Norman veterans meet the mayor

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Norman Mayor Breea Clark speaks to a veteran Wednesday during a visit to the Norman Veterans Center.

Mayor Breea Clark is no stranger to the Norman Veterans Center.

The center has known her as council member Clark and JCPenney Leadership Program director at the University of Oklahoma' Michael F. Price College of Business. On Wednesday afternoon, the center's residents met her under a new title: Mayor Clark.

"Breea just has a special place in our hearts, because when she was a nobody she visited us and did things for us and was a part of our population here," Norman Veterans Center programs administrator Jeannene Wade said. "So, when she got elected, we just wanted to honor her in a special way."

Wade said Meet the Mayor was designed to give center residents the chance to meet with Clark and ask her questions.

Ward 6 council member and veteran Bill Scanlon also attended.

"It's so special for me to come as a mayor and let them know that we care, and we're listening," Clark said. "The state does a good job, but it's incumbent upon the city in which the center is located to continue that respect. I think we have a council that is more than up to the challenge."

To set the tone for the afternoon, Don and Susanna Lorg sang patriotic classics including, "This Land Is Your Land," "God Bless America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Clark spoke to the crowd of veterans and thanked them for their service, before jumping immediately into a city issue she knew would be at the forefront of the veterans' minds.

Clark explained the shock she felt when she first heard the University of Oklahoma was removing its CART funding. She said she now sees the situation as an opportunity for Norman to improve its public transportation system.

"I will be putting together a focus group with those residents that use the bus system most often, and I will make sure that the Veterans Center is represented on that committee," Clark said. "Something I am committed to is bringing back Saturday service."

Another question was about the city's problems with stormwater and flooding.

Clark said proposals to establish stormwater as a public utility were shot down by voters, so the city is left to find ways to address stormwater indirectly through other projects.

"We're forced to get creative," Clark said. "As we build and plan and improve Norman, we're very mindful of stormwater. There are solutions built into everything."

The Veterans Center had a couple suggestions to establish a stronger relationship with the City of Norman.

"We feel that there are obvious benefits to integrating our facility closely into city activities and traditions," Wade said. "We believe it's so important for the education of young people."

One suggestion was to build a sports field on the center's property to encourage youth to visit the veterans.

"I loved their ideas," Clark said after the meeting. "They came with real ideas of things that we could do to better connect, and I've already got an email formulating in my head to reach out to city staff."

As the meeting came to a close, the desire for a productive partnership between the city and its Veterans Center became apparent on both sides.

"Our veterans don't just come here to die or to exist -- they come here to thrive," Wade said. "The more communication we can have with our community and our leaders, it empowers them and helps them to feel like their voices still matter."