By Conrad Dudderar
A new county commissioner will take office in January 2023 representing Canadian County District 3.
Republicans Robert Merrick of Yukon and Tracey Rider of El Reno are gearing up for the primary election next Tuesday, June 28 when one of them will be elected to the next four-year term.
The winner will succeed Yukon Republican Jack Stewart, who has been Canadian County’s District 3 commissioner since 2010. He was first elected after the death of previous District 3 Commissioner Grant Hedrick.
Stewart decided not to seek a fourth term as commissioner this year and instead filed for the Oklahoma Senate District 18 seat.
Merrick, a machine shop owner, has lived in Canadian County more than 16 years and believes it’s truly the “greatest place” to live and raise his family.
“Being a well-rounded person with extensive training, a strong work ethic, a college education, and highly skilled in many trades, gives me the expertise to make sure that the job gets done right,” Merrick said.
As a proud member of this community, Merrick said he will do his “very best” and work hard to take care of this great county if elected as the new District 3 Commissioner.
“I am a professional, practical, problem solver who is striving to be a servant leader,” he said. “I will lead with reverence to the Holy Bible and the U.S. Constitution. Meeting the qualifications for this role, I will utilize resources with maximum efficiency!
“You can expect honesty, quality, and integrity from me, a God-fearing Republican.”
Rider, an El Reno City Council member, is a human resources/accounting manager for a Yukon business. The lifelong Canadian County resident believes she has the stronger resume and best-rounded qualifications to be the next District 3 Commissioner.
“I am a conservative Republican who believes that elected leaders must serve honestly and maintain the public trust at all times,” Rider said. “If I am honored to serve as County Commissioner, I will be open and transparent in conducting the county’s business.
“The citizens of District 3 have my word that I will return phone calls, attend meetings, and seek to address their needs and concerns. I will lead with integrity and a servant’s heart.”
Rider has campaigned door-to-door for weeks to meet voters, learn their concerns, and ask for their votes.
She believes District 3 Commissioner is an important position – not only for Canadian County, but for every community in the county.
“The decisions the three County Commissioners make have an impact on all of us, no matter which city we call home,” Rider said. “Spending tax dollars places a special responsibility on county commissioners. As a City Council member, I made sure we managed and spent every tax dollar wisely, and I will do the same as County Commissioner.”
All counties in Oklahoma are represented by three commissioners who are each elected to represent a district. All elected Canadian County officers, including the commissioners, have a salary of $80,616.
Registered voters in Canadian County District 3 will choose between Merrick and Rider as their new representative in the primary election. A general election is not needed to decide this race since only the two Republicans filed.
Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 28. Early voting opened Thursday and ends 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the former Canadian County DHS Building, 314 W Rogers in El Reno.
For more information, call the Canadian County Election Board at (405) 422-2422 or visit the Oklahoma State Election Board website (click on ‘OK Voter Portal’).
Canadian County’s District 3 commissioner candidates were each asked to respond to a series of questions about their qualifications, views on issues and other ideas. Here are the answers and their responses:
Provide background on your experience and qualifications.
MERRICK: I have always been a hard worker and a problem solver and my desire to learn how things work led me to pursue jobs primarily in construction and machining. My work experience also includes sales/ marketing at an executive level. As an employee, I held supervisory positions for more than five years. I have hundreds of hours of experience operating heavy equipment. My construction experience, including owning a construction business, spans intermittently since a teenager and consists of dirt work, concrete, landscaping, tree work, framing, decks, sheds, fences/gates, welding, and home repairs. Currently, I am a machine shop owner. My machine shop experience spans 18 years, operating CNC and manual lathes and mills. I have manufactured parts that vary in size from less than a pound to over 10,000 pounds. I have years of safety and quality training associated with my manufacturing experience. I also graduated Mid-America Christian University with my Bachelor of Science in Management and Ethics.
RIDER: I have always called Canadian County my home. I graduated high school in El Reno and raised my family in El Reno. My three grown children and nine grandchildren also live in El Reno. Professionally, I believe my business background and management experience make me well qualified for the job of County Commissioner. I spent 17 years with Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Central Oklahoma, rising to the position of Vice President of CCCS, managing all operations, including financials/accounting, budget building, and human resources. I also taught financial education which equipped people and business owners with the tools and money management skills needed to succeed. Currently, I manage HR and accounting for a Yukon business. As County Commissioner, I will lead the strong team of county employees who are committed to delivering quality services to all of the citizens in District 3.
What has led you to seek the seat of District 3 Commissioner?
