We are two communities, but we are neighbors, friends, coworkers – and one of us is hurting.
News broke recently that the city of Yukon is in the midst of a terrible budget crisis. While some details are still unknown, what is known is that funds allocated to bond issues were allegedly used for general spending, something that is not only unethical, but also illegal, in the world of municipal finance – if reports are accurate.
Former City Manager Grayson Bottom is gone, and former longtime leader Jim Crosby returned to his post at the helm of Yukon operations. Crosby’s experience and knowledge not just of municipalities, but of Yukon in particular, make him the perfect choice to weather the storm as its city manager.
But, he has his work cut out for him.
Already, city officials have announced they have scrapped plans for a new municipal complex and have put the property it was slated for on the market. They are also working to find ways to cut budgets without slashing services or employees, although it appears that might not be possible with the latter.
So, why does that matter in Mustang?
Well, on the surface, I guess it doesn’t. Despite the economic challenges facing not just Yukon, but many other cities and the state as a whole, Mustang appears to be on solid footing. City officials – council and staff alike – have taken a conservative approach to the numbers and while municipal employees might not be getting a merit pay increase this year, that’s been a rare occasion through the years for them. And, let’s face it – lots of employees in the public sector don’t get regular raises, merit or cost of living, so the fact Mustang’s staff have been able to do so is a real benefit many people haven’t seen.
But, back to Yukon. Yes, Yukon’s plight should matter to all of us. Not because Mustang could have the same problem, but because these are people we know – neighbors, friends, coworkers, your children’s friends. They are living, sometimes literally across the street because of municipal borders, in a city that could see darker times ahead before it pulls back into the light.
Because of the size of Mustang School District, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of families who have children attending schools here do not live in Mustang proper, but rather in Yukon or Oklahoma City. Even many people who have a Mustang mailing address, technically live in Oklahoma City, a municipality that – at least in our family’s experience – basically ignores us. We are from Mustang; we love Mustang; but we also are a part of something bigger. Maybe it’s Canadian County, maybe it’s more.
What we can do, and perhaps it’s a small thing, is to help support Yukon. I don’t mean to stop shopping in Mustang and take your dollars to Yukon. That would hurt our own city. But, if there’s something you’re purchasing that can’t be found in Mustang, consider heading to Yukon and not to Oklahoma City or somewhere else – at least for now. I can guarantee Yukon officials are thankful for every penny of sales tax they see.
I know every year there’s a giant rivalry over a high school football game. In my opinion, that is blown up for the most part by people not even involved in the game, and certainly not district administration. In talking to them and in experiencing the interaction between Mustang and Yukon in activities like drama, band and more, it is clear there is a strong friendship and true kinship between our two communities. Now’s the time we show those friends we care.
Over the weekend, close to 1,100 Mustang students showed their musical chops in concerts showcasing bands from the district’s two intermediate and middle schools, as well as Mustang High School. They performed in a stifling hot gymnasium, demonstrating a professionalism and talent beyond their years.
Many of these students illustrate the best of Mustang youth, working long hours both at school and on their own time with practice, lessons and more. Their parents do their part with some pretty significant investments in band instruments, fees, individual musical sessions and a myriad of other expenses big and small. Most importantly there is the is time – hours dedicated by the students, in the blazing sun and in freezing wind, early in the morning before it’s even light, late bus rides arriving home after midnight.
For the parents, it’s time away from their children, sometimes long stretches, changing schedules at the last minute, sacrificing vacations other students and their families take for granted.
To a great extent, much of this is done without complaint. For all, it’s an investment – some as a great experience for children as they grow up; for others, it’s a path to a vocation, perhaps a way of life. They love what they are doing, and they idealize their directors, men and women who put as much of themselves into the Mustang band program and its members as their students do.
They are led by Ryan Edgmon, a man who came to Mustang and followed in the wake of an extremely popular band director. Edgmon has made the program its own, brought in friends and colleagues to expand and improve a program many thought couldn’t go any higher.
They were wrong.
Not only has Mustang’s band program exploded in interest and participation – with next year’s projections topping, perhaps by a lot, the roughly 1,100 currently in the program – it’s managed a 90 percent retention rate. That means students entering the program in 6th grade invest six years of their lives to it. That’s a big deal.
Then, there are the accolades and achievements.
