By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
Canadian County voters will notice a study in contrasts as they decide between the incumbent and challenger for District 3 county commissioner in the Tuesday, Nov. 6 general election.
Yukon’s Jack Stewart seeks his third full term in office and faces a familiar foe in Calumet’s Daniel Pugh. The winner will earn the next four-year term on the three-member Canadian County Commission.
Pugh has sought the District 3 seat three times previously as a Republican. He changed his party affiliation for this year’s challenge.
“As a lifelong Republican, I filed as an Independent to take Jack’s record all the way to the general (election),” Pugh said. “That has given me additional time to inform the people. A lot of what the commissioners do is not known. Having educated the people, I’m getting a tremendous response.”
On Stewart’s watch, the challenger claims, the county jail is too small, dangerous and costly; the roads are heaved and buckled, securing future water has stalled, and attempts were made to reduce juvenile center funding.
Pugh says he may not be young blood, but he is new blood.
“The record of the last eight years has been that of squandered revenues and misplaced priorities,” he said.
“I bring to the table three decades of business ownership experience, commitment to excellence, innovation, resourcefulness, and efficiency. I will work tirelessly to lead Canadian County forward, by example, toward a more sustained and prosperous future.”
Stewart, a Republican, was first elected as District 3 commissioner in a 2010 special election to fill the unexpired term of the late Grant Hedrick. Stewart has since been elected twice to full terms.
“I believe I have been called to do this,” Stewart said. “I didn’t realize that someday I would become a county commissioner. As a young man, if I had planned my education and training for this job, I couldn’t have planned it any differently. My experience and education have best prepared me to be a Canadian County commissioner.”
The incumbent commissioner is campaigning as the “experienced professional” who is a “jack of all trades” – roads, bridges, water and budgets.
“I came to Oklahoma in 1967 when my dad was transferred to El Reno with the Rock Island Railroad,” Stewart said. “I have lived most of my life since then in Canadian County. I love Canadian County and I love working for the people of Canadian County.”
The contrast between the incumbent and challenger is revealed as they discuss the issues and their priorities.
Challenger Pugh referred to the “most recent fiscal insanity” of moving Canadian County’s fairgrounds with so many more pressing challenges needing attention.
This proposed fairgrounds project “with a tens-of-millions dollar price tag” would be the “most stunning demonstration of administrative malpractice we have seen in many a day,” he said.
The District 3 contender cited the proposed site’s close proximity to the premier Oklahoma City fairgrounds and future presence of adjacent mega-casinos. Pugh believes Canadian County’s proposed facilities will be “doomed to be under-utilized” and never pay its own way.
“The resistance to this fiscal tomfoolery is palpable from every sector of our county and must be challenged with new leadership,” he said.
The challenger supports renovating and expanding the current fairgrounds in El Reno at a “fraction of the cost.” He says the savings could be used to provide a self-sufficient and debt-free jail, upgrade the courthouse, improve the roads, and help school districts with needed projects and programs.
Incumbent Stewart says while Pugh is claiming a $47 million fairground project is a “done deal” and will raise people’s taxes, “nothing could be further from the truth.”
Stewart said the $47 million figure came from a feasibility study conducted by a national firm, but commissioners “never said we would implement that.”
“The study said Canadian County could handle a $47 million fairground but, as a county, we have never said that we do,” he said. “We’re playing it one step at a time, then we will decide if we can afford to do the next step.
“All the commissioners have done is try to identify a new location. We’re trying to have it centrally located.”
The site selected is near Interstate 40, one mile east of Highway 81 at Jensen and Alfadale.
The county and seller have agreed on a $1.25 million price for 50 acres, with an option for another 50 acres.
The new fairgrounds project will not require a tax increase, Stewart emphasized.
“It will use a portion of existing use tax not to exceed 60 percent of revenues,” he said.
Further, the District 3 commissioner noted the new facility will not only be for the annual county fair and agriculture events.
“Eventually, it could host concerts, car shows, gun shows, banquets, and graduation exercises,” Stewart said. “There’s no end to the potential.
“This facility would bring a lot of people to Canadian County. I could see it being used 99 percent of the time. It would provide easy access and get plenty of use.”
Pugh and Stewart are split on how to best manage Canadian County’s jail population crisis.
Eight years ago, the Canadian County Jail had a legal capacity of 72 inmates, but the population was close to 100. Both the state jail inspector and health department frequently cited the jail due to overpopulation.
County commissioners agreed to expand the jail by building two, 60-bed “pods” that (with holding cells) increased capacity in 2012 to nearly 200 inmates.
But the need for more space to house inmates has grown and the jail again is full. So the county sheriff’s office has agreements with five counties to house Canadian County inmates, averaging about 90 at any given time. The out-of-county transport and housing costs Canadian County about $1 million annually.
When addressing the county’s jail overcrowding crisis nearly a decade ago, Pugh said he showed the ability to locate, investigate and verify a “proven solution” that would have been more economic and efficient than the action commissioners took.
“Stewart is a captive to convention,” Pugh said. “He was first willing to raise taxes for an $18 million, 300-bed addition. My equivalent solution cost $6 million serviced out of general funds. Instead, he gave you a 120-bed ‘Band-aid’ for $5 million, over capacity, bleeding $1 million a year to house inmates out of county.”
Commissioners are “monitoring the inmate count,” Stewart said.
“We’re not wasting taxpayer money,” he argued. “It would cost considerably more to keep all our inmates in our jail due to food and personnel costs. These smaller counties (who house Canadian County prisoners) have excess space.
“It is an expenditure. But it is a very frugal, wise expenditure. It is not wasteful,” he said.
When commissioners built the jail addition in 2012, it was designed so two more 60-bed pods can be added quickly.
“We can increase by another 120, but the timing is not right,” Stewart said. “We’re still paying that one (2012 addition) off. Once it is paid off, we can look at it harder.”
Securing future water resources for Oklahoma’s fastest-growing county is vital for residents, infrastructure and attracting new businesses, according to Pugh.
He believes a concerted effort should be made to investigate a new technology, Aquifer Storage & Recovery (ASR), that allows a community to capture, store and recover precipitation rather than lose millions of acre feet of water to evaporation.
ASR is used successfully in Texas, Kansas and across the U.S. and world, the District 3 commissioner candidate said.
“Developing our own water resources will provide our citizens with plentiful water, processed less expensively and delivered more efficiently and economically,” Pugh said. “Oklahoma and Canadian County lag behind.”
Pugh has not been impressed by the progress made by county leaders in finding a long-term water source.
“They keep talking about it, but they’re really not doing anything,” he said. “We need a leader with vision and the initiative to produce results beyond just sitting and talking.”
Canadian County Commissioners are part of the Central Oklahoma Water Resource Authority (COWRA), which was formed to secure a long-term water source for the county’s municipalities. Yukon, Mustang, Calumet, and Okarche are participating.
COWRA hired an engineering firm to conduct a study that has “identified water to supply Canadian County communities for at least 60 years,” Commissioner Stewart said.
“The county will not be the seller of water, but we want to make sure Canadian County businesses and residents have access to water for the long term. We also want rural water districts to participate at some point.”
COWRA will consider a public-private partnership for distribution of the water to member communities.
“A private company would operate it for a designated term, then the municipalities would assume ownership,” Stewart said.
Pugh claims he’s “inundated” with residents’ disgust over the “shoddy” condition of “oft-times impassable” county roads.
“They’re dangerous, resembling third-world roads,” he said.
Citing Stewart’s “confused priorities,” Pugh believes the newest revenue stream from Internet use tax should first go to upgrading roads to make them safe.
The challenger scoffed when he said Stewart “dismissed” that $2 million directed toward roads would repair just one or two miles.
“Double chip-seal, a staple for providing quality rural roads, costs $25,000 to $50,000 max, thus (that $2 million would fund) 40 to 80 miles of additional quality roads,” Pugh argued.
