NORMAN — A group of more than 200 residents met Wednesday night to discuss filing a recall petition for Mayor Breea Clark and some City Council members, a local developer and attendee said.
Sassan Moghadam said he hosted the meeting on a property he owns where partisan support for a recall of elected officials and petitions to change the city charter were discussed. Their chief concern was the council’s decision to cut $865,000 from the Norman Police Department’s proposed budget.
The NPD requested a 3.14% increase but was only granted $104,000 or 0.034% increase, Norman Financial Services Director Anthony Francisco told The Transcript. The amendments to the budget mean the NPD will have nine positions unfilled, four of which are in the patrol division.
“There was about 250 people,” Moghadam said. “There were middle-of-the-road Republicans, middle-of-the-road Democrats. One thing they all had in common was that they were angry at how lightly the decision was made to defund our police department.”
The City Council’s amendments to the NPD budget came as protesters of police brutality and racial inequality and supporters for police funding spoke at the June 9 and 16 meetings. Protesters demanded the council decrease funding to police and allocate the funds to community programs for mental health, substance abuse and other initiatives for at-risk groups. Tempers flared on on both sides of the debate as protesters and supporters jeered with signs and shouts as Mayor Clark attempted to regain order.
Moghadam said many in the meeting Wednesday were frustrated to see actions of officers who are accused of murder and racial injustice attributed to the NPD.
“I’m not defending every action of every police officer,” he said. “There are good and bad people in every profession. But what do we do when there’s a drunk driver? Do we take cars away from everybody? No, we pass laws and enforce those laws. You break the law, you go to jail. Hopefully what’s going to happen to the police officer in Minnesota, he’s going to do time for his actions, but that doesn’t make every uniformed police officer in the Norman Police Department the same as that officer in Minneapolis.”
Moghadam said he wondered why the council cut police salaries and benefits when the council could have made reductions across all city departments.
“We did the math,” he said. “They could have gone to different departments with a reduction of 0.36% — less than half of 1 percent. If these [are] programs that are so needed in our community, why penalize the budget of the police department? Better yet, if they’d come out to the general public and said, ‘Our community needs this,’ I promise you we would have raised that money. We’re a generous community, but instead they penalized the same people that they rely on when they’re in trouble.”
Actions considered by the group Wednesday included recalling the mayor’s election and some council members including Ward 1 Kate Bierman, Ward 3 Alison Petrone, Ward 5 Sereta Wilson and Ward 7 Stephen Holman, Moghadam said. Ward 6 Bill Scanlon told The Transcript he voted in error to reduce NPD funding while Wards 2 Joe Carter and Ward 8 Alexandra Scott did not seek additional terms that expire June 30. A recall election for Ward 4, held by Lee Hall, is ineligible until Hall has held the office at least six months from the last election.
According to the city charter, a petition must be filed to recall an elected official with the city clerk and returned within 30 days with signatures from 25% of registered voters who qualified to vote for that official. After signatures are verified, the council will issue a recall election for the remaining term. The recalled official cannot seek city office for one year. The council will set filing for an election to fill the vacancy 10 days after the date of the recall vote and last until 5 p.m. of the 11th day after the recall election, the charter states.
Other actions entertained by the group were to file a referendum petition to change the city charter, Moghadam said. The change would reduce the mayor’s term from three years to two and reschedule the council meetings for 8:30 a.m. or during business hours as Oklahoma City does, Moghadam said.
Moghadam said the unofficial organization does not have an established leader, but the movement to engage in local government and take action is gaining momentum.
“There will be some decisions made in the next few days,” he said of filing recall or referendum petitions.
Clark said she respected the right of citizens to get involved in their city government.
“I respect every citizen’s willingness to engage in local government, and I hope it continues beyond this summer,” she said. “While the Norman City Council reallocated $865,000 from the proposed FY 21 police budget that doesn’t equate to ‘defunding.’ It equates taking a bold step in re-envisioning what community policing looks like in our city, and we can’t be afraid to try something new. As confirmed by the City Manager [Darrel Pyle], NPD will actually receive $104,000 more than FY20.”
Dan Schemm, executive director of Visit Norman, said the council’s decision had repercussions of lost room tax and sales revenue because a law enforcement convention was moved to Tulsa from Norman following the vote on June 16. The Transcript obtained an email Schemm sent to the council that shows the “unintended consequences” on tourism.
“[Association of Oklahoma Narcotic Enforcers] - OkieNarc - meets in the Tulsa area every year in August at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino,” Schemm’s email reads. “VisitNorman and Embassy Suites have been working to get them to come to Norman for several years. The Hard Rock has decided to keep their meeting space closed until January so this gave us an opening. The group coming to Norman would have meant 900-1,000 total room nights. The total loss of potential revenue for Embassy due the reallocation of the police budget is approximately $155K. This also means a loss of $75,000 spent at our local shops and restaurants in addition to $7,637 in sales tax revenue loss and over $5,000 of lost guest tax.”
Schemm said he understands the council has to make “tough decisions” — and that Visit Norman was not advising the council on policy — but “the outcome from the meeting did have a repercussion here in that this group cancelled. We have other groups that come, sheriff’s association that comes, and haven’t cancelled yet. I wanted to make council aware this was an outcome from the decision council reached.”
Moghadam said he is optimistic those politics could soon change.
“I think that police funding was the last straw,” he said. “That has woken a lot of people up. I don’t know how many people have said, ‘I’m at fault. I didn’t vote. But you know what? I want to be involved.’ And for that, I’ll thank the council.”