In the last three years, Mustang’s marching and concert bands have achieved a lot of “first time in school history” kind of things. From better and better competition placements to taking part in far-flung opportunities in places like Indianapolis and St. Louis, Mustang students are moving far beyond their own classrooms, auditorium and football field – and people are noticing.
That is due in great part to the students themselves, but there is not understating the contribution by this group of directors, people who give up their days off and vacation time, just as their young charges do. They work with the kids one-on-one and deal with hundreds at a time, giving many of them a love of music and a sense of family they will carry with them throughout their lives.
While it seems very obvious by the interaction between mentor and student, all of us – as the Mustang community, whether we love or know a band student or not – should thank these talented people, teachers and directors who have made a difference for which I’m not sure there are adequate thanks.
But, for what it’s worth thank you, Ryan Edgmon; and, thank you, Dustin Jussila, Greg Mangus, Jacob Hofer, Belinda Watson, Chris Ozinga, Gina Thompson, Colton Hines, Daniel Adkisson, Danielle Hopkins and Annette Nashire. You’ve made our school district, our community and our kids better.
When did we stop being nice to each other? When did it become OK to turn a disagreement into an insult?
For a long time, I thought the problem was the internet – the anonymity, the ability to make comments to someone without having to witness the affect those statements might have on someone else. And, it is true. The digital age has, at least in part, ushered in an era where civility and kindness can sometimes take a backseat to the power of an individual’s personality, their right to free speech or their commitment to “telling the truth.”
I’m not saying people don’t have a right to express their opinion or that fact should be supplanted by fiction in the name of kindness. Unfortunately, however, that’s really not what happens in a lot of cases, is it? In the name of these things – such a lofty ambition, actually – it’s become commonplace for rumor to be called “fact” and for nastiness to be considered “truth.”
It’s not just here, of course. If anything, this presidential election has brought out what I consider to be some of the worst behavior I’ve ever witnessed. Putting the candidates themselves aside (and, let’s face it, the problem starts there in a couple of pointed cases), some political supporters use their presence on social media as a weapon. They’re not there to debate or convince; they want to insult, to wound. Calling people who don’t agree with you “stupid,” insulting plays on names, vulgarities – none of these engender an open discussion or a chance to perhaps illuminate someone to your point of view. I can’t believe anyone would believe they would, and I don’t think that’s their intent.
Candidates and talking media heads speak about how “angry” people are. Is it anger or is it fear? Is it both? Because there must be something for people – many of whom so openly discuss their Christian beliefs – to then, seemingly at a drop of a hat, express such hatred for someone based on an opposing political stance or way of life.
Sadly, the media is as guilty as anyone – maybe even more – of this. And, we should know better. While it’s our job to report and allow our audience to come to their own conclusions, too many times this isn’t the case. Either through blatantly biased or selective coverage, the “truth” is skewed because it is rumor, not fact, being presented – although that is not obvious. Even in the editorial pages, “journalists” abuse their platform by taking potshots at others. How is it professional to basically call a public official “asinine?” I may not agree with that person’s views, but who am I to call names? And, how does that help my readership – or anyone else, for that matter?
I’m not suggesting we all sit around the campfire singing “Kumbaya,” but there has to be something different, some way better, we can express our opinions. Whether it’s someone we don’t even know on Facebook, a friend of a different political persuasion or a public official, it is not right to belittle or demean someone, no matter how much we might disagree with them.
There is a lot of talk about our rights – to bear arms, to free speech, to worship. Yet, many of the abusive statements I read, expressed in the name of “freedom,” actually tread on others’ freedoms, by bullying that person into either capitulating to a certain viewpoint or just walking away. I absolutely believe in the rights granted to us under our Constitution – but, to me, those rights include not being bullied. I might not agree with you, but it’s not my place to put you down.
It’s time we all take a good, long look at ourselves and decide that while we might not agree, we can express our differences with respect. I think our community, our country and even the world in general would be much better for it.
Zoe Allensworth’s laugh can be heard across a field strewn with eggs; Morgan Matthews looks up at her dad, Scott, with adoration; Samuel Malin learns about crime scene investigation; Brynli and Edwin learn about art and writing on a day off school.
What do all of these things have in common? They are programs offered by the city of Mustang’s Public Library and Parks and Recreation Department. And, while it’s easy to see these events bring a lot of happiness to area residents, they really are much more than can be seen on the surface.