Stewart touts being the only certified road engineer among Oklahoma’s 231 county commissioners.
“In light of the dismal condition of our roads, it just may not be a glowing recommendation to serve as commissioner,” Pugh said.
The incumbent acknowledged that some roads in his district “are not yet as in as a good a condition” as he hopes to see them.
“We’re doing what we can do,” Stewart said. “We have 344 miles of road in District 3 on a limited budget. Our roads are better than they were eight years ago.
“Many miles of roads that previously were dirt and mud roads now have strong rock bases, and many more miles have been paved.”
Stewart listed these projects: Rebuilt and widened 2-1/2 miles of S Banner Road with two new bridges, rebuilt three miles of Memorial Road, paved and added shoulders along six miles of Calumet Road, chip sealed two miles at Maple and Elm, and chip sealed one mile of Maple north of Highway 66. District 3 is preparing to rebuild 2-1/2 miles of Jensen Road west of Banner Road.
Stewart noted the impact that “non-stop oilfield trucks” have on District 3 roads.
“We’re working as hard and as fast as we can,” he said.
Pugh is a vocal proponent of the Canadian County Children’s Justice Center and how it provides troubled adolescents with promising futures. He criticized current commissioners for previous attempts to divert sales tax revenues from the center.
“Any surplus of revenues to the center, Stewart eyed as an ATM to help the expensive mismanagement of the jail expansion and coveted funds for future frivolous projects like the irrational relocation of the county fairgrounds,” Pugh said.
The challenger pledged to never halt or handicap the forward progress of this “gem.”
Stewart said county commissioners are working with Juvenile Center officials to meet their needs.
“Since there was an Oklahoma state court ruling several years ago that superseded State Auditor and State Attorney General opinions (on the county’s .35 percent sales tax), we have allowed all money raised by the sales tax to be spent at the juvenile center,” he said.
“We recently awarded about $4 million of new work to be done there, including new safe rooms, a new courtroom and several new offices.”
Pugh claims Commissioner Stewart denied requests from El Reno and Mustang schools for discretionary funds from the county’s Educational Finance Authority (EFA) for needed programs and construction.
The challenger supports EFA funds being readily available to the county’s school districts.
Incumbent Stewart said all three commissioners are “still in discussion” and trying to come to an agreement on the use of EFA funds.
“I haven’t decided whether it’s right to arbitrarily give county money to schools,” Stewart said. “I don’t want to spend $200,000 for a turn lane at a school when I can design and build one for $30,000.”
Stewart pointed out that county commissioners have “no control” how school funds are spent, and that is done according to state statute.
He said he’s a staunch supporter of public education, and all three of his daughters are educators.
Stewart has a civil engineering degree from Oklahoma State University and is a certified professional engineer and certified floodplain manager. He spent 31 years with the Oklahoma Department Of Transportation from 1974 to 2005, holding the titles of division engineer, state geometric design engineer, project engineer in the research division, and assistant division engineer. Stewart cited his “vast experience” in the design, construction and maintenance of roads and bridges. He has served as District 3 county commissioner since April 2010.
Pugh owned his own business for 30 years, 28 as a contractor in the building trades and two as a restauranteur. The challenger says his management style is “laser focused to provide a job well done.” Pugh said he communicates well and will “always be available to our cities’ leaders” to help in any way he can.”
Stewart calls himself the “Yukon candidate” in this race, having lived in Yukon continuously since 1990 and for nearly 32 of the past 36 years. Stewart was raised in Little Rock, Ark., moved with his family to El Reno in 1967 and later lived in Oklahoma City and Edmond. He moved to Yukon with wife Jan in 1983. They are members of Covenant Community Church.
A native of Libertyville, Ill., Pugh spent 28 years in southern California and moved to Oklahoma in 1991. Daniel and Ruthie Pugh have been married for 23 years and have lived in Calumet since 2002.