Brett Dickerson is the founder and editor of Oklahoma City Free Press and is a resident of the City of Oklahoma City.
Opinion (Free Press) — The news from the 2020 Census is dramatic: The City of Oklahoma City has grown 17.4% just in the last 10 years and it’s time to redistrict according to that Census and add two more wards.
The Census news comes after double-digit percent growth rates in the previous three decades and almost 10% growth from 1970 to 1980.
Yet, the last time the City added new wards was in 1966!
The dynamic now is that if you are one of many who live between Arcadia and Luther close to the northern Oklahoma County line or east of Spencer, you are in the same Ward 7 as Bricktown and those who live on further south all the way to S.E. 44th.
And if you live about two miles south of downtown Piedmont in the far northwest of the metro, you are in the same Ward 1 with me and my neighbors who live near N.W. 63rd and Meridian AND those who live south of Yukon.
Wards 3 and 4 each have similar and dramatic examples of neighborhoods and people who have little to anything in common with each other being represented by one City Council member.
Now, with the far reaches of these suburban wards reaching numerical parity of active voters with the parts closer to the center of the city the tug between the legitimate needs of the many exurban and rural residents of Oklahoma City and those who live in the more densely populated and older neighborhoods becomes a reality.
Should that tug even be happening? Of course not. And, it doesn’t have to be so.
Now is the time
It’s time for the residents of Oklahoma City to demand that the City do what two resolutions proposed call for: balance the number of constituents in each ward by redistricting, and add at least two more wards.
If more councilors represent a more compact area with a smaller population, the dynamic would shift in council races in favor of those who are best at community organizing and know their constituents and their needs rather than those who can raise the most money for campaigns.
And, those who know the neighborhoods in their districts very well would bring that knowledge to the Council.
The case is already being made by the three Councilors who have proposed the two resolutions: Nikki Nice (Ward 7), JoBeth Hamon (Ward 6), and James Cooper (Ward 2).
This need has not been ignored in the past. Over the years, former Ward 4 Councilor Pete White and other contemporaries pushed for redistricting and adding more wards but could not convince enough of the other councilors to come along with them.
It just hasn’t had enough support to become an ongoing process after each Census as reason would demand.
But, there may be some strong, human reasons why the reasonable option of redistricting has not taken place each decade since 1970:
- Councilors themselves may be resisting because the fewer Council members the more powerful each one is and the more people they influence.
- The prospect of a different dynamic in how things get done could be daunting to current Councilors and even City staff.
- Different groups in the life of the City such as the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce may have been resisting (and may now) because increasing the number on the Council would change their dynamic of influence.
Support the effort
It’s time for residents of Oklahoma City who want a more representative City Council to push even the reluctant Council members to go along with the idea.
Tuesday, November 9 will only be the first of a series of votes on the issue but it has to pass then in order to be fully considered.
You may call or write to your City Council member by visiting https://www.okc.gov/government/city-council/ward-map to find info on each Council member and a tool for determining which ward you are in if you don’t know.
To come to the City Council meeting and speak in person, The City Council for Oklahoma City meets in their chamber on the third floor of City Hall at 200 N. Walker. Arrive well ahead of the 8:30 a.m. meeting time Tuesday to fill out a form in order to be called on to speak.
Last Updated November 8, 2021, 11:31 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor