Holcombe: Council needs foresight

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com
Steve Holcombe

Ward 2 Councilor Steve Holcombe isn’t through pushing the Pawhuska City Council to be a more accessible, forward-looking body.

“I think I’ve raised the level of consciousness that we need to do planning off of the wonderful opportunity that has been presented to us,” he said, when asked to name his most significant accomplishment as a member of the council for the past three years.

“So, my contributions have been mostly behind the scenes,” Holcombe said, noting he has worked to establish a good working relationship with City Mangaer Larry Eulert.

The wonderful opportunity to which Holcombe referred is the economic lift that The Pioneer Woman Mercantile has given Pawhuska. He also refers to it as “the miracle of The Merc.”

Holcombe, 61, is seeking a second, three-year term and wants to see the council become involved in planning intelligently for growth. He also continues to argue for greater openness and responsiveness. Three elements of his platform are allowing on-demand public comments at council meetings, dissemination of meeting agendas by email and text, and direct election of the mayor by the voters.

The position of mayor is held by Roger Taylor, who is a member of the council. The mayor is chosen through a vote of the council members. Holcombe would like for the position to remain largely ceremonial, but to be filled via a vote of the people when the public votes in early 2020 on the at-large council seat.

Holcombe, an attorney, is one of three candidates who will be on the ballot citywide Tuesday. While candidates for the Ward 2 seat are required to live in the ward, all registered voters in the city can cast ballots. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Presbyterian Church and Calvary Baptist Church. Early voting at the Election Board office will be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

All registered voters who live in the city of Pawhuska are eligible to participate. If no candidate gets 50 percent plus one, there will be a runoff in the general election April 2.

Holcombe said he has encountered “pushback” against the idea of opening up city meetings to allow public comments, to the effect that councilors would end up spending a lot of time listening to residents talk.

“I consider it to be part of our job,” he said. Holcombe explained he thinks it would be helpful for residents to be able to attend meetings and direct their concerns to the city manager, who runs the day-to-day operations of the municipal government.

Holcombe argues passionately that the current council offers the citizenry no foresight, no plan and no vision for the future.

“There is no vision from the City Council, and I think that’s a critical responsibility of a City Council and a mayor,” he said. In support of this assertion he cites the failure of City Council members, other than himself, to attend any sessions of a workshop held in April 2017 by Smart Growth America, a nonprofit that works with investors, economic development agencies and local political leaders to think strategically about community development.

In a 37-page report addressed to Geoffrey Standing Bear, principal chief of the Osage Nation, Smart Growth America lamented the lack of participation by members of the Pawhuska City Council.

“This was disappointing as Pawhuska’s future depends on the fully integrated and fully shared vision of both the city and the (Osage) Nation,” Smart Growth America said in its report.

If re-elected, Holcombe said he will call for the creation of an implementation committee to move forward on recommendations contained in the Smart Growth America report.

He also said he will move for the creation of a diverse committee of Pawhuska residents to help formulate a new 20-year plan for the city. The existing 20-year plan expires in 2020.

In addition to campaigning for an energetic council, Holcombe wants city government to tell people in real time about upcoming meetings and make sure they get the message.

“I think we’re not in compliance with the Open Meetings Law, and we haven’t been for a long time,” he said, noting that Pawhuska city government doesn’t post meeting agendas online. And, in the case of special called meetings a piece of paper is posted at city hall, but the public isn’t truly made aware a meeting is going to be held.

In his campaign materials, Holcombe provides a reminder that Pawhuska had two city council meetings per month until 2015, and he calls for a return to that practice. The council has one regular meeting per month.

Holcombe comes from a family with deep roots in Pawhuska. His great-grandfather, Marion L. Holcombe, moved his family to Pawhuska more than a century ago.