Putting first responders first 

More than anything else, governing is about setting priorities. Oklahoma Republicans got it right in the past few years when we started pushing the state government to "Fund Education First." We recognize that the long-term health of our state " socially, economically, culturally " is dependent on a well-educated citizenry. Further, we recognize that in our federal system, different levels of government are better suited to fund or administer various public services.

While the state's priority is education, local government " both municipal and county " is best focused on public safety, broadly speaking. Therefore, I propose that Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County make the commitment to fund public safety first.  Before any other project is considered, it is vital that police, fire and emergency medical services receive the funding they require. 

The pursuit of happiness is contingent upon the security of person and property provided by these public servants. Far too often, their sacrifices and the risks they take on our behalf are not paid the respect they deserve. Central Oklahoma is in the middle of a boom time with respect to raising the quality of life. Putting first responders first will ensure that this boom rests on a firm foundation and rewards those who make it possible.

Where there is a disconnect between the political class and first responders, the likely culprit is disparate social backgrounds between the two to where the groups see each other as competitors rather than strategic partners. Thankfully, in Oklahoma that gap is not nearly as wide as in large coastal cities. 

Personally, I have cousins in fire departments and working as EMT personnel. Close friends of mine are serving proudly in police departments in the Oklahoma City metro area. When in the Reserves, I could not keep track of how many of my fellows were on their way to police stations and firehouses after the last muster on Sunday afternoon. My work with the state Health Department's bioterrorism task force taught me the invaluable contribution of each group to our safety in ways we frequently do not consider.

From these personal and local contacts, I have developed a deep respect for these most honorable of public servants. This is exactly why we vest the funding and administration of these services so close to the people in the form of municipal and county government. The authority wielded by public safety personnel is accepted to the degree that it is local " neighborly even.

That is why I can feel nothing but frustration when I read of public safety workers in Midwest City having to picket in order to raise awareness that a requested raise was not even considered in open session, but rather behind closed doors. Whether the city followed the letter of the Open Meetings Act is not the most important question. The spirit of the law was trampled in the dirt and the police and fire departments felt slapped in the face.

Let this be a lesson to the rest of Central Oklahoma: Fund our public safety workers first and do so in an open, fair manner. They stand watch for us; it is time that we stand up for them.   

Reese is an attorney who lives with his wife and sons in Oklahoma City.

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