State of the City

Norman Mayor Larry Heikkila before the State of the City addresss, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, at The Noun Hotel. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

Editor's note: This article has been updated to accurately reflect the Planning Commission vote on the Eagle Cliff development.

Mayor Larry Heikkila called out two city councilors who have recently not stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, and said during his State of the City address Wednesday that he needed five "fiscally conservative, pro-growth, pro-business, pro-citizen voices" on council.

Without mentioning their names, he called out Ward 1 councilor Brandi Studley and Ward 4 councilor Helen Grant, who have not stood for the pledge since July, for their actions, and argued that he needs more votes to “prevail” on issues with “a social justice or economic development implication.”

He, Ward 3 councilor Kelly Lynn and Ward 5 councilor Rarchar Tortorello currently make up a third of the council, and the three are self-identified conservatives.

Heikkila made his remarks as he spoke in favor of economic development in Norman.

When asked after his address how he might balance his vision with the fact that constituents may vote in councilors based on their political leanings, Heikkila said he wants the council to get away from “where we’re just branding ourselves by politics.”

“I would like to have people — and I don’t care what flavor of politics they are — get into the process, and my vision is the same as theirs. And if it is, support me. If it’s not, either tell me what it is, or don’t support me,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

Studley argued that no one on the council is against development, but she also said some of the council members listen to constituents better than others. She brought up the Eagle Cliff development — which councilors except for Tortorello and Lynn struck down in October 2021 over concerns from area residents, leading to a lawsuit — as an example. The planning commission and council struck it down.

“It takes all nine of us, and we’ve been passing development and been passing things,” she said. “There are certain things that, no, we have not passed, because it’s really bad for our community.”

“We don’t make emotive decisions based on a few people who are yelling,” Heikkila said in response. “That’s mob rule, and we don’t want mob rule. We want what’s best for all the citizens.”

In reference to the Pledge of Allegiance, Heikkila claimed that Studley and Grant “turn their backs” on the flag when they don’t stand for the pledge. Studley and Grant are seated facing away from the flag on the dais in City Hall.

Heikkila, a U.S. Navy veteran, said their decision to not stand is personally offensive to him because he buried a friend who died in combat. He also compared Studley’s and Grant’s actions to past council members turning their backs on citizens who are speaking to council.

Studley said she fully respects the military, and that she has family members who have served. But she also said she does not say the pledge because she believes women are under attack in the U.S., particularly for “reproductive rights.”

Previously, she said she stood for the Pledge but did not say it, citing treatment of people of color in the country.

She also alleged Heikkila has replaced women who have led city committees with “inexperienced white men.”

Heikkila put Lynn in charge of the Oversight Committee, a position previously held by former councilor Lee Hall. All city committees are now led by white men.

When asked if she could confirm that Heikkila appointed or retained committee chairs for this reason, Studley said “we know what’s happening.”

Heikkila declined to respond to Studley’s comments.

Grant did not immediately respond to a request for comment following Heikkila’s speech.

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