Third Ward City Council Preview: Mike Lester
By John Dobberstein, Editor
This is one of a series of Q&A articles for each Broken Arrow City Council candidate brought to you by the Broken Arrow Sentinel.
In the contest for Broken Arrow’s Third Ward seat, former longtime City Council member and former mayor Mike Lester goes head-to-head against Christi Gillespie, who unseated Lester in 2019.
Lester stepped down as mayor – a position which is appointed by council members – in 2012 after news of a controversial casino development in Broken Arrow emerged and questions were raised about Lester’s involvement and lack of communication about it.
When he stepped down, Lester said he “didn’t want the many good things occurring in Broken Arrow to be overshadowed by the recent events related to the proposed casino.”
Lester did admit to having what he described as an “informal discussion” with a family friend about the proposal. The casino ran into trouble in court and from regulators and never opened.
Lester did continue to serve on the city council for several more years, until his re-election bid fell short. The city’s municipal election is Tuesday, April 4. All Broken Arrow residents vote for candidates in each ward.
Family: Wife: Pat, retired Union Public School 1st grade teacher for 38 years; son Chris, owner of an irrigation company; and son Grant, offensive quality control football coach, University of Tulsa.
Education: B.S. in business administration, Northeastern State University; M.S. in criminal justice, OCU
Current occupation: Commercial real estate brokerage – commercial construction company
Qualifications: Union Long Range Planning Committee – 29 years; Union Education Foundation (founding member and president) – 6 years; Union Football Booster Club (president and vice president) – 17 years; Union Board of Education – (president) – 5 years; Broken Arrow Planning Commission – 10 years; Broken Arrow Board of Adjustment – 2 years; Broken Arrow City Council – 12 years; Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce Board – 3 years’ Broken Arrow Economic Development Corp. – 3 years; Broken Arrow Education Foundation; Broken Arrow Civitans Civic Club – 32 years; chairman sub-committee of Broken Arrow Chamber - review of revitalization of New Orleans Street and Elm Place intersection; Lead councilor in the purchase, removal of Bever house in Indian Springs III to establish through numerous community donors a Park of Remembrance.
Endorsements: None confirmed
Q: What motivated you to run for city council, or to seek re-election? What have you done over the last 4 years that shows you are qualified to be a city councilor?
Lester: I’ve sought to be involved since I was recruited to be treasurer of my son’s PTA Council in 1982. I said ‘If not me to serve, then who?’ And second, ‘If it’s not fun, then I won’t participate.’ I have had fun being involved over these 40+ years. These past four years I’ve remained involved by viewing council meetings online to keep abreast with what’s happening. I’ve met with some council members and interacted with staff members on projects which were, and still are important to me. This includes interaction with Tulsa County commissioners on the widening of Garnett Road from 91st to 101st streets, upgrading the intersection of 101st and Garnett, and the widening of 101st
Street from Memorial Drive to Garnett.
Q: What would be your 3 biggest priorities for Broken Arrow if you are elected?
Lester: Number one will always be public safety. Keeping both the police and fire at their authorized strength is needed for both their safety and their ability to keep us safe and secure. As a former Tulsa police officer I understand how community support is critical in doing your job. Number two would be infrastructure. It’s difficult to say roads are more important than water, for without good roads or an adequate water supply both families and businesses will go elsewhere. Third would be economic development, such as working with the Chamber developing good-paying jobs that will bring more families to Broken Arrow. That, in turn, brings more retail development and increases sales tax revenue as well, for which the city is dependent on for its operation.
Q: How should the city address the challenges it has with fire and police departments with the lack of resources, manpower shortages and continued population growth?
Lester: I believe it’s time that cities across Oklahoma unite to tell our legislature to put on the ballot an opportunity for communities to pass a small increase in their ad-valorem tax base specific to public safety. As the only state that relies almost entirely on sales tax, it’s a struggle to have the revenue to support our first responders at a time when we’re in a down economy, where people aren’t spending their dollars and thus our sales tax revenue drops. I believe this is critical for our future.
Q: Is development of Broken Arrow happening in the best interests of residents as a whole? What should be tweaked or changed, if anything, about how the city is regulating and planning for growth?
Lester: First, I want to make clear our citizens should always be heard regarding growth. I believe my years on the city’s Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment, along with my 12 years on the City Council -- as well as 40-plus years in both construction and real estate -- give me the tools to understand growth and to listen and interact with citizens regarding the best way to grow in Broken Arrow. I can say that I don’t recall any development that came to the city that negatively impacted property values in and around that development. Growth is inevitable. My job is to make sure it is well planned out with all entity’s voices heard.
Q: Infrastructure (water, sewer, roads, etc.) is another pressing issue om Broken Arrow. How would you prioritize the infrastructure needs the city has, and potentially fund them?
Lester: First we need to provide roads that are well maintained and continue with the program started in 2017 that tells us which roads need the attention via a priority system. Water is always a top priority for not only today but assuring that we have an adequate water supply 50 years from now. Additionally, maintaining a constant review and replacement of older water and sewer lines is a must.
Q: Do you feel the city is utilizing TIF districts properly? Are there too many, or not enough?
Lester: I believe the TIF district we used during my term on the City Council to develop the Rose District and keep Flight Safety as one of Broken Arrow’s top employers has proven a huge success. I believe a TIF reviewed thoroughly by all entities that would be impacted -- including the public, who can hear the cost/benefit of that TIF -- will always be supported by the majority. Typically for me, a TIF would be on land that is now producing very minimal property taxes. And when a project is completed all participating entities eventually reap the increased taxes produced and the city will reap new jobs.
Q: Nearly all age demographics in Broken Arrow have been increasing in numbers in recent years EXCEPT young adults. What could the city do to keep more young professionals here?
Lester: I believe the development of the Innovation District and having ‘shovel ready’ lots for tech-type companies will go a long way in helping keep our young adults in Broken Arrow -- where good paying, interesting jobs await them. But we need to work with the local universities, career tech and Tulsa Community College to offer programs that will be needed in these newer emerging jobs.
Q: Census figures show Broken Arrow is becoming more diverse, with the Hispanic community growing the fastest. What should be done, if anything, to ensure there is adequate outreach to minority populations in Broken Arrow so they can have an appropriate voice in governance?
Lester: I believe that every group within BA should have a voice within our community. Because of that diversity, the roadblock caused by language barriers is ever present. We just need to reach out to each group to give them a point person within the city that can help bridge ANY gap, so everyone feels their voice is heard.
Q: The City Council and Muscogee Creek National Council met last year to talk about unity in the community, and they have partnered on some projects. How do you feel the city’s relationship with MCN should be handled in the future?
Lester: Because my wife and sons are MCN tribal members, I have a special understanding as to what the tribe does for its members, and what the potential is in partnering with the city yet keep their autonomy as a tribe. As they broaden their opportunities to tribal members, perhaps we can partner with utilization of certain city properties for tribal language emulsion classes, where not only tribal members might attend, but the larger population of Broken Arrow citizens as well to learn the language. I believe the opportunities are as endless as our imagination. Because our very city name came from a branch of the Creek Nation while they still resided along the Chattahoochee River on the Georgia/Alabama border. We owe it to our citizens to continue to embrace the influence the Creek Nation and its citizens on our community.