Not sure if you live in OKC's Ward 8? Check here and meet your city council candidates
City council seats are up for election for about half of Oklahoma City's residents on Feb. 14.
In Ward 8 — the city's farthest north ward which includes Quail Springs Mall, Lake Hefner and has its farthest boundary at NW 206 — incumbent Councilman Mark Stonecipher is being challenged on the left and the right by Amy Warne, a dietitian, and Frank Urbanic, former mayoral candidate and defense attorney.
Stonecipher, 65, was elected to serve on the council in 2015 as a conservative voice advocating for investments in public safety and infrastructure and has served as vice president of the Oklahoma City Water Trust. Stonecipher is a lifelong Oklahoma City resident and is an attorney with the Fellers Snider firm. He received degrees from Oklahoma City University and the University of Oklahoma School of Law.
Oklahoma City Council elections:Who's running? Check OKC ward map, where to vote and more
Warne, 46, is a registered and licensed dietitian and has served in health care since 2007. Warne is a lifelong Oklahoma City resident and holds bachelor's degrees in health care management and nutritional sciences, and a master's in business administration.
Urbanic, 42, ran against Mayor David Holt in the 2022 election, receiving 20% of the vote. He is in the Air Force Reserve and is a criminal defense and civil rights attorney, having lived in Oklahoma City for 14 years. He received a bachelor's in business management from Texas A&M, a master's in business administration from the University of Oklahoma and his Juris Doctor from Texas Tech.
The Oklahoman sent each candidate for city council the same four questions that will help voters get a feel for each candidate's priorities and stances on issues facing Oklahoma City. Stonecipher, Warne and Urbanic's responses can be found below, edited for brevity and clarity.
If you're a voter in one of the other wards up for election, The Oklahoman compiled similar Q&As with those candidates, as well.
Oklahoma City Ward map
And if you're uncertain of which ward you live in after some redistricting as a result of the 2020 census, you can find out what Oklahoma City ward you are in by searching for your home address in the city's interactive ward map.
Ward 2 Candidate Q&A:Not sure if you live in OKC's Ward 2? Check here and meet your city council election candidates
Ward 5 Candidate Q&A:Not sure if you live in OKC's Ward 5? Check here and meet your city council election candidates
Ward 6 Candidate Q&A:Not sure if you live in OKC's Ward 6? Check here and meet your city council election candidates
Editor's note: Responses from all candidates were edited for brevity and clarity. Responses are in the order candidates will appear on the ballot. Additional notes from The Oklahoman are found in italics.
Q: What would be your top priority if you were to win your election?
Stonecipher: Mayor Holt likes to remind everyone that we are the sixth fastest growing city in the United States. We must continue this positive growth for our children and grandchildren. A top priority during a new term will be keeping our city going in the direction it currently is going by fulfilling the promises made to voters in the Better Streets, Safer City initiative and MAPS 4. We are a city that continues to build consensus and has so-far thwarted attempts to overly-politicize city government. By doing so, we are making historic investments in public safety and our streets, as well as addressing human needs by better funding mental health needs and finding ways to more efficiently address crime such as the police department’s new Real-Time Information Center. However, we must always be looking to the future and the needs of our city 10, 20, 30 even 50 years from now. The time to make infrastructure investments that will serve our children, grandchildren and eventual great-grandchildren is now.
Warne: Although not my only priority, we must address the housing and public safety crisis facing our city by working on the factors that contribute to that. We increasingly see more homes without people and more people without homes. While MAPS 4 addresses the need to transform the city’s approach to this crisis, the funds are conditional. In office, I will pursue a community-centered public safety policy. I’ll collaborate with various community stakeholders and experts to pursue further initiatives that better support our unhoused community and connect people in crisis with resources. We must adopt a housing-first initiative.* And as I have said before, housing first does not mean housing only. I believe all people deserve access to healthy and affordable food. A lack of access to food adversely affects our community’s safety and health.
*Oklahoma City adopted a "housing first" model in 2013, which prioritizes housing the homeless without requirements like getting sober or on medication for mental health issues.
Urbanic: Rename Lake Hefner. While once respected, the Hefner name is now associated with racism, hatred, and bigotry. It’s time for OKC to move on from the Hefners. This lake should be named after an important Oklahoman that we can all be proud of.
Q: Oklahoma City is the 10th-largest city in the nation by square miles, creating debate between some council members concerned the city needs to focus on taking care of existing infrastructure and others who believe the city should accommodate those wanting to live in rural areas. If elected, what would you do to ensure residents across the entire community receive comparable city services?
Stonecipher: The best thing we can do for all of our residents is to continue to create an economic climate conducive to growth. By growing our economy, we are able to reduce the times we have to make this choice between serving those in the highly populated areas and meeting the basic needs of those in the further reaches. The next best thing we can do is to always be forward looking. By doing that work now, we can again better position our city to not have to make the choices your question envisions.
OKC is really, really big:How it got that way, and the challenges it faces due to its size
Moreover, I see large amounts of reasonably inexpensive land available within Oklahoma City as an opportunity to allow more families to realize the most fundamental aspect of the American Dream – home ownership. While I reject the urban/rural divide, I firmly believe that we must continue to encourage and support neighborhoods and homeownership.
Warne: Improving infrastructure improves communities. We must thoughtfully implement infrastructure that serves all constituents across Oklahoma City. Currently, only one EMBARK bus line is available to Ward 8 residents, and little of the route is accessible to our residents. We must improve connectivity from Ward 8 to the rest of OKC. This can be coupled with increasing bike lanes, bus lines, and Bus Rapid Transit.