MERRICK: In 2020 a few things changed. I witnessed a questionable Presidential election, a drastic over-reaction to COVID and I also became a business owner. The first two points really activated my interest in being a candidate for a political office, and the third point made my schedule flexible enough to actually pursue it. My brother Jake became a State Senator in District 22, and that has also been an inspiration to get involved. I began praying since 2020 that if God wanted me to get involved in politics, to open a door. I read that the current Commissioner would be vacating his position to run for the new District 18 Senate Seat. It was then that I began to study the position of Commissioner in District 3 and I realized that I was fit for the job, because of my work experience and my college education. It is my desire to serve my county, diligently, responsibly, with integrity, and without compromise.
RIDER: I have always been a person who is involved in civic and community endeavors. I serve on the El Reno City Council and the El Reno Main Street Board of Directors. When I learned that the current District 3 Commissioner (Jack Stewart) was not seeking reelection, I began considering running for the seat. I spent many hours researching the job and visiting with county officials and employees to determine whether I felt my background and abilities would be a good fit for the position of County Commissioner. I believe my City Council experience will be invaluable as County Commissioner. I understand that working together to build a consensus is necessary to get things done to move in a positive direction. As a strong fiscal conservative, I will be dedicated to spending county tax dollars wisely and ensuring we do not raise taxes.
What is the biggest priority for the county and why?
MERRICK: The biggest priority for the county is quality roads and bridges, because citizens of the county need to be able to travel easily, safely, and reliably to and from their homes and jobs while enjoying the highest quality of life possible in this great county. There are additional projects for our rapidly growing county to address concerning upgrades and expansion to the County Jail and County Courthouse. Ongoing investment in law enforcement, health facilities and the new Expo Center are also priorities.
RIDER: The biggest priority for the county is for the three County Commissioners to work hand-in-hand, pooling resources and expertise to formulate a long-term plan to meet future needs and bring approved projects to completion in the fastest and most cost-effective manner possible. Forging strong working partnerships with the other two commissioners will ensure the budget dollars go as far as possible. Given that Canadian county is the fastest-growing county in Oklahoma, we must be intentional in our planning to ensure we always provide the county services our citizens deserve from their tax dollars.
Do you believe county health facilities have the tools to handle mental and health issues? Please explain.
MERRICK: It might be presumptuous or flawed to think that issues of general wellness and mental health are easily solved with funding. I am aware of the increasing mental health issues that exist alongside the need for healthcare assistance and also crisis management and counseling. Our county should assess these needs and budget responsibly for proper assistance with these difficult situations.
RIDER: I feel every state, county and town in America needs more tools to handle mental and health issues. Unfortunately, this comes down to dollars. I believe that more funding is necessary for these issues to be addressed. We must be strategic in wisely investing in providing the mental and health support we determine is needed for our citizens, or we will pay the repercussions of inadequate support for decades to come. I believe that governments at every level – federal, state, county, and municipalities must collaborate on ways to maximize funding opportunities. We need to work with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse so they can deploy the resources required and licensed mental health professionals when needed at the county level. I also believe we must have close working relationships with the leaders of the cities and towns in Canadian county – Calumet, El Reno, Geary, Mustang, Piedmont, Union City, and Yukon, Okarche, and part of Oklahoma City.
What are your plans to improve county roads?
MERRICK: As a commissioner I will make time to personally travel down every county road in my district. I want to personally assess the needs that exist. I will most likely prioritize repairs based on the amount of traffic that exists. There will be exceptions to priorities depending on the severity of the need. Heavily weighted traffic may be given designated routes to help preserve other routes. Road maintenance and repair will be handled with the highest concern for quality, durability, and efficiency. The goal is to get the job done right the first time.
RIDER: As County Commissioner, I will maximize every road dollar for District 3 paving and infrastructure projects. My plan to improve county roads will be to drive every road in District 3 regularly with my road foreman to identify the needs and prioritize when, where, and how the improvements are made. We will develop a detailed timeline of current and future road projects. This will include complete reconstruction with asphalt overlay projects, asphalt overlay projects, and chip and seal projects. We will also ensure that there are never deficient bridges on school bus routes. I also believe we must assess and prioritize the unincorporated roads that need repair.
What county facility improvements do you see as priorities?
MERRICK: It may be a good time for our county to invest in a jail that meets capacity, because it will be necessary to deal with this unfortunate side-effect of our rapidly growing population. There may also be add-ons or upgrades that are needed at our courthouse. Finally, the new Expo Center will need continued assistance as we strive to showcase the States most attractive venues.
RIDER: With the rapid growth in Canadian County comes the need to build facilities to meet that need and remain competitive in providing a vibrant and business-friendly county. The current County Administration Building was built in 1962, and the present County Courthouse Judicial Building was constructed in 1988. These aging facilities are inadequate to meet the growing demands of our county. It is critical for all of our county facilities to be equipped with state-of-the-art technology to enable our county employees to efficiently provide the core services citizens expect for their tax dollars. We must also look at updating and modernizing other existing facilities. Canadian County has tremendous economic development opportunities to grow our tax base and enhance the quality of life for all of our citizens.