I’m still going to go in, but I don’t think it’s upon the city government, or any government for that matter, to tell people what to do, especially healthy people. In the court of law, you’re innocent until proven guilty — I’m healthy until proven otherwise. I don’t like to wear a mask. It bothers me. I’ve got a hearing disability, and I’m telling you what I’m having a hard time understanding just some of the folks here talking tonight. I don’t think that’s the way it should work. I think the city, instead of making mandates, should highly encourage and educate the folks ... It’s not right and it shouldn’t happen.”
Redd answered next: “So, in my church, there’s actually been four people in the last two months that have passed away from COVID, so COVID is real. It really does affect people’s health. However … The jury’s still out on whether a mask really works, and I think that the decision should be up to the individual, and that we should have the ability to decide whether we’re going to wear it or not … Now, if a business … says a mask is required, I put on a mask and I go in. It hasn’t really changed my behavior, and I don’t think it’s changed behavior of a lot of people in town. If there was a sign on the door before the mask mandate, most people put a mask on … I do believe that there’s some potential downsides to wearing a mask. A friend of mine worked in a medical office and wasn’t able to wash her mask for a couple of days, and she got sick, and she was out for weeks — not with COVID, but with something else that she had caught from having the mask over her face … The city is tasked with making these kinds of decisions. I would not vote for a mandate, I would not vote to extend it, because I think that is up to the individual liberties of every person of this town.”
Shuck finished with his answer last: “I put it on when I see the sign, I kind of go without when I don’t. Is it right or is it wrong? Does it work or does it not? There’s a lot of confusion about this. I really think this is a time for real thoughtful leadership — the commissioners, the mayor all had to put a lot of thought into this, and I really respect them for that. We all know somebody who’s had it … Most of us know somebody who’s died. To me, this has just polarized us more than anything. It brought that national polarization right here to Enid. I want to make something big happen here, I want Enid to be the best … I didn’t see the mandate as a mandate … What they passed, I’ve talked to several commissioners, and … they said, ‘It’s just time to do something, anything.’ And since it’s not really a mask mandate to me, it is a highly recommended thing, I would support it. That being said, hopefully that doesn’t have anything to do with us … Once we get seated on the commission, I pray that this is all gone.”
Other questions included candidates’ goals if they are elected, KNID Agrifest, communication between commissioners and residents and the Kaw Lake Water Pipeline Project, and all questions and answers can be found online. Some audience members wrote questions that, due to time constraints, weren’t able to be answered during the forum.
The election will be Feb. 9. Winners will take office at the first commission meeting in May.