Editors note: This is part of an ongoing series of conversations with city and county officials, beginning in Carter County before branching out into greater Southern Oklahoma. This week features Ardmore’s Ward 4 Commissioner and Vice-Mayor Sheryl Ellis.
Question: What prompted you to first run for local office?
Answer: “If we go back to high school, I entered a voice of democracy contest and won. But the joke is that I was the only one who entered. But the interest was there. And I’ve always been involved and dabbled somewhat in the community and in organizations. Before I went on the city commission I was actually a pretty active member of Ardmore Main Street. I spent time there on the design committee and, in that time, I was downtown and looking to buy a bicycle when it was proposed to me that I should run for the commission. And so I did. But the simple answer to your question is, I’ve always been interested in local government."
Q: When was your first term?
A: “I believe it was 1998. I’ve been on the commission for almost 20 years. I’ve been mayor about four times. We all take turns.”
Q: How have you seen Ardmore change in those 20 years?
A: “I’m pleased to say that I have seen it grow. It has become a better small city. Of course, the physical growth did not go as planned. The growth happened on 12th Ave and near I-35. All the growth has been good, but of course with all that growth comes growing pains. There are more people and that results in an influx of police protection during the day to protect the people. There has been a change in the types of crime, but overall the growth has been good.”
Q: What can you say about ECU’s decision to leave the University Center, does the city harbor ill feelings because it contributed $4.5 million to the construction of the new nursing building?
A: “The decision of ECU to leave the Center is unfortunate. Being a city commissioner I was not in on those conversations, so I can only speak to my thoughts on the matter. Clearly we did not have the partnership that we thought we did. We all know that partnerships are hard to sustain and maintain. The way I see this issue today is that we move forward. We have the building, we have the facilities. Aging boomers, they need nurses, so we need to find a program to replace the program that left. Harboring ill feelings doesn’t get anyone or any community anywhere. Yes, the city contributed $4 million, but we still have the building. We still need nurses so we need to be sensible and logical and fill the building with a new nursing program.”
Q: What has been your biggest challenge as a commissioner?
A: “I would say the challenge is always to find a reasonable answer. Every decision ends with someone happy and someone unhappy. But, really, as a commission the power is in all five, not in one. Hopefully, we all realize that is our job as commissioners - to simply implement the law, the ordinances, resolutions, the rules, be advised by the staff. The challenge is to find the best answer and that answer may be no. If there is an answer in the middle that could satisfy all parties, maybe we could work to that. So the challenge is to always to be reasonable, implement the law and be logical. Sometimes it’s really hard.”
Q: So how do you balance those decisions?
A: You try to balance them by being well informed — asking questions. If it is a zoning issue, you take a field trip and get the feel of the neighborhood. If people want to talk with you, you talk with them. In some cases you just have to sit back and say ‘this too will pass.’ You know you’re working all the time towards a solution, but you can’t get caught up in the friction in the fog. You just have to see it through. That’s what makes Mayor Martin Dyer so good. I’m thinking there is not much he hasn’t seen and that is always his advice: just let it play out.
Q: Is there anything you would change about the city of Ardmore, if you could?
A: “Well, if we want to connect this back to the University Center, I’ve always wanted an educated community. I think that an educated community is a better community. That doesn’t mean everyone goes to college. That just means they have a skillset that allows them to have a standard of living that allows them to raise a family, take care of their family and afford their children an opportunity. It may be learning at the (Southern Oklahoma) Technology Center, it might be being a journeyman learning some type of electrical business perhaps, it may be learning to be a hairdresser. Everyone needs to be educated and have some type of marketable skill. That’s what I would like for everyone here. To understand that to be a better community we all have to work. We all have to pull in the same direction and that’s hard.”
Q: Are there any educational programs that you would like to see in Ardmore that aren’t currently here?
A: “I am not an artistic person. I don’t have a creative bone in my body, but I do understand in the creative arts that is a button for some. That’s where they will learn and that’s where they will thrive. I think we should offer more in the way of creative arts. I think we should offer anything that can be promoted to pique the interest of a young person, keep them involved and make them successful in their endeavors.”
Q: If you could describe Ardmore in just three words, what would they be?
A: “I’m going to put this first one together, well located, hometown and progressive. And I think they’re all three interconnected. I’m pleased that even though being near an interstate brings its own set of problems, it helps promote growth.”
Q: What do you think the biggest challenge the people of Ardmore face?
A: “I think the biggest challenge for people is to have the community-good view. Most people have the natural ‘not in my back yard,’ ‘how will it affect me,’ ‘my street has potholes,’ ‘my view.’ They should realize that even though it’s political and has its rules and regulations it’s like running a business. We can’t spend more than we take in, so there is a good chance we won’t, and can’t, meet everyone’s ‘my needs.’ We need to have the ‘what’s good for the community view’ and think about what really needs to be done first. When you don’t have the ‘what’s good for the community view,’ it’s hard to like where you live. You know, our system isn’t perfect, but I think it’s the best one we have. I think it’s a challenge to pull together even though whatever I want isn’t addressed today, and maybe won’t be addressed for a while. The city is responsible for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens and those things have to come first.”
Q: Do you think being the only female commissioner, you bring a different perspective?
A: “Even though the commission is all men, I feel like an equal partner. But I absolutely bring a different perspective. None of them have been a mother. So when the topic of home daycare comes up, I do have a different take on that. I bring a different aspect to the conversation because I was the one in charge of that. When it comes to entertainment for the kids, I bring a different perspective. I was active in the construction of the skatepark. The family entertainment center, I say it’s great for the city to do this. My take on it is we need something for these kids to do. A place for birthday parties. So yeah, I do bring a different perspective. I had a woman come to me and ask that I reconsider the city’s real estate CEUs. The city required 24 and most cities in the state required 12. Being someone that promotes education I didn’t see anything wrong with the 24, but I said I would look into it. So I did my research. Fast forward and she calls me back and I said ‘I’ll support your 12.’ She said ‘why?’ I said ‘I can’t find any reason why not.’ I think that’s a woman’s approach. Do your due diligence and say you know she may actually be right. I wish more women were active in the political world.”