OKLAHOMA CITY - An outgoing city councilman finds issue with a city charter that would cause his successor to quit his job as a middle school teacher.
"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 Ward 2 City Councilman Ed Shadid. "Why does city law restrict somebody from being a teacher and serving on the council?"
Shadid hopes to give voters the option to change that measure.
At the onset of his campaign last year, Councilman-Elect James Cooper was aware of the city rule that would require him to leave his position at Jefferson Middle School.
"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 everyday 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."
That position change also means Cooper is exchanging his salary for the $12,000 a year given to council members in Oklahoma City.
"Here's the problem, when you ask people to resign from positions like teaching schools, then you ask them to represent 80,000 people, more than a state senator, and do that for less than minimum wage, you're severely restricting the people who want and can run for city council," said Shadid.
He says that current policy ends up favoring wealthy people and retirees.
"It's twofold. One issue is you're severely decreasing the number of people who can serve and can run. The second is you risk corruption for the taxpayer," said the outgoing councilman.
Shadid says he has led ongoing conversations with the council about changing that city charter. He says the city council could move to raise their salaries, but he plans to start an initiative petition.
"With 6,000 signatures, the people could vote on this at the same time as the MAPS vote in December," he explained.
Shadid tells News 4 that a similar measure was voted down a decade ago. Meanwhile, Cooper says he has been overwhelmed with support since Shadid brought the issue of his employment to the forefront.
"Right now the district and people at city hall are working on a way to make this work," said Cooper.
He says he was willing to resign to avoid any conflicts of interest, and made it a point not to make it a focus during the campaign. He says he would plan to return to his position as an adjunct professor at metro colleges. His main goal, though, is to serve.
"I said I would do so in the spirit of transparency," said Cooper. "If that means I need to step down in order to do that, that’s what I'll do. I can't serve my students and their families and my neighbors and friends with anything less."