City investments

Oklahoma City Council and the mayor unanimously voted to approve a MAPS 4 package despite some concerns.

click to enlarge City investments
Alexa Ace
The highest allocation of MAPS 4 money, $140 million, is for the city’s parks.

Sixteen projects are in the MAPS 4 package that was unanimously approved by Oklahoma City Council last week. Allocations are based on an estimated $978 million revenue from a one-cent sales tax set to last eight years.

During the Aug. 27 meeting in which the package was voted on, many councilmembers said they did not like every project but were content overall. The projects encompass a variety of social services and neighborhood needs as well as some entertainment and tourist attractions.

“I’m very pleased that ultimately, we were able to develop potentially something here that is inclusive of lots of different interests in our community,” mayor David Holt said. “I think this is an ideal culmination of the 26 hours we spent here talking about this over the summer.”

All 16 projects included in the package were formally presented in a series of four special meetings throughout July and early August, which all lasted at least five hours.

“$700 million of this MAPS is going to go to our neighborhoods and our human needs that have for too long kept too many of our people from access to education to health care to education to a better quality of life,” Ward 2 councilman James Cooper said. “Are there things in this MAPS that I do not like? You betcha. But those things pale in comparison to the things I know they’re about to improve — the hearts, the minds and the bodies, the existence of our people.”

Though the 10-page resolution declaring the council’s intent for MAPS 4 passed unanimously, some councilmembers expressed their concerns with the package.

Ward 6 councilwoman JoBeth Hamon expressed that her experience with the process had not been as transparent as people were made to believe. She also brought up her concerns regarding funding for neighborhood and human needs and issues surrounding endowments.

“When I hear people say things like, ‘Well MAPS is a compromise. Democracy is all compromise,’ it’s hard for me to swallow that when I think about all of these needs that have been compromising for decades are the ones having to compromise more,” she said. “My second concern is with the endowment piece of the package. I’m pretty skeptical, I guess, that we’re going to see a 4 percent return on those investments, and in my mind, it seems like a poor use of taxpayer money to take $100 million and put it in a fund somewhere to minutely cover the operations of some parts of this package.”

“$700 million of this MAPs is going to go to our neighborhoods and our human needs that have for too long kept too many of our people from access to education to health care to education to a better quality of life.” — James Cooper

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Roughly $106 million has been allocated for operating funds, or endowments. Park projects, youth centers, senior wellness centers, the Innovation District, Freedom Center and Clara Luper Civil Rights Center, and beautification allocations include an endowment.

Former councilman Ed Shadid spoke during the meeting and also criticized the council for using endowments, which he said suffer during recessions when money is needed most, and for being secretive.

“Those cuts are going to be painful. They’re going to hurt the poor and the marginalized disproportionally. Your endowment program is woefully, fiscally irresponsible. It will take you years to collect the money,” he said. “By meeting in small groups and hiding from the people things like the Boathouse Foundation asking you for another $3 million this year, and keeping that from the people, you’re not allowing the people to fully understand the operational pressures. … You’re not allowing the people to have informed consent.”

Shadid also said most voters want to vote on projects separately and asserted he would challenge the all-or-nothing vote in court.

“You’re telling the domestic violence victim, ‘You can have your family justice center, but you’re going to have to vote to tax yourself for a multipurpose stadium in order to get it,’” he said. “It is so far beyond an unpalatable choice, it makes me nauseous.”

Failed motions

Hamon made two motions to amend the package. Her first motion would have taken $10 million from the Innovation District’s innovation hall and allocated it to the homelessness housing package. Nice was also critical of the Innovation District’s innovation hall, which would be in her own ward.

“Again, there is a TIF for the Innovation District that is in place. I think that’s something that we should have been taking into account with this, and we’re still waiting for a lot of things to be implemented in the Innovation District, and that’s the unfortunate piece,” she said. “In my opinion, some of those things should’ve been done already.”

Ultimately, both motions failed 3-6 with Cooper and Ward 7’s Nikki Nice voting alongside Hamon.

“Listen. I have some ideas too, but this is the package that was presented to us,” said Ward 5 councilman David Greenwell. “If we start allowing individual changes, then I would say let’s defer it, let everybody come back and start picking this apart if that’s what the council wants to do.”

Hamon’s second motion would have removed three words from the Innovation District part of the resolution, which she argued would have helped distribute $25 million for connectivity to more than the one bridge specified.

“I want to get along, but I’m going to vote no because I don’t want to spend the rest of the day changing commas, periods, question marks,” said Ward 8 councilman Mark Stonecipher. “This could go on forever, and I think we will all work together. I think there’s sufficient language here when it says ‘including.’ That doesn’t limit it one specific street.”

Next steps

Despite having big concerns about the package, Hamon joined the rest of the council in approving the package. On Dec.10, Oklahoma City voters will decide whether or not to approve the MAPS package in a special election.


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