Census prepares to start; city to hire marketing group to help 

Norman Census Committee chair Lynne Miller, right, discusses the upcoming education awareness campaign with members Annahlyse Meyer, center, and Laura Smith.

Mindy Ragan Wood The Transcript

Norman City Council is expected to hire a marketing firm to assist the city's efforts in the upcoming 2020 Census during tonight's meeting.

Annahlyse Meyer, Norman's chief communications officer, told the Census Committee during its Monday meeting that the Gooden Group in Oklahoma City would help steer the effort to educate the pubic on the importance of the census and keep the city from duplicating efforts to reach all citizens for the count.

The contract is for $112,000 and includes "people on the ground," marketing and other services for four months if the council approves the contract tonight.

The committee and its partners have a long road ahead of them to help ensure all citizens, including those who are hard-to-reach such as non-English speaking residents and the homeless. Pioneer Library System, a committee partner, can help with its English-as-a-second-language class instructors.

The push for an exact count has a lot of money riding on the outcome. Census data is critical to all federal grants and state funds because it is the basis for demographics information. Researchers depend on the data to guide their studies and publish conclusions on important matters that can shape policy at the local, state and federal levels.

Census data guides where more than $800 billion is spent through various federal funds including money for school lunch programs, housing, Medicare, foster care and highway and construction projects to name a few.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Oklahoma loses $1,657 per person per year for 10 years for every household that does not complete the survey.

Norman Police Standards Administrator John Stege said census data helped the department receive the Justice Assistance Grant which awarded more than $20,000 last year. An additional $160,000 in grants for the department relied on census data indirectly.

"Far more important to the City and Police Department is our need to understand the nature of the community we serve," he said in an email to the Transcript. "Without accurate census data the City cannot accurately identify departmental staffing and other budgeting needs. Nor can the City [or the Police Department] identify the various populations in Norman and assess the impact -- both positive and negative -- of our programs. Specifically for the department, we need accurate census data to help determine recruiting goals, outreach programs, departmental staffing, funding requests, and the impact of enforcement actions."

It has been 10 years since the last census, which is taken every decade. This year is the first to bring technology advancements in the census-taking process. Online surveys will be available for the first time, so the committee has partnered with the Pioneer Library System and other organizations that can offer public computer access. Marketing campaigns will include social media and other digital media platforms.

The emergence of Wi-Fi internet access still remains limited in many rural areas or is simply not preferred by the senior community who rely on print and broadcast media platforms.

Laura Smith works for the Cleveland County Commissioners as its Geographical Information Systems coordinator. She is familiar with a population that does not use the latest technology.

"I know we're concerned with how best to reach our hard-to-reach constituents which include those rural areas, including rural Norman, people who live out by the lake," Smith told the committee. "I know during the last census they sent out fliers through their utility bills so we're trying to get in touch with the [Oklahoma] Corporation Commission to see if that will be happening again this year or otherwise we can move that into the budget so we can let our constituents know that the census is coming with more old fashioned methods they're more likely to pick up on."

For now the committee is preparing for an awareness campaign that will sweep the community from February to March.

The count officially begins April 1 but committee members did not know when or if the deadline has been set. According the U.S. Census Bureau website, the first set of data will be published Dec. 31, 2020. Census responses are confidential and no data can be used to identify an individual's answers.

Mindy Ragan Wood366-3544mwood@normantranscript.com

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