In recent years, the number of programs offered by both parks and rec and the library have exploded, bringing in literally thousands of children and their families for fun and learning. From reading programs and writing contests to crafts, sports and special events, Mustang Town Center on any given day is bustling with activity.
That’s thanks to the leadership of library director Desiree Webber and Parks and Recreation directors Justin Battles and Jean Heasley – and, in turn, people like children’s librarian Lizzy Moser and Heather Huff, parks and rec special events coordinator. This team has brought happiness to thousands of people and made Mustang a better place in the process.
But, it’s not all fun and games. As strange as it might sound, sometimes these events are life-changers. That was true recently for a dad attending this year’s Daughter-Dad Dance. While he didn’t want to give his name, he did want to thank the dance’s organizers for giving him a chance with a little girl he hadn’t seen in several years. Watching her twirl across the floor, he had tears in his eyes and explained why this particular event meant so much.
“I wasn’t a very good dad for a while, I was pretty messed up, and she had reason not to want to spend time with me,” he said. “Then I saw when I came to work out a flier about this dance and took a chance that it might be a way for her to see me in a different light.”
It’s also the small things that can make a big difference, as well. Administrators at Mustang Public Schools point to the library’s summer reading program as an example.
“We’ve seen a real difference with our kids and how prepared they are when they come back to school, and some of that is definitely due to library programs that help them develop a love of reading,” Mustang Centennial Assistant Principal Daryl Williams told me last year.
Even for a jaded old reporter like me, these events can become something more than I ever expected. Back in 2008, as a fairly new reporter in Mustang, I covered an event called WoofStock. One of Heasley’s seemingly never-ending great ideas, WoofStock brought out residents with their pets, some who wanted to find a new one and more. And, there, waiting for us, was our Bear, who would come to bring our family happiness as the sweetest and most loving dog I’ve ever known. We would never have had him – and he had a happy (and spoiled) life – all because of a Mustang parks and rec event.
That’s a real testament to how Heasley, Webber and the others truly can change people’s lives, and that is something for all of us who love Mustang to be proud of.
Childhood is supposed to be a time of happiness and light, a time of innocence and fun, of love and support. But, for too many their lives are filled with fear, with pain, with loneliness.
The numbers are staggering. According to the Department of Human Services, 11,575 Oklahoma children were abuse or neglect victims in 2013, a 16.8 percent increase from the year before. Of those children 68.2 percent were neglected, 36.8 percent were physically abused and 5.5 percent were sexually abused.
It isn’t all bad news, however. In Canadian County, these children are not alone – every day of the year, they have a legion of people who work to make their lives better, who try to bring some sunshine to their worlds. And, there’s no time that’s more true than in April, during Child Abuse Awareness Month. It should also be a time for the rest of us to shine a light on their efforts and how much difference they have made in the lives of the smallest and most vulnerable of us.
A few weeks ago, some of these people gathered on a windy, cold day to hang blue ribbons marking the start of Child Abuse Awareness Month. They were a group of women who work together a lot – Stacie Seymour, Julia Cochran, Ashley Cline, Lauren Greenfield and Jenna Cansler. As they hung their ribbons, I have to confess I heard snippets of conversation, discussions about children they care for and want to help. And, I realized those blue strips were much more than what they at first seemed. They truly were a symbol of those who suffer so much.
Of course, Seymour and the others work for agencies that concentrate their efforts on changing people’s lives – Canadian County Youth and Family Services and Red Rock Behavioral Services. Those, along with the county health department, Gary E. Miller Canadian County Children’s Justice Center and more, employ so many people who consider what they do more than a job, so much so they use their free time to continue those efforts.
Part of that is through the Canadian County Coalition for Children and Families. The group is a “who’s who” of those people in the area who are dedicated to making real change for children who need it. And, it’s not just children – the group works to make families stronger from the inside, helps empower and educate parents, helping families find adequate medical care and even deals with things like trying to stop smoking, alcohol and drug addiction and more.
Their reasoning is simple, coalition member Rosemary Klepper once told me – helping the parents improve their lives also makes each day better for children. While some situations make it necessary to remove kids from their parents, that’s not always the best move. It’s a dance and a complicated one because every effort is geared to helping children not be a part of those terrible statistics.
