By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — People picketing at Norman Public Schools have disrupted the learning environment, school officials told city leaders Tuesday.
Parents and school administrators asked the Norman City Council to enact a buffer zone around schools that would allow freedom of speech but also would protect school children from being accosted by strangers and assailed by graphic images.
“It’s a safety issue,” Angela Calhoun said after the meeting. Calhoun has a child at Norman High and a child at a Norman middle school.
“There are graphic images,” Calhoun said. “They’re not asking me for consent for my minor child to see graphic images. I don’t get an option to protect my child.”
Superintendent Joe Siano said these types of protests are fairly rare. He said the school’s concern is about safety and disruption. Siano said there had been a significant event at a middle school recently.
Parents told the city council that abortion protesters carry huge signs with graphic images that are not age appropriate. In addition to picketing at Norman high schools, the group has targeted middle schools.
Mitch Randall, senior pastor at North Haven Church, said his child was videotaped when one of the picketers approached. The protester was standing in the right of way, but his child was on school property, which is owned by the state. The promotional video was posted on YouTube without their permission. After contacting YouTube, the video was removed, but it still may be used in other places without their consent or knowledge.
“The system is broken,” Randall said.
City council members said they want to balance free speech with the safety and protection of children.
Council member Chad Williams said he wants to approach the problem carefully and not abridge freedom of speech.
“This is bullying,” Council member Greg Heiple said. He asked if bullying rules could be applied to this issue.
“I’ve looked at the boundaries and it seems that the picketers are making themselves known on public access,” Council member Jim Griffith said.
He suggested that picketing be confined to across the street, rather than using a set distance.
“I’m in support of this, but I think we need to be as precise as we can,” Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said.
City attorneys took notes of suggestions by council members and will bring the matter back for further discussion at an upcoming study session.
Williams asked for public input before the city council moves forward, and Heiple agreed that the topic warrants public discussion before the council approves a resolution.
In other city business, the council unanimously approved condemnation of a deteriorated building at 104 W. Symmes St., a zoning change and preliminary plat at Tecumseh Road and 12th Avenue Northeast, and special use for a church at 3308 Broce Court.
Revitalization Manager Linda Price said the building on Symmes Street had been owned by Cleveland County. The county disposed of it sometime between 2005 and 2007 and the current owner has yet to put it on a foundation. The building has continued to deteriorate over the course of the years.
“There has been no effort to obtain a building permit to get it on a permanent foundation,” Rice said.
She does not know if it can be brought back to safe standards. Neighbors have complained about the structure for years. Price said there have been multiple contacts over several years with the owner being indecisive on what to do with the building.
“We really think it presents a hazard to kids in the neighborhood,” Price said.
In the zoning and preliminary site plan issue, city council members questioned the applicant Landmark Land LLC’s representative Tom McCaleb extensively about including trails for connectivity to a park, a future school site and a commercial corner. They also asked that an oil well on the site be secured for safety.
McCaleb agreed to all of the requests, and Council member Greg Jungman proposed amendments to include trail access. The property also was zoned downward from medium and high density to low density. A small portion of the commercial section also was zoned to low density.
Montoro Ridge will include 67 single-family lots. City staff and the planning commission recommended approval.
The church zoning was open and shut with no protests and few questions by the council.
Attorney Sean Rieger represented the applicant, Norman New Life Bible Church. He said the church will have twice the number of parking spaces required by city code and that there had been no protests from the community. City staff and the planning commission recommended approval.
Public questions were limited Tuesday night with a card system enacted for the first time for council consent agenda items.
Because the consent agenda is designed to move quickly without excessive comment, the pubic had to fill out a form with questions ahead of time and only questions that were deemed germane to the agenda items were addressed.
Some members of the public said they did not like the cards, which are meant to be a time saver. It is not uncommon for council meetings to run several hours long.
Public questions and comments still were allowed during the regular agenda and at the end of the meeting. Several members of the public expressed concern that the city is selling water to a company that is using it for hydrofracturing.
Margaret Walker said using potable water for fracking takes that water out of the water supply because it becomes so contaminated, it is too costly to clean it. The process mixes sand and chemicals and is injected at high pressure to create fractures to recover natural gas or petroleum.
City staff does not have the authority to deny the water purchase under current city guidelines.
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