NORMAN — As Unite Norman’s recall petition gathers signatures, looming deadlines could create complications and additional cost beyond Norman officials being ousted.
The grassroots organization Unite Norman filed recall petitions for City Council members of wards 1,3,5 and 7, all of whom are up for reelection come February, and for Norman Mayor Breea Clark.
Unite Norman has until Aug. 14 to return the necessary amount of signatures for their recall effort, which requires 25% of registered voters for each public official.
If these signatures are returned on Aug. 14, then the earliest a special election could be held is Jan. 12, 2021, Cleveland County Election Board Assistant Secretary Kathy Singer said.
“The City of Norman would have to call for the (special) election,” Singer said. “They do that in the council meeting by putting a resolution up, and it would then be signed by (Mayor Clark) and it would come to (the Cleveland County Election Board) from the city clerk. For a special election, it would have to be filed a minimum of 75 days prior to the election date.”
Norman City Clerk Brenda Hall said the mayor is required by the City Charter to sign off on the resolution.
Hall said that if the recall petition does obtain enough signatures, it does not mean the councilmembers and the mayor are recalled, it strictly puts the recall of those officials on the ballot. The citizens of those wards would then vote during the special election on the decision to recall their council members. The whole city would vote on the recall for the mayor, she said.
Hall said if the special election to recall those city officials does take place in January, then the city would be presented with complications for the already scheduled February election.
“(A special election) does complicate things quite a bit,” Hall said. “They would have their filing period for wards 1,3,5 and 7 in December, so say the city council members want to run for reelection, they would have to go ahead and file in December and say by chance they were recalled in January, they couldn’t be reappointed or reelected for a year. If they did file, their name is already going to be on the ballot. It will be too late to take it off after January because the election board sends out the absentee ballots in advance. So, it would be too late to remove it from the February ballot.”
If those elected officials happen to win after being recalled, that poses new complications for the city, Hall said.
“If they happen to win that ballot, they would be ineligible to take office because of the recall,” Hall said. “So, then (the) council would have to fill the vacancies and go through our process to fill a vacancy.”
The recalls, if passed, could potentially leave the City Council with only four active councilmembers.
“If by chance say all five were recalled, which is also highly unlikely, but if that happens, we would only have four councilmembers left,” Hall said. “By our charter, we’re required to have at least five to take any action. So, we might not have enough left to call an election. Those are obviously issues we would have to get figured out between now and then if that happens.”
The Norman City Charter states that “Five (5) members of the Council shall constitute a quorum, and the affirmative vote of five (5) members shall be necessary to adopt any motion, resolution or ordinance, or pass any measure.”
Norman city attorney Kathryn Walker said it is not clear if less than a majority can set an election date.
“The City Charter requires an election to fill vacancies created by the recall petition, but it is not clear whether less than a majority can set an election date,” Walker said.
The special election would cost the city approximately $28,000 to hold, Hall said.
“A lot of things factor in like how many ballots, how long it is and stuff like that,” Hall said. “If by chance it was on a November ballot, which is highly unlikely, the cost would be much less because we would be sharing that time with the state and federal.”
In order to get on the November ballot, Unite Norman would have to file the signatures no later than July 20, Hall said.
Norman resident and political consultant Pat McFerron is president and treasurer of Local Voter Information Network Inc., a not-for-profit 501(c)(4) corporation. Unite Norman has formed under the existing 501(c)(4). McFerron said Unite Norman’s goal is to beat the Aug. 14 deadline and get on the November ballot, he said.
“Our desire is to have as many of them, if not all of them, but as many as we can on the November ballot,” McFerron said.
McFerron said he wanted to have attorneys look into the possibility of a non-quorum in consequence of their recall effort, but said the group has no desire to stifle the City of Norman’s ability to govern, he said.
“That sounds like a governance and a city government problem if that were to happen,” McFerron said. “But I have no doubt that can be rectified, and there’s a whole lot of ‘ifs’ before we get to that point.”
In regards to the money that would be spent to hold this special election, McFerron said the important thing is to insure the appropriate people are representing the citizens of Norman. If money was an issue, he said he's sure members of the community would be willing to pitch in to fund the special election.
“It costs about $180,000 to train a new police officer in Norman," McFerron said. "You have to be on the salary for two years before you can make the decisions on your own or do anything. We’re having so many officers leaving because of (the Norman Police Department’s reduction in funding). That’s going to be a tremendous expense, and if they (the City Council) do that again, $28,000 would save a lot of money on that side.”
McFerron said group organizers don’t want to wait until February to vote the council members out because they don’t want to give them the chance to further decimate the budget.
“They just voted on the budget a couple weeks ago,” McFerron said. “The people that were elected in February weren’t a part of that decision-making process. … They said that defunding the police, and what they did, with the budget cuts they did, that it was just a start. So, we are adamant that they not be allowed to vote on this budget again.”