“It’s just such an honor to be a part of these kids’ lives, to be able to help them,” coalition member Billie Linam once told me.
I suspect the honor really belongs to all of those people they have helped, even those of us who don’t even know what they’ve done and what they continue to do. They give the gift of hope and that’s no small feat at all.
Last week, the voters spoke and their answer was clear – leave the sales tax dedicated to the Gary E. Miller Canadian County Children’s Justice Center alone.
It’s been a long journey to that answer. For more than five years, there has been ongoing conflict over the center – the tax, but also CCCJC programs, budgets and spending. It hasn’t been pretty a lot of times, and accusations have flown from both sides. Commissioners have at times spoken of “runaway spending” and center proponents’ “emotional manipulation” of residents in connection with the argument, while those who work at and back the CCCJC have said they believe the center has been targeted, with commissioners working to divert the tax and punish a group of people who wouldn’t just go along with their wishes.
Perhaps all of that is true; I suspect some of it is true, but the bottom line is the commissioners now have what they’ve said all along they wanted – a definitive answer from residents and a legal ruling. Voters have said not only do they not want the center tax diverted for other uses, they are fine with the level they pay and that it generates for juvenile-related expenses. None other than the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously ruled the center was appropriately spending sales tax revenues.
So, what now?
Hopefully, this will be the end of this conflict. Undoubtedly, mistrust and disappointment to some extent will linger. But, the simmering anger and resentment need to be left behind so Canadian County can heal and move forward. That’s the only way to truly allow not only the children’s justice center, but also county operations as a whole, to fulfil their promise. That’s no small challenge.
Our county is blessed to have some incredibly dedicated public servants, not only on the county level, but also at our municipalities and in our school districts. Looking at the growth of Canadian County and the economic changes we have seen just in recent years should make us thankful for that fact. Look at how far Mustang and Yukon, in particular, have come; school districts across the county have accomplished a lot with really very little state support – and, in Mustang, we’ve seen that includes a lot more than just basic education. Our kids have the chance for a truly rounded experience, which will only help them as they move through life. These are people dedicated to – and who are – helping make our lives better.
The employees and administrators at the children’s justice center certainly fall into that category, as well. Working at lower salaries than many of their colleagues – and even their fellow county coworkers – CCCJC’s staff have made a real difference in the lives of countless children and their families. This has continued despite having at least a perceived ax hanging over their heads for half a decade.
On the other side is Canadian County Commissioner David Anderson. The District 2 commissioner has spearheaded many of the moves to divert, and then reduce, the tax, and he’s gotten a lot of grief for that. While that’s understandable, I think people should also remember that Anderson has always said he is doing what he believes he was elected to do. He’s admitted he would do at least some things a little differently. And, he’s obviously been willing to put his career on the line. How many politicians have been willing to do that? David Anderson is a big reason I hope, no I believe, this situation can evolve into something positive. He wanted the people to have their say, they have – and, as he said earlier this year, there would be no winners or losers in the sales tax election as long as that happened. With more than 31,000 voters taking part in the March 1 vote, both sides should be gratified that’s exactly what happened.
With our economy, with the unrest we’ve seen in the current presidential election, with so many challenges facing our families, our school districts and more, the children’s justice center is more important to our residents than ever before. With voters’ blessing, I hope officials on both sides of this ongoing conflict will now work together to not only continue center services, but to also find ways to use the tax approved by voters for juvenile services (not once, not twice, but three times) in more and more ways. That’s how we help each other and how we make our county better.
All we have to do is reach out a hand and do just that.
Politics is a nasty business.
Dirty campaigns, media frenzy, he said-she said. It’s all part of the game. But, at some point all of that began to get personal – and it wasn’t just something that went on between candidates, it began to involve those candidates’ supporters. And, it wasn’t just a matter of disagreeing with one another, but rather became attacks by many on anyone who didn’t agree exactly with their point of view or with the candidate they deemed to be the best.
I’m not sure exactly when things changed, but I do know when it first reared its ugly head with me. It was in 2008, when Barack Obama was first running for president, and I was concerned – I didn’t think he had the experience, I was concerned about what I perceived was an arrogance, I didn’t believe he was a good choice.
