The Norman Transcript

January 12, 2014

We must defend our rights to vote


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:

A special election was held Nov. 12 for Norman’s Water Reclamation Improvement Project. More than 60,000 voters were qualified to vote, but, sadly, only 9 percent voted.

Citizens who fail to vote allow small groups to exercise undue influence over our government by relinquishing control to a small minority.

A poor voter turnout leaves too much power in the hands of a few city officials and community focus groups. Minority rule but majority dissent is contradictory to our system of government.

The next year or two promises to be a rough-and-tumble financial time as a number of costly issues are being planned for the citizens of Norman.

These include:

· A vote to renew the Public Safety Sales Tax.

· A proposition asking voters to pass a citywide storm water project that will tax the square footage of all homes, out-buildings and driveways in the city limits, with walking trails and buffer zones that also have been added to the project.

· The Strategic Water plan for our drinking water.

· A vote on four City Charter Amendments.

· A still-developing project for a commuter/light rail line from Norman to Oklahoma City.

The charter amendments being drawn up have four questions. The dangerous one — suggested by the mayor and the committee chaired by Norman attorney Harold Heiple — would repeal the right for the people to vote on water rate increases. If approved, it would affect all Norman ratepayers, since the city council could then raise water rates whenever they chose.

While all these initiatives need public scrutiny, the repeal of Norman citizens’ right to vote on water rate increases is the most crucial to our family budgets.

The utility rate amendment was overwhelmingly adopted by a vote of the people in 1974 via an initiative petition.

According to The Daily Oklahoman on June 19, 1974, “More than 500 people jammed the council chambers to protest a leap in utility rates.” After numerous public protests throughout the spring and summer, the mayor and the council, in spite of public outcry, adopted an 85 percent increase for single-family dwellings on July 1, 1974. Businesses and institutions received a similar increase.

An organized citizen group, Norman Citizens for Civic Responsibility, led the revolt and initiated two petitions. One was a referendum to repeal the rate increases, and the second was to add a charter provision requiring a vote of the people to raise utility rates. While only 1,947 signatures were required, 9,300 angry citizens signed the petition.

The city filed a lawsuit protesting both petitions that was ultimately appealed to the state Supreme Court by the city against the citizens, but the court affirmed the sufficiency of the citizens Charter Amendment petition requiring a vote of Norman citizens to raise utility rates.

An election was scheduled for Nov. 18, 1975, and voters approved the measure by an overwhelming margin of 66-plus percent, with 7,565 voting. This convinced the mayor and the council to roll back the rates.

Since the passage of the amendment, 22 requests for increases have been brought to the people, and 17 have passed. Past experience clearly demonstrates that Norman citizens respond.

In the spring, we will see the first of these issues placed on the ballot, and the others will follow as planned by the city. These proposals, if approved, will increase our sales tax, raise our utility bills and add to our property taxes. The Strategic Water Plan and the commuter/light rail project alone could cost as much as $900 million or more.

We are facing a collection of very expensive ideas, plus one that threatens our voting rights. With current tax rates squeezing middle-income families, we must determine wants vs. needs before we are asked to vote.

It is vital to stay informed by viewing council meetings on Cox Cable Channel 20 or to attend the study sessions, public meetings or city council meetings. Readers also will be able to follow these issues on CFRGnorman.com.

When we fail to vote, someone else will decide the issues for us, but we will pay.

SHAWN HOOK

Norman

Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.