NORMAN — A public hearing on the possible creation of a Norman Economic Development Trust Authority sounded more like a debate on what creates value in a community.
The public hearing, held on Tuesday night in city council chambers in lieu of the city council study session, drew lengthy public comments — mostly in opposition to the proposed authority.
If such an authority is created it would be subject to the same open meetings and open records laws as the city council and other public bodies, but despite this, some members of the public fear its creation forms a “shadow government” with the power to issue revenue bonds and pursue eminent domain.
In fact, bonding and any action of eminent domain would require city council approval.
Norman — the third largest city in Oklahoma — does not have an economic development trust authority. Norman is home to the only multi-year professional economic development program in the United States — a University of Oklahoma program accredited by the International Economic Development Council.
“When we succeed, our members create more high-quality jobs, develop more vibrant communities, and generally improve the quality of life in their regions,” the International Economic Development Council says on its website.
Norman is also home to the Norman Economic Development Coalition which recruits “quality” jobs in the business and industrial sectors. NEDC does not recruit retail business and is not a trust authority capable of serving as a clearing house for bonds, however.
Economic entities abound throughout Oklahoma, the United States, and the world. But the effectiveness of economic development can be hard to measure, especially against the backdrop of a struggling economy. Norman residents at the public hearing did not seem particularly interested in what other cities are doing to promote economic development.
In Norman, questions and concerns about the proposed trust authority included the need for public accountability and transparency, the purpose and need for such an entity, whether growth should unfold naturally or be aggressively pursued, and what the scope and power of such an entity would be.