Mayor Breea Clark’s anticipated proclamation has drawn criticism from some residents and the business community, but most of the council is backing her efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the statement, Clark will sign a new proclamation Monday to limit capacity by 50% for bars, restaurants and indoor fitness centers while also imposing a one-spectator limit per athlete on all indoor sporting events. Concession stands will close and award ceremonies will not be permitted. All athletes will be required to wear a mask unless they are engaging in the sport or practicing, the statement reads.
Norman Chamber of Commerce CEO, Scott Martin, expressed his concern for the toll a capacity reduction would have on businesses, which up to now have been restricted by placing seating areas six feet apart. Capacity restrictions by 75% are in place for University of Oklahoma football game days.
“This recent announcement is further devastating news for an already decimated industry,” Martin said in a prepared statement to The Transcript. “Due to Norman’s aggressive nature, our businesses have suffered more than most by complying with existing COVID-19 regulations. Their sacrifice has paid off with a lower rate of infection compared to most communities. These new regulations put Norman businesses at an even further competitive disadvantage to those in surrounding communities. We were already taking the hard steps to mitigate the virus, and provide for the health and well-being of customers and employees. Saturday we celebrated small business in Norman and on Monday, with these new regulations, our local businesses will be wondering if they’ll survive through the end of the year. Masking, table distancing and existing capacity limitations were hard enough. These new restrictions will extract even greater sacrifice and create more fear heading into the holidays.
The proposed restrictions were posted Wednesday to the city’s website but a press release did not go out until after The Transcript reported the story Friday evening. Clark did not share the prepared statement on her social media pages, as is her custom, because she said she was “waiting for the city” to share it. City spokeswoman Annahlyse Meyer was out of the office this week, Clark said.
While some expressed their confusion about the lack of public or council meeting discussion, Clark said her decision to enact the proclamation outside a council meeting was due to the virus and the urgency of the matter. Clark has limited meetings for the council, as well as boards and committees, to time-sensitive business items.
“I relied on the guidance and advice from our medical professional and first responders,” Clark said in a statement to The Transcript Saturday. “Dr. [Dale] Bratzler agreed with the restrictions. We looked at places where masks aren’t being worn, because of the eating and drinking and workout exceptions.”
Clark said the discussion on the proposed order was held during a weekly emergency management meeting. The meetings involve the mayor, city staff and medical experts such as Bratzler, chief COVID officer for the University of Oklahoma. The meeting is not subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act and The Transcript’s previous requests to attend the meeting have not been granted. No minutes of the meetings are kept, Meyer has said. “It’s essentially a staff meeting and there’s no (council) quorum.”
Several councilors responded in support of the order. Ward 3 Alison Petrone said Clark’s actions are well within her power under the city charter and cited the state’s and county’s growing COVID-19 numbers.
“The White House Coronavirus Task Force has described the level of community spread in Ok[lahoma] as ‘unyielding’ and requires ’immediate action,’” Petrone said.
“Mayor Clark is listening to the experts, implementing their recommendations in an attempt to keep our hospital system from collapsing, as well as to reduce overall suffering in our community,” Petrone said.
Ward 2 Joe Carter and Ward 8 Matthew Peacock also said they supported her order.
Ward 6 Elizabeth Foreman said that while she supported the action, it might have been better to discuss it before the public.
“The charter allows the mayor to make emergency proclamations, so she has not acted outside of her capacity, but seeing as how council has to respond to the public, a discussion would have been nice. I’m not a fan of having to make such decisions, but as Oklahoma is seeing a profound uptick, so much so that the White House is calling us out — it would be against our better judgment to not take actions.”
Some of Clark’s orders have been discussed in the public during council meetings, while others have not.
Clark’s first proclamation was dated March 13 and limited to groups of 250 people, the city’s website shows. The order did not appear on the council’s previous regular meeting agenda on March 10, but the minutes of the meeting show Carter and Petrone mentioned their concerns about increasing infections.
Three days later, during a special session on March 16, the ink dried on a second proclamation which closed bars, and restaurant dining rooms while also limiting social gatherings to 50. Gyms and theaters also closed. The following day, Clark held a press conference about the order, The Transcript reported.
By March 23, she issued further restrictions to close nail, hair salons and barber shops. Her order also required essential businesses to follow guidelines like social distancing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while the CDC was undecided on the efficacy of masks until April 3. Gatherings were reduced to 10 people.
A March 24 proclamation defined essential businesses and issued a 15-day “Stay at Home” order, for which she held a press conference. She opened nonessential businesses for delivery on April 8 but required employers to provide personal protective equipment to their employees. The Stay at Home order was extended to April 30.
Clark presented one phase of her “Reboot Norman” plan to council on April 22, while Gov. Kevin Stitt announced his three-phased reopening plan. On April 28, she signed her Reboot Norman, which began May 1.
The council adopted a mask mandate for the public on July 7 and expanded that to private property for gatherings of more than 25 people where social distancing cannot be followed on Sept 22.
Game day restrictions on Sept 8 were the result of Clark’s meetings with the Campus Corner Association and the chamber, and open discussion during council meetings, The Transcript has reported.
Mindy Ragan Wood