Norman city councilors targeted in a recall say they’re encouraged by citizen involvement in local government and will continue to do their job despite the effort.
Unite Norman, a grassroots organization, filed recall petitions July 10 for wards 1,3,5 and 7.
Petitioners have until Aug. 14 to return signatures from 25% of the registered voters for each public official. A recall election would be set for January.
Unite Norman formed after the city council’s decision to cut $865,000 from a proposed 3% increase to the Norman Police Department budget on June 16. Despite increasing the NPD’s budget by 0.034%, the department eliminated nine unfilled positions. At least five officers have resigned or retired since the 11-hour council meeting where protesters demanded the council defund the NPD.
City Councilwoman Kate Bierman, Ward 1, said that although the recall petition is an option provided by the charter, she does not believe the current situation warrants such a procedure.
“The recall is an option given to Norman residents to redress grievances,” Bierman said. “I personally don’t feel that the current situation is one that warrants what is pretty much a nuclear option.”
Bierman said she doesn’t like the intimation that the people who did take the time to research candidates and vote in the council elections are not representative of the Norman community.
“We certainly don’t hide our City Council elections — political signs are everywhere during campaign season,” Bierman said. “So I think that everyone had the opportunity to go out and vote in their local City Council elections, and if you don’t like the way we govern, we have another election coming up in February.”
Bierman said she feels pretty confident about how residents in Ward 1 feel.
“I’ve gotten quite a few calls from residents of Ward 1 who have been concerned about individuals coming to their doors knocking and the things they have had to say,” Bierman said.”... I also did a lot of knocking in both of my City Council races, I knocked on over 5,000 doors between my two races. So I feel pretty confident that I know how Ward 1 residents feel, and I’m confident in my representation of them.”
Councilwoman Alison Petrone, Ward 3, said she wants residents to remain involved in all local issues but to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19, she said.
“I encourage residents in our community to remain engaged in all local issues,” Petrone said. “That said, we are in the middle of a public health crisis. I have concerns for our residents who are going door-to-door, as well as for those at-risk individuals who are trying to stay home to protect their families or quarantine from the community and recover. I respectfully urge petitioners to mask up and maintain adequate social distancing at the doors and petition sites.”
Petrone said that she has received positive support from members of Ward 3, she said.
“Dozens of members of my ward have reached out to me expressing their support and encouragement, as this has not been easy on my family,” Petrone said. “I have ensured them that I will continue doing what they elected me to do: represent the many diverse voices of Ward 3, and continue to thoughtfully deliberate municipal policy.”
Councilwoman Sereta Wilson, Ward 5, said she has not spoken with her constituents on the recall petition but she does maintain monthly communication.
“I have had an ongoing, every month ward meeting that everyone has been invited to since before I took office,” Wilson said. “I have not heard any complaints about how I was doing things. So I don’t think it’s people who have been active in the ward that are now upset with things they perceive are happening.”
Annahlyse Meyer, City of Norman spokesperson, directed The Transcript to Mayor Breea Clark’s Facebook post when asked to comment.
“Norman has always been a city that strives to lead the way with innovative policies in our state, and there will always be difficult decisions to be made along the road to a more equitable future,” Clark said in the Facebook post. “As mayor, I have an obligation to improve quality of life for all Norman residents, and that is something I take very seriously.”
Regardless of the outcome of the recall effort, Clark said she will continue to strive to do everything in her power to keep Norman residents safe, the Norman economy working and to keep moving Norman toward a brighter future, she said.
By press time, Councilman Stephen Holman, Ward 7, did not respond to The Transcript’s request for comment.
Russell Smith, co-chair of Unite Norman, said he doubts the current officials would have been elected if there had been a higher voter turnout. Monday the group released a statement that volunteers collected more than 7,000 recall signatures for Clark, more than the 6,719 votes that elected her.
“Only a radical, far-left city council gets elected when there’s a (small) turnout,” Smith said. “That’s why Unite Norman formed, to unite the City of Norman and return the city government to the people.”
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