By EMILY RAMSEY
COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Debra Wimpee was elected as Ward 1 City Councilor on April 4, unseating long-time city councilor Richard Carter. Wimpee’s campaign platforms included greater city government transparency and communication improvements, greater engagement with south Broken Arrow residents, and improving the city’s business-friendly reputation.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
Long-time Broken Arrow resident and first-time City Councilor Debra Wimpee was sworn in on April 18 after unseating councilor Richard Carter. Wimpee won the election for Ward 1 on April 4.
Wimpee has lived in Broken Arrow since moving to the city in sixth grade. She attended Central Middle School, now the home of the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce, on Main Street and later, graduated from Broken Arrow High School with her future husband.
She holds political ties with many politicians as she has been involved with a number of campaigns over the years. Her endorsements included Senator Nathan Dahm, Senator Joe Newhouse and Representative Michael Rogers.
Wimpee has spent years accruing community ties through her many and varied entrepreneurial and political endeavors.
“Over time, I have become this random organizer of people,” she laughs.
In 2009, Wimpee opened her retail store, On the Corner, in the Rose District, which she sold in 2014. She is in her ninth year as chapter executive director for NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, in which she participates in legislative real estate lobbying.
Since 2014, Wimpee has also held the role of chapter executive of the Oklahoma Chapter (Certified Commercial Investment Member).
For three years, starting in 2014, she organized Shamrock the Rose, a large street festival held in the Rose District, which generated sales for area shops and donations for the nonprofit military organization Soldier’s Wish and the Pride of Broken Arrow, Wimpee says.
Because of Wimpee’s ability to reach a broad amount of people, she launched the B.A. Buzz in 2014, a local event website focused on consolidating community news in one location.
While Wimpee’s consistent political and community involvement caused individuals to question whether she would consider a career in politics, with three children at home and her business obligations, Wimpee’s husband had always vetoed the idea of a political run.
However, as their children aged and other events unfolded, it was near the beginning of the year that Wimpee’s husband had a change of heart. “He told me, ‘I feel like you’re supposed to serve the community in a new way,’” she recounts.
On Jan. 20, she and her husband made the decision that she would run for the city council Ward 1 seat.
Wimpee’s main platforms revolved around greater city government transparency and communication improvements, greater engagement with south Broken Arrow residents, and improving the city’s business-friendly reputation.
While the City of Broken Arrow has made great strides in its transparency efforts through its various communication methods, including video recordings of city council meetings, regular newsletters and financial reports, “citizens still are not clear on where and how to get information,” Wimpee says.
She references this most recent election as evidence of that: of the city’s 67,000 registered voters, less than 3,500 voted.
When Wimpee spoke to citizens during her campaign efforts, she found that, instead of a general sense of apathy, citizens were simply uninformed.
“People didn’t know there was an upcoming election, who was running, or who could vote.”
Wimpee feels that her background in sharing and spreading information, largely through social media, and her visible role in the community are assets that can be used in city government for the benefit of everyone.
Another comment made by citizens involved a desire for greater engagement with those living in south Broken Arrow.
“Those living in south Broken Arrow say they feel like step-children,” she says.
Although the city is taking steps to encourage growth in that portion of the city, such as creating infrastructure for future development, “you have to have conversations with people that help them to understand that there are processes that have to be in place first,” Wimpee continues.
During her campaign, Wimpee instituted a regular morning when she met with citizens at a local coffee shop, offering them opportunity to air their concerns and ask questions in a casual environment.
“When you start engaging on a personal level, that shows you are invested,” she says.
Wimpee hopes to continue that arrangement on a monthly basis going forward.
Her final platform point was based on feedback that she received from local business owners who complained of the city’s disorganized series of inspections that serves as a hindrance to new businesses, she says.
“Our city runs on sales tax, so let’s not make it more difficult for new businesses to come here. The city needs to have a streamlined way of conducting inspections,” she says.
Overall, as Wimpee looks to the future, she is eager to use her new role to affect change. “I want to show people that if you have good intentions and work hard, you can make a difference.”