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MAPS in perspective


Bill Bleakley July 30th, 2009

The seeds of the future successes of the MAPS initiatives were planted 24 years ago in the summer of 1985. While Oklahoma City languished from an oil bust, two initiatives sought to change things for ...

The seeds of the future successes of the MAPS initiatives were planted 24 years ago in the summer of 1985. While Oklahoma City languished from an oil bust, two initiatives sought to change things for the better.

First was a citizens group for in-depth public opinion polling on what voters thought were the city's problems, priorities for fixing them, and if they would support a sales tax to finance solutions.

Second was formation of Mayor Andy Coats' Mayor's Advisory Council to study priorities and funding opportunities. Both efforts had the same purpose: to engage the public in planning for the city's future.

The "Six to Fix" campaign followed these efforts, proposing a combination of sales tax, hotel tax and bonds to fund projects identified by the citizens. Only the bond issue passed.

In the spring of 1987, Ron Norick succeeded Coats as mayor and initiated a second effort for the "Six to Fix" campaign. Again, the voters rejected the sales tax, but adopted the bond issue.

However, in three succeeding elections under Norick's leadership, voters did approve single-purpose sales tax increases for police and fire in 1989, the zoo in 1990, and United Airlines in 1991. These successes enabled Norick to lead the community in planning the first MAPS, which included the canal, ballpark, arena and Civic Center restoration as projects.

Although it passed with only 54 percent of the vote, the process of building consensus, establishing priorities and marshaling the limited sales tax resources resulted in a program that forged community pride and made every citizen a stakeholder in the process.

MAPS for Kids had a similar heritage. Applying the MAPS model to a public-education infrastructure, a broad coalition of citizens studied, planned and proposed the program before submitting it to the voters. Mayor Kirk Humphreys had a strong role in building support.

The strength of MAPS' franchise flows from its history of citizen engagement, collaboration and consensus building. In addition to robust citizen involvement, two other factors are essential to its future successes.

First is the responsibility of mayor and council to frame the issues and submit proposals to the voters. It is important that the mayor and council fully participate in this process, ensuring that citizens are both informed about the options and provided the opportunity to express their opinions, before calling the election.

Second is the indispensable participation of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, whose support is critical to any vote. Its assistance with research, planning and organizing has been critical to the adoption of these measures since the city has the power to submit proposals to the voters, but cannot legally campaign for their approval.

For MAPS 3 to be successful, these historical factors must remain in play. Citizens, council and chamber must engage each other in an open, transparent and collaborative manner, particularly in these challenging economic times.

The current sales tax for the basketball team expires March 2010. There are indications that the city manager may recommend to council in September calling a special election in December to extend the sales tax  for MAPS 3.

We have heard from interests wanting their piece of the pie, but we've lacked the dynamic citizen panels that formed past proposals for the council's consideration and provided the foundations of the MAPS and MAPS for Kids successes.

Will there be any citizen review of a list of potential projects, the total cost of which would be well beyond the proceeds of any sales tax increase, and recommended priorities given to council?

The MAPS spirit is one of our city's most valuable assets. The mayor and council must take care not to harm its vitality by minimizing the most important basis for its past successes: the participation and buy-in of an informed and engaged citizenry.

Bleakley is publisher of Oklahoma Gazette.

 
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