Additionally, MAPS 4 allocated 70 million dollars to construct four new youth centers; however, none exist in Ward 8. Our youth are our future, and we need to nurture their curiosity. By investing in young people now, we have the opportunity to retain those young people in the future. I understand that our best outcomes are achieved when elected officials take a community-centered approach to policy by listening to varying perspectives and working with community stakeholders.
Urbanic: Right now, the city council is hyper-focused on downtown. Much of the money from residents outside downtown is taken and spent on wasteful projects such as the streetcars. In this year’s budget, the city intends to subsidize the streetcars more than $5.6 million. This money could be better spent. I would focus on improving infrastructure. Every time a two-lane road is improved, make it a four-lane road with a turn lane. Every time a four-lane asphalt road is improved, repave it with cement. Install a center turn lane on May and Penn from the turnpike to 192nd Street. Create more right turn pockets at intersections to improve traffic flow. Put smart traffic light sensors at every intersection and convert left only on green arrow lights to left turn yield lights.
Q: The Oklahoma City Metropolitan Statistical Area continues to show a strong rate of population growth and a low rate of unemployment. If you are elected, what would you do to ensure those trends continue?
Stonecipher: We have to reject the “us vs. them” mentality that occurs in other cities. When it comes to city government, we must continue to reject the DC-style politics of division. Instead, we need to continue building community consensus that has allowed us to make record investments in our streets, funding of police and firefighters, and in creating opportunities for the young and old alike such as our phenomenal soccer complex at Cameron Park and our senior wellness centers.
Second, we have to prepare for the future needs our city will have. My work on the city council is largely focused on what our city will look like, particularly on water infrastructure, years after my time here is done.
Warne: We’ve seen the positive economic impact public art and murals have brought to our city. When elected, I will work to further beautification efforts throughout Ward 8. Increasing economic activity in this way bolsters our local businesses while improving our overall quality of life. As the wife of an educator, I know communities thrive when we invest in our youth. We can do more to support Ward 8 youth programs and schools, especially outside of OKCPS. Investing in our children is critical to uplifting our economy.
When elected, I will be the first Native woman to serve on the OKC City Council. The lifeblood that flows through everything that is Oklahoma started with the 39 Sovereign Nations in this state. I am Mvskoke (Muscogee) enrolled, Semvnole (Seminole), and Daughter of Kaccvlke (Tiger Clan), which puts me in a unique position to further our relationships with the Native Nations in our state. Collectively, the Native Nations are one of Oklahoma’s largest employers and are crucial to the state’s economy.
Urbanic: Businesses and people want to move to an area where they believe they will thrive. “Mandate” Mark Stonecipher was the leading anti-business councilman over the last few years. He authored the mask mandate ordinance we had to suffer through in 2020. His ordinance “deputized” business owners as members of law enforcement–tasking them with the enforcement of his ordinance. This was polarizing and caused friction in our community. We should focus on bringing our community together, rather than pushing polarizing policies.
Q: Oklahoma City and its police department and the state of Oklahoma currently are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice to determine whether they discriminate against adults with behavioral health disabilities. Does this concern you, and how would you address the issue if you are elected?
Additional coverage on this topic can be found at Oklahoman.com
Stonecipher: I have tremendous faith in Chief (Wade) Gourley and our community’s police officers. As a city, however, we always strive to be the best. Our community needs to help the officers on patrol by doing a better job in getting treatment and services to those who need it so we are not putting these officers in bad positions. That is one reason I was proud to support MAPS 4 and the new programs that will better fund mental health programs and creates the Diversion Hub. I believe these are two efforts that will better allow our community to deal with mental health issues.
Should the voters reelect me, I will continue to support programs to address mental health issues in our city and will continue to work with the Chief Gourley and the Oklahoma City Police Department to make certain we are fully funding the training and resources our officers need.
More:OKC is seeking proposals for civilian responders to 911 calls involving the homeless
Warne: Yes, I am concerned. As a healthcare provider who has spent time working with people with behavioral health disabilities, we must ensure they are not being discriminated against and have access to the treatment they need and deserve. We must better utilize and fund services that are specialized in mental health support and de-escalation.
The answer is not to criminalize further at-risk communities, especially those unhoused. Research indicates that housing-first options cost less than criminalization or institutionalization. We must continue to develop relationships with experts in the field of behavioral health. Moreover, we must listen to experts and thoughtfully consider their expertise rather than ignoring recommendations for best practices, even when it’s not politically expedient.
Finally, further progress must be made to connect people in crisis with appropriate resources that meet their needs. Sending folks to our County Jail is not the answer, and we have seen the consequences of excessive criminalization, specifically among adults with behavioral health disabilities.
Urbanic: I will read the report and base my decisions off its findings. In general, we should look at other communities that have been successful in this area and adopt their best practices.
Oklahoma City's city council election is Feb. 14
Love, and democracy, will be in the air this Valentine's Day.
Oklahoma City residents from wards 2, 5, 6 and 8 will vote on their next city councilmember on Feb. 14. To request an absentee ballot, see a sample ballot or find your polling place, visit the Oklahoma State Election Board's OK Voter Portal.
Early voting will run Feb. 9 and 10 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Oklahoma County Election Board, 4201 N Lincoln Blvd. South Ward 5 residents can vote early at the Cleveland County Election Board at 641 E Robinson in Norman, or the Moore Norman Technology Center at 13301 S Pennsylvania in Oklahoma City.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the location of early voting in Cleveland County.
You can find Q&As on each of the Oklahoma City Council wards up for election on oklahoman.com.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OKC Ward 8 city council election candidates discuss goals for office