In a raucous special meeting of the Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners on Friday, the Board struck down a controversial resolution to clamp down on free speech and allocated $8 million in CARES Act funds.
Public comment was allowed for the first time since the declaration of emergency in March.
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The first item on the agenda for this special meeting was a resolution to prohibit “free speech activities” on certain county properties, specifically in the areas around the courthouse and courthouse annex. As the item came up, Chairman and District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey moved to strike the item.
Charles de Coune, candidate for Oklahoma County Court Clerk, took the podium and demanded to be heard. The Commissioners allowed him the thirty seconds he requested and he went on to explain that it was his belief that it is unlawful to impose limits on free speech.
Calvey then made remarks regarding the proposed resolution. He said that he was moving to strike the item because he did not believe that it was lawful. He further explained that he had heard from people across the county and across the political spectrum about the issue, overwhelmingly asking for protection of the First Amendment.
Before voting on the item, District 1 Commissioner Blumert said that since they had let one person speak she believed it was appropriate to allow public comment on the item. This was met with applause from many of the attendees.
Many of those assembled for the meeting have been engaged in the protests that they believe this measure was intended to quell.
Given the chance to address the Board, over a dozen signed up. Each speaker told stories of why they were in attendance, universally decrying the effort to limit speech on the courthouse grounds.
One speaker, Jess Eddy, was arrested during the last meeting of this body.
He addressed the Board about District Attorney David Prater’s order to have deputies arrest him at the last meeting. Eddy said that he intends to file a lawsuit regarding that recent arrest.
He went on to single out District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan saying, “I am hereby openly endorsing Spencer Hicks to take your seat,” and then turning to Calvey, “And when you run again, we’re going to vote you out to to get some help for this woman,” pointing to Blumert.
After the flood of comments, the Board unanimously voted to strike the item. A celebration broke out in the gallery that lasted several minutes, including chants of “Ain’t no power like the power of the People ‘cause the power of the People don’t stop!”
The Board continued with their business of the day by voting on four allocations of CARES Act money.
$3 million dollars was requested for the Jail Trust to supply “hero pay” to Jail staff who have been working during the coronavirus outbreak. Blumert asked if the Trust’s Counsel was available to answer questions about the specifics of how that money would be awarded to staff. As counsel was not present, Blumert said that she didn’t feel comfortable voting on the item. The item passed with Maughan and Calvey both in favor. Another $1 million was allocated for hero pay for employees of the Juvenile Bureau and another $1 million for employees of the Sheriff’s OFfice.
One additional allocation to the Jail Trust was $3 million to address plumbing and air handling issues to make the Jail more “COVID-proof.”
The Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust) will meet at 1:00 p.m. Monday, August 17 and may consider in some way the $36 million being offered to them from CARES Act money.
The Board of County Commissioners meets again on Wednesday, August 19 at 9:00 a.m.
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