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  • Former council member asked City to set election on OG&E contract renewal

    Former council member asked City to set election on OG&E contract renewal

    Shortly before leaving office, Norman Ward 5 city council member and OG&E employee, James Chappel, authored a letter to the City Manager suggesting Norman schedule a vote renewing OG&E’s contract for electric utility services within the City of Norman.

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    While it may not seem controversial on the surface, Chappel’s position as a Community Affairs Manager with OG&E lends the appearance of a direct conflict of interest.

    According to OG&E’s website, Chappel’s duties as community affairs manager include:

    Responsible for all activities surrounding franchise elections and system lease renewals

    Assists in the development and implementation of economic and community development initiatives to advance the company’s business strategies at local levels.

    Serve as primary contact for city and county and state elected officials and staff within respective area of responsibility…

     Serves as company spokesman on local issues.

    Serve as primary contact for city and county and state elected officials and staff within respective area of responsibility, aides in resolving complaints and legislative and regulatory issues.

    Stay abreast of all local business development, laws, ordinances, and regulations that could potentially affect company operations.

    Keep abreast of activities that happen in the community which could affect the company. Provide direction and assistance in solving problems which may arise from such activities.

    Leads the coordination of franchise election activities.

    Develop and maintain positive working relationships with key stakeholders in areas of responsibilities.

    Despite these apparent conflicts of interest, and the pending renewal of the city’s franchise agreement with his employer, Chappel was still appointed to fill the Ward 5 seat vacated by Lynne Miller following her election as Mayor.

    During the appointment process, critics highlighted the potential conflicts of interest concerning Chappel’s role as a PR point-man for OG&E and the upcoming franchise agreement renewal.

    Chappel’s appointment was not uncontested. Michael Ridgeway, and Sereta Wilson also asked to be considered to fill the vacant Ward 5 seat.

    At the July 5, 2016 meeting, city council member’s votes were divided on the appointment. With two other applicants vying for the same position, the names were put eventually put into a basket for a random drawing. Chappel’s name was drawn he was declared the victor.

    On April 4, 2017, Chappel was defeated by challenger Sereta Wilson in a runoff election. Wilson won the runoff by 156 votes, an 11.5 percent margin.

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    A previous NormanLeaks report showed Chappel’s campaign contributions came mostly from individuals in the banking & finance sectors, as well as real estate, homebuilding, and various other development interests.

    Today, at former councilmember Chappel’s behest, the City of Norman will consider setting a date for a city-wide election to determine a date for renewing the franchise agreement with OG&E.

    While OG&E has been inching towards transitioning to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, the company has fought legislative battles to impose tariffs and penalize residential consumers who wish to go “off-grid” by installing self-contained wind and solar power generators on their own property.

    in recent months, OG&E’s replacement of aboveground power lines stirred controversy due to the removal of old growth trees along south Berry Street. Critics have argued that a city-run utility would be more accountable to local residents, and would be less likely to damage valued assets, such as tree canopies which provide shade to nearby homes, lowering residents’ cooling costs and energy bills during the summer months.

    Council members will discuss the contract renewal at a conference meeting on Tuesday, July 11 at 5:00PM at Norman City Hall.

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