At that time, I was a regular on a site called SodaHead, where you can post questions and discuss others. It was there I learned about the true nastiness of politics and, for the first time in my life, became the victim of bullying. Because it was there that I learned that some Obama supporters believed if you did not support Obama you were a racist, plain and simple.
It didn’t matter if I had legitimate and factual arguments about my position, it didn’t matter about who I was or what I believed. It was, ironically, very black and white for these people. I was a bigot – I, who had always believed in and fought for equality for others. It got heated, it was personal. Facts didn’t matter and neither did anything else. I finally quit the site because of the unrelenting messages and posts – a barrage of abuse that was not based on any kind of truths or facts.
Obama supporters aren’t the only ones guilty of this kind of behavior, however. Look around at any party, basically any candidate, and you find the same. It doesn’t matter what party you’re talking about, there are very few discussions about politics anymore. In a world where we are so politically divided, hatred seems to spring up at the drop of a hat.
And, it’s not just candidates – Obama, Donald Trump, Mary Fallin. It’s also issues, whether it’s gun control, Planned Parenthood or the Middle East, there it is, out in the open and without any shame. Hate, ridicule, bullying. “Believe what I believe or you are stupid, worthless, wrong, evil.” Etc., etc., etc.
It’s not just speaking to others in chat groups or in person – look on social media, and it won’t take long until you find a post, a meme that talks about another person or group with hatred or bigotry. These are perfectly nice people in many ways, but their right to express their opinions has devolved into attacking others.
Is that bullying? In my view, yes. Why must we use hatred and cruelty to get our points across? Does anyone believe that these kinds of posts, verbal or written attacks, will really change anyone’s mind? No, I don’t believe so. They believe what they believe and they don’t care who they hurt when they express it.
Does that mean I believe people shouldn’t be able to share their beliefs or support for a particular candidate or cause? Of course not. It’s just the way they’re presented, the fact that with these postings these individuals are confirming every horrible thing other groups might think of us. We accuse others of this behavior, but we are completely oblivious when we do the same.
The question is – can we stop it? I hope so, but for the first time in my life, I really have my doubts. And, that’s horrible, for our children and those who come after them.
Gary E. Miller Canadian County Children’s Justice Center
Sales Tax Reduction Election – March 1, 2016
Bullying has become a major social cause in recent years. Seminars to help prevent it are held for teachers and school administrators. They, in turn, hold assemblies for students, striving to provide education that will help stem the rising tides of the behavior.
The problem is bullies aren’t just students and they aren’t always easy to spot. In a world where respect and caring seem to be fading, bullying can only be stopped if we are willing to wage a battle against it.
When I was a kid, it was easy to see who the bullies were. The phrase “playground bully” was really accurate – some of the bigger kids would pick on the smaller, the weaker while we were on recess. They were pretty one-dimensional characters, in a sense. They wanted something you had – lunch money, maybe some new supplies you brought to school. There were the bullies who were simply cruel, who loved to taunt the special ed students or the kids with thick glasses but, again, we knew who they were. We knew what they wanted.
Today’s bullies are much more complex, sometimes much more difficult to spot. As computer and internet reach has expanded, so too have the opportunities for bullies, many – maybe most – those who say and do things online they would never attempt in person. Online anonymity is like a mask, allowing people to hide from the consequences of their actions and statements. It’s so much easier to hurt if you don’t have to see the person you’re hurting.
And, bullies aren’t just kids either. They are parents, business men and women, athletes, just every people who express their opinions online, who speak to others in ways they’d never want to be treated themselves.
I don’t know a lot of Bible verses, and I’m not one to quote them, but there are a few. And, one is a verse my mom always taught me as a way to live my life, something I’ve tried to follow in good times and bad – Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Bullies either don’t know or don’t care about this verse. They don’t care about others, not really. It is all about them.
But, while it’s easy to see how cyber bullying has exploded in recent years, we have to open our minds and hearts to recognize how our actions, the way we treat each other overall has changed. I’m not trying to promote some politically correct message – to me, that has gone way overboard to the point of ridiculousness. That said, we have to do something, we must recognize that what we’re doing is not working.
And, that’s what I hope to do, in part, with this blog. Together, we can shine a light on bullying in all of its forms, and I hope we can begin a dialogue about how we can make a difference. At the very least, I can hopefully present some points that might make a difference to someone, somewhere.
And, that’s a good place to start.