The Norman Transcript

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June 14, 2012

Divisive politics create high emotions

NORMAN — Things turned ugly at Norman City Council this week, leaving residents and city officials at odds.

Lengthy discussion of funding for the city sewer plant upgrade and over budget amendments occupied a sizable chunk of the evening.

Then, the council reached the final and one of the most debated items on the city’s agenda — the creation of an economic development authority. It was approaching 11 p.m., and the public had voiced concerns about the authority at other meetings, including protracted discussion at a public hearing on the issue two weeks earlier.

That input resulted in significant changes to the trust document and to the composition of the authority. The council will serve as trustees, and an advisory commission of professional people will also be established.

When the item to establish the authority was introduced, Council member Hal Ezzell immediately called the question, shutting down all public comment.

Council member Roger Gallagher objected, but Council member Tom Kovach seconded the motion, and it went to an immediate vote.  

“I moved into the meeting considering the history of this issue,” Ezzell said. “We had been meeting since 2011 on this issue. This was all in the public domain for comment for well over a month. We were past the point of legitimate debate. At some point, you have to cut off the discussion, vote and move on.”

The measure passed six votes to three, with Mayor Cindy Rosenthal and council members Gallagher and Dave Spaulding voting against it.

“By censoring discussion of the citizens and even the council itself, the city council majority failed our citizens in terms of openness, transparency and responsible representation,” Rosenthal said. “Our job is to listen to our citizens, try to respond to their questions and concerns, and ultimately to explain our positions as best we can. My ‘no’ vote is a protest against a process which confirms some of the worst fears of citizens who wonder if their voice matters.”

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