On Tuesday the City Council of Oklahoma City met for 5 and a half hours covering topics including the ongoing mask mandate, federal rental assistance, and a partnership between EMSA and the Oklahoma City Fire Department to take the stain off of paramedics.
The Council also discussed setting up a trust to oversee “endowment” funds approved as part of MAPS 4.
During comments from Council, policing and racial equity were discussed by some Council members.
Again the Council heard a presentation from Phil Maytubby of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department detailing the current state of COVID-19 in our community.
Maytubby began his presentation saying that local numbers are going in the right direction. Hospitalizations are down to a more manageable number from two months ago, as well as cases. Death rates, however, remain concerning.
The hospitalization rate is currently similar to the rate in July when the Council passed the first mask ordinance, Mayor Holt pointed out, underscoring that the community is still in the same crisis it was last summer.
Maytubby says that the Department works with a predictive model that shows that extending the mask mandate through June could save us from 9,000 cases. So far 24% of Oklahoma City’s population has received at least one dose of vaccination.
Ward 4 Councilman Todd Stone asked if the police have enforced the mask mandate a single time during the months long mandate. City Manager Craig Freeman explained that while no citations have been issued, police have been called to assist businesses who had troublemaking customers who refused to follow protocols.
Freeman went on to say that a lot of businesses have communicated that having the city-wide mandate has made it easier for them to enforce their private protocol requirements for masking.
James Greiner, Councilman for Ward 1, was absent for the meeting except to join just for debate and voting on this item, which he historically opposes. After his no vote today, he departed and did not return for any other portion of the meeting.
The ordinance passed 6-3 with Stone, Greiner, and Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee voting against. To make the ordinance go into effect immediately, an “emergency” had to be approved. Stone switched his vote for the emergency as he has for previous votes.
The mask mandate will now expire on April 30.
Assistant City Manager Aubrey McDermid was joined by Teresa Rose Crook, Executive Director of Communities Foundation of Oklahoma, to give a presentation on a new program for rental assistance in Oklahoma City.
The federal government passed a bill to provide $25 billion nationwide for rental assistance for people whose income has been impacted by the deadly pandemic facing the nation. Oklahoma City has received $19.6 million to set up a program here.
The new program will be administered by Community CARES Partners. That same organization administered the recent assistance program under the CARES Act, and are being brought back on board to administer this new round of funding because of their experience.
The new program is more prescriptive than the previous program, according to McDermid. It is only available to renters in OKC with a household member who earns 80% or less of Area Median Income (AMI). Landlords can also apply for their renters. The program is careful, however, to not allow “double dipping.”
The funds can be used for rent, back rent, late fees, utilities, relocation costs, and internet services so that people may continue to work remotely and children may continue distance learning.
This time around, 90% of funds must be spent on direct service, leaving only 10% for administrative costs. There is no deadline on these funds.
Applications for assistance will open Monday.
The Oklahoma City Fire Department and EMSA requested permission for a collaboration of efforts to ease the strain on EMSA, which is experiencing a shortage of staff currently.
Since the pandemic spiked, beds have been hard to find in Oklahoma City hospitals. When an ambulance brings a person to the ER, they have been experiencing significant delays to getting patients into the actual ER.
These delays range from twenty minutes, to as much as two hours in extreme cases. While those ambulances are stuck waiting for a bed to open up, there are other calls being made from the field with precious few resources available to respond.
In a creative effort at problem solving, EMSA and the Fire Department have launched a collaboration wherein Fire Department paramedics will be called in for overtime shifts to accept transfer of care from those ambulance patients so the ambulances may return to the field and answer calls more quickly.
The measure was applauded by several members of the Council, who passed the measure unanimously.
A proposed Trust to oversee the investment of MAPS 4 money was deferred for two weeks to search for new members.
The trust indenture presented to the Council on Tuesday provided for five members. Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice expressed concern that the membership was small and not inclusive of a diverse set of perspectives. Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper echoed Nice’s concerns.
As stated, the Trust, formally known as the Oklahoma City MAPS Investment and Operating Trust (OCMIOT) would have the authority to invest endowment money approved as part of the latest MAPS package to help sustain the projects created over the course of the next many years.
After discussion, Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher moved to defer the trust so that the indenture draft could be revised to add two more members. The council agreed unanimously, and will take up the item again at their next meeting in two weeks.
Council Comments – May 30 protests
During the customary time for Councilors to make comments, Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon brought up the presentation and press release from the Oklahoma City Police Department that was released on February 26, the previous Friday.
The presentation purported to give a timeline for the events of May 30 and 31 relating to protests after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police.
Hamon said that the press release referenced that the presentation had been given to city leaders. Having heard nothing of it, Hamon asked of the City Manager who those city leaders were. Freeman replied that he had seen it, but that he didn’t realize it would be released when it was, and that it was a misstep to not have provided it first to City Council.
Hamon went on to explain her frustration about the framing of the events of the first evening. She specifically took issue with a police statement that they first attempted “de-escalation tactics” when they arrived at NW 23rd and Classen to confront protestors. Hamon pointed out that multiple videos of the incident show police placing hands on protestors within seconds of arriving on the scene.
Hamon called it disingenuous, and said that the first step to making changes is to admit when a mistake has been made. According to Hamon there was no analysis or introspection about events that could have set a different tone and changed the outcome of that night and the following days.
Instead, she has heard frustration from constituents who believe that this signals that there will be no progress and no change.
When Hamon concluded her statements Cooper spoke up to reinforce her comments and to express his own frustration and dismay that the Council was not given the presentation before it was given to the press. He said that this creates a narrative for public consumption that can shape public perception.
Cooper cited a study that showed that 93% of Black Lives Matter protests last year caused no harm to person or property, and yet media narratives have called them “riots,” leading to legislatures across the country, including Oklahoma, introducing measures to legalize using automobiles as weapons against protestors.
Cooper went on to point out that while compiling this report, nobody bothered asking him or any of the other concerned citizens who took to the streets during that time for their input.
Nikki Nice then had the opportunity to speak. She began by saying that she finds it disturbing that this slipped past the City Manager.
“We’re not allowed to express an opinion about staff issues, but the City Manager is,” Nice said.
She went on to say that we need to remember what happened last summer versus what happened in January, which she categorized as far worse.
“We’re supposed to be having these conversations in unison,” she added.
Nice said that Oklahoma City is not immune to criticisms about racial inequity, adding that if the City is to have conversations about increasing diversity and inclusion, that work needs to start in house. According to Nice, one of the jobs of the city is to make people feel like they matter, but some people on the council are made to feel like they don’t matter.
Nice went on to address what was said by Ward 5 Councilman Greenwell at the previous meeting. Greenwell made a reference to fried foods when talking about a new grocery option in Northeast Oklahoma City, spurring many people to cry racism.
Nice said that she couldn’t decide what she should find more disturbing, that they all sat waiting for a response from a Councilman who never spoke up, or how quickly the Mayor left the meeting without addressing it.
While Greenwell called Nice and made a public statement offering an apology for his comments, Mayor Holt only issued a statement condemning the statements, but never bothered to reach out to Nice.
Nice said that while she wants to have a cohesive council, it’s hard to do that when the leader doesn’t respond.
The City Council meets again on March 16 at 8:30 a.m.
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Last Updated March 2, 2021, 5:09 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor