Early voting to be held this week for change Oklahoma City charter, ONG agreement

OKLAHOMA CITY – Residents in Oklahoma City will soon be able to head to the polls to decide the fate of a city charter amendment and an ONG franchise agreement.

The Oklahoma City Council says a special election will be held on July 9 for a proposed amendment to the city charter.

The proposed amendment would allow more state and federal government employees to serve on the city council. Organizers say it would allow employees like teachers and engineers to be council members.

The issue came about after voters in Ward 2 elected James Cooper to serve as a councilman. After the election, he was no longer able to hold his job as a public school teacher.

“We have a city charter that says I could not be a full-time employee in the [Oklahoma City Public School] district and serve on council,” said Cooper. “I spent several weeks agonizing over that decision because my kids are essentially a second family.”

He says he walked every day from the Paseo District to the Capitol for two weeks during the teacher walkout. That, he says, is where he finalized his decision to sacrifice teaching for public office.

“Everyday I would walk on sidewalks that would buckle and disappear into yards if they existed at all, and during that walk, all I could think about were my students,” he said. “I would think about how so many of them don’t have access to mental health, domestic violence services, homelessness services, addiction services. How the sidewalks disappear and buckle and crack in their neighborhood as well.”

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That position change also means Cooper is exchanging his salary for the $12,000 a year given to council members in Oklahoma City.

"Schools are the keys to the revitalization of our neighborhoods, it's an economic development issue and nobody would understand that better than James," said former Ward 2 City Councilman Ed Shadid. "Why does city law restrict somebody from being a teacher and serving on the council?"

Under the proposed amendment, Cooper would be able to keep his job as a teacher and serve on the council.

Voters will also consider a proposed change to the ONG franchise agreement. If the change is approved, ONG’s residential and commercial customers in Oklahoma City could see an increase in their gas bill of about 0.1 percent.

As a result, ONG would pay the city about $225,000 in additional annual franchise fees.

Early voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 4 and Friday, July 5 for the special election. Early voting will be at the local county election board.

Regular voting will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on July 9 at the usual polling locations.

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