At-Large Election Preview: Johnnie Parks
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.
Johnnie Parks is the longest-serving current member of the Broken Arrow City Council, having served there in Ward 1 from 1979-1994 and elected again as an at-large council member in 2011. Parks was reelected in 2015 and 2019, and he also served on the Broken Arrow Planning Commission from 1995 to 2011.
Throughout his career, Johnnie has been involved in the construction industry. Initially, he was a plumbing contractor with his family-owned business, Parks Plumbing, in Broken Arrow. In 1995, after 30 years of ownership, he sold the business and began a career as an instructor in the state career tech system.
Parks faces challengers George Ghesquire, Sonja Potter and Will Vaughn in his bid for re-election. The Broken Arrow municipal election is Tuesday, April 4.
Family: Wife, Myrna; three sons, two Grandsons and one granddaughter.
Education: Master’s in education, 1999; Bachelor’s in Business, 1969, both at Oklahoma State University.
Current occupation: Retired business owner and instructor for Oklahoma State Career Tech.
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?
Parks: I was motivated by prayer and the citizens of Broken Arrow. I’m not a politician and do not like to campaign, but I do like quality growth and I’ve been a big part of the city’s growth for 40-plus years. The last four years I’ve helped put together, working with our valued citizen’s groups and council, our $220 million dollar GO Bond package and worked to sell the 10-year bonds in a timely manner where our ad valorem taxes were not increased. I also pushed for growth along the south loop of the Creek Turnpike that was planned out in the 1980s. That council’s goals were industrial and commercial growth along that corridor. Aspen Ridge is coming, as well as our new 90-acre Innovation District. After 20 years I was able to push our trash/recycling carts to reality, working with other community leaders as well as citizen’s committees.
Q: What would be your 3 biggest priorities for Broken Arrow if you are elected or re-elected?
Parks: First, completing the 2018 Bond projects voted on by the citizens and looking at the next 10-year bond issue in 2027 as we develop citizen meetings to plan those projects. Future Go Bonds will be on the table for discussion this next year.
My second priority would be finding and securing a second raw, untreated water source for our growing city. We need to get away from the Verdigris River for our single source, as it is costly to make it the quality water that our citizens expect when they open their faucets.
The third priority would be the continued development of our Innovation District. This is a 90-acre development of business, industry, housing and restaurants to help strengthen our tax base, and it will help in a lot of areas.
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?
Parks: We haven’t seen the data from our comparable cities and how we compare with the salary and benefits. We have provided equipment and new fire stations using Go Bonds and will probably do so in the future. We have built three new fire stations in the last couple of years with our 2018 GO Bonds. The problem comes into funding for employees, police and fire, and raises to make them equal or higher than comparable cities.
State lawmakers considered legislation this year that made it possible to use voter-approved ad valorem taxes for salaries, but it was turned down by state legal advisors. We are one of only a few states that allow only sales tax to fund those positions. We are continuing to work with our state and federal legislatures.
Q: Would you support funding emergency services through property tax revenue (referred to as public safety district) instead of sales tax revenue as is currently done?
Parks: Yes, but I think both will be needed to maintain our quality public safety departments, as we need to have more than our city sales taxes as do a lot of other cities.
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? Do you feel residents have enough say in what happens?
Parks: Our citizens are on all of our planning committees. We just met as a committee recently on changes to our zoning codes. This committee is made up of citizens, planning committee members, developers and council persons. I want the citizens involved in all changes to our government. As I said earlier, I worked 20 years to get our new trash system ordinance into effect all the time guided by a citizen committee. I feel citizens have more than a say, they drive it!
Q: Infrastructure (water, sewer, roads) is another pressing issue for Broken Arrow. How would you prioritize the infrastructure needs the city has and potentially fund them?
Parks: Roads are funded by several sources such as a small portion of city sales tax as voted on by the citizens (.25%) but a large portion is in the GO Bonds voted on by our citizens. For this year’s bond sale of $40 million, $33 million went to scheduled road construction. Look at the 2014 and 2018 bond issues as citizens decided through their city organized meetings what their priorities were and the city is legally responsible to address the issues as presented in the Bond issue. Bonds are sold only as previous bonds are paid off, so as not to ever raise property taxes as promised to the citizens.
Water and sewer expenses can also be subsidized by rate increases. We also compare our rates with other surrounding cities to make sure we stay in a responsible range of expense. Water is going to become more expensive I believe in the future. We have a $72 million dollar water treatment plant to provide our citizens quality, safe drinking water.
Q: Do you feel the city is utilizing TIF districts properly? Are there too many, or not enough?
Parks: I think that TIF funding is properly used in Broken Arrow as they have been utilized to guide the Rose District development as well as Aspen Ridge, as well as kept several of our large employers in our city. A TIF takes property with a low property value tax (as valorem tax) and lets the business use its own taxes help to pay for construction, delaying the city or other government agency getting their taxes until a future date. It’s been a win-win situation for the city working with our TIF districts. Better than setting there as pastureland with low property tax and no city sales tax. All tax-receiving entities must be on board and in agreement. They, like the city, are looking at the future.
Q: Nearly all age demographics in Broken Arrow have increased in recent years EXCEPT young adults. What could the city do to keep more young professionals in BA?
Parks: I believe we need more businesses that require the skills that our young professionals possess. I also believe the new Innovation District will help to provide affordable housing with a self-sustain atmosphere.
I think commercial areas such as the Rose District, as well as the New Orleans Square area, will help young adults, and all adults stay around here for entertainment. The biggest concern I have is so many shoppers trying to eat or shop in same area, such as north of 71st
Street and Lynn Lane Road. We’re working with our state and federal partners to make traffic in those areas less of a problem. The city leaders are working to change the laws so Northeastern State University-BA would be qualified to teach all course levels so that a student can start and finish their degree at one local college. I think this will help keep our young adults in our community.
Q: Census figures show Broken Arrow is becoming more diverse, the Hispanic community is growing the fastest. What should be done, if anything, to ensure there is adequate outreach to minority populations in the city so they can have an appropriate voice in governance?
Parks: As a member of our city council, we have tried to accommodate this movement. The Spanish Citizen Police Academy is a big success and is one way we reach out to our new Hispanic communities. I believe the Spanish-speaking police and fire employees are credited to be able to speak Spanish. I know I’ve been in meetings that they make sure a Spanish-speaking public official is there to help in the communication.
The city’s human resources department currently advertises our open positions in the Hispanic Job Exchange, Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the National Minority update.
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, and where would you like to see more collaboration or communication?
Parks: Broken Arrow lies in the Creek Nation Reservation area and we’ve developed a great relationship with their leaders. I grew up with a lot them or their families. As I told them some of our fellow Creek classmates were our toughest and best football players in high school.
We met for lunch with their leaders to discuss ways we could become even stronger together. We have our next meeting coming up in a couple of months. There is contact and collaboration now. We all need to remember that there still exist some lots in Broken Arrow that are under the control of the Creek Nation.