United Norman Petition turn in

Gary Barksdale drops a stack of petitions to recall Mayor Breea Clark at Norman City Hall, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, . (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

A procession of around 150 Unite Norman supporters handed in nearly 21,000 signatures to recall Mayor Breea Clark but fell short of two additional City Council members Friday afternoon.

Since July 10, volunteers and paid workers gathered enough required signatures during the pandemic for Ward 3 Alison Petrone, Ward 5 Sereta Wilson and Clark.

Signatures were not submitted to the city clerk for Ward 1 Kate Bierman and Ward 7 Stephen Holman.

“We were close,” Unite Norman Co-founder Russell Smith said, but he did not disclose the number of signatures.

The group’s request for an extension due to receiving harassment and threats was declined by city officials because it did not qualify according to the charter, The Transcript reported Thursday.

Wilson resigned effective Tuesday after announcing plans to move outside her ward. Unite Norman turned in signatures for Wilson and Petrone Thursday but submitted additional signatures for the two councilors along with those for Clark on deadline Friday.

The recall was sparked by public outrage after the council’s decision to cut $865,000 of the Norman Police Department’s proposed budget increase during the June 16 meeting. The funds have been earmarked for community and mental health programs and a city auditor. The 11-hour meeting drew protests against racial violence and disparity against minorities in police departments but also drew supporters of the NPD.

On Friday afternoon, dozens of supporters chanted, “Take back Norman!” outside as the recall group’s leaders thanked them for their work.

“You guys are incredible. Thank you,” said Co-founder Sassan Moghadam. “We’re going to make Unite Norman even bigger.”

“We’ve all sacrificed a lot to be here away from our families, our jobs,” Smith said. “I don’t know how many different ways I can say thank you — and it’s not about me or about Sassan — but it’s about the issues here in town. It’s about taking our town back. It’s about not having radicals in power. This is about centering the ship. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”

Smith claimed 30% who signed were Democrat, 49% were women and nearly 40% were under the age of 50. Unite Norman said people of color also signed petitions but did not say how many or provide a percentage.

“If you watch the news and you watch social media, all young people are radicals it looks like, right? That’s the loudest ones,” Smith said. “We are the silent majority. I would say we’re silent no more.”

Norman’s Fraternal Order of Police Robert Wasoski said it means a lot to the men in blue.

“I think they’re all breathing a sigh of relief right now, just because the recall is done for this portion of it,” he said. “They can start taking regular calls and not have to worry about the fighting on this.”

Wasoski said the effort speaks “volumes of the support. It certainly speaks to what the concerns are to the citizens of Norman, and they’re concerned about their public safety. When it comes down to it, we lost nine officers and I think that’s what they’re concerned about.”

The monumental effort, as Smith called it, was not without some paid help. Unite Norman hired signature gatherers “to give everyone a chance to sign,” he said, because “we couldn’t reach that many doors.”

UNITE NORMAN TO ENDORSE

If signatures are verified to meet the required minimum of 25% of the registered voters for each seat, the city charter provides for a 10-day protest period. If there are no legal challenge to the petition, the council will vote on the recall and a special election will be scheduled. City officials have said a recall election will be held in January.

The filing period for odd-numbered council wards is in December for the regularly scheduled election in February.

Smith said the group will announce their endorsement of candidates “in about a month” but declined to say who has expressed an interest in those seats. He and Moghadam said they will not seek municipal office.

COUNCIL REACTION

Clark said she will wait to see if signatures are verified before commenting on the recall election and would continue to “focus on doing my job instead of worrying about losing my job.”

Bierman said Unite Norman’s failure to gain enough signatures is a reflection of strong support in her ward.

“I won my seat and retained it by knocking thousands of doors, understanding the demographic makeup of my ward, and being their voice on the dias for the last three years. That work was confirmed today with the failure to generate enough signatures for my recall. I stand behind my record, and I stand behind my colleagues,” she said.

Holman said he wasn’t afraid to confront his concerns in the past with the NPD and remained confident his constituents knew where he stood upon matters he has voted. Holman received a not guilty verdict on paraphernalia-related charges in 2017 after the NPD raided a store where he worked for selling glass pipes.

“Being in my fourth term and having been voted Best Elected Official in the Transcript Reader’s Choice Awards three out of the last four years shows me that Ward 7 residents are very well aware of my record on the City Council,” he said. “I took the Norman Police to state court and won after all, so I am definitely no secret to the people who care about what goes on in Norman. As always, I appreciate the residents of Ward 7 for their support and look forward to continuing to represent them on the council.”

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