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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The City Council of Oklahoma City met for over seven hours Tuesday and faced a sometimes angry and unruly crowd to discuss the possibility of implementing a new version of last year’s safety ordinance requiring masks indoors.

The ordinance, which failed 5-4, coupled with a continued zoning case about manufactured homes, drew a large crowd of suburban Oklahoma City voters and others.

The Council also failed to pass a resolution to get the City Manager’s office to explore potential opportunities for creating an incentive program to raise the number of people in our community who are vaccinated against the deadly COVID-19 virus that has killed nearly 10,000 Oklahomans.

Marty Peercy reports Local government

Mask Debate

A new version of the public safety ordinance originally championed by Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher, was retooled and re-introduced by Councilors James Cooper (Ward 2), JoBeth Hamon* (Ward 6), and Nikki Nice (Ward 7). Cooper began the discussion in a typical fashion, by showing two lengthy segments from PBS Newshour.

Phil Maytubby, COO of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, was called on to give a report on the current state of COVID in central Oklahoma. As Maytubby explained the rise in cases and the attendant hospital overcrowding, people in the gallery heckled the 33-year medical professional.

At more than one point in the rowdy discussion, Mayor David Holt banged his rarely-used gavel on the desk demanding quiet.

“Everybody gets to speak. It’s a beautiful thing. But he’s not going to yell while you’re speaking so keep your mouth shut during his time!” Holt admonished the crowd at one of the more heated moments.

Holt also reminded the crowd that according to a law recently passed in the State of Oklahoma, people disrupting the conduct of the people’s business are subject to removal by police.

Questioning science

After Maytubby spoke, he answered questions from the Council.

Ward 1 Councilman Bradley Carter was dubious about Maytubby’s scientific claims, even, to the surprise of many, demanding the health expert’s credentials, which Maytubby calmly listed.

Carter asked how, in good conscience, Maytubby could recommend a “deadly vaccine” like the mRNA vaccines being administered for this disease that has killed 639,000 Americans.

Members of the public were allowed 3 minutes each to address the Council. Twenty-one people spoke, five of whom were in support of the mask ordinance.

The 16 other speakers took turns, many offering patently false pseudo-science promoted by internet conspiracists, and some going over time. 

Jeff Watts, the owner of Bedlam BBQ, called much of the pro-mask support for health concerns “lies” and then said, “I rebuke those lies in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ, of course, is a popular religious figure who people on both sides of the debate mention often.

Despite Watts’s rebuke, the health concerns remain scientifically supported.

At one point, Robert Hefner, IV, complained that Cooper, a duly elected representative of Oklahoma City’s Ward 2, was allowed to show videos when he, Hefner, was not. Members of the Council tried to explain that there is a process for members of the public to share media at Council, a suggestion Hefner met with more complaints.

Shortly, a person in the back of the gallery stood up and shouted at the Council, “You work for us!”

The mayor asked for a police officer to remove the person, at which point Hefner and an unnamed man stood and shouted at the Council. The police officer came and peacefully asked the men to sit down, even as the unnamed man repeated the phrase, “Call in another officer, mayor.”

The ordinance as worded would need to be passed first, which would require a simple majority. Then an “emergency” would need to be passed to make the ordinance go into effect immediately, requiring 7 votes. Without the emergency clause, the ordinance would go into effect in 30 days, October 1, the day described in the ordinance as the expiration of the ordinance.

After much discussion, Cooper moved an amendment to the ordinance, changing the expiration date to November 1. This effort would have protected the ordinance if it were to pass by fewer than the seven votes needed to put the ordinance into effect immediately. That vote failed 6-3.

Then a vote was called on the ordinance itself, which failed with Holt meaninglessly joining the three authors voting in favor, even though his vote against the amendment declared the ordinance vote effectively moot.

Maskless Councilors Carter (Ward 1), Young (Ward 3), Stone (Ward 4), and Stonecipher (Ward 8) were joined by the masked Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell in voting against.

Stonecipher added, “United we stand. God bless America.”

Vaccine Incentives

A seemingly innocuous resolution to consider the feasibility of creating an incentive program to encourage vaccination against COVID-19, which has killed 4.51 million people across our planet, was roundly rejected by the majority of Council on Tuesday.

Greenwell repeated his familiar refrain that he isn’t a fan of resolutions, as they have no real legal meaning.

Carter said that tax dollars shouldn’t be used to promote an under-tested product that has been known to cause death, which would, in his opinion**, open the City to liability.

Stonecipher recommended that the Council defer the item and simply ask the City Manager to prepare something to present on the topic at the next meeting.

A vote to defer failed (the vote was a tie, which defaults to failure of a vote). Cooper then forced the issue to a vote, where it failed 4-5, with Holt again joining the Cooper-Nice-Hamon bloc.

Zoning Case Redux

A zoning and land use dispute that has come before the Council twice before returned to Tuesday’s agenda.

The case centers on a proposed housing development in the eastern Canadian County portion of the City of Oklahoma City where the owner plans to build and sell manufactured homes.

A neighborhood near that site has rallied opposition to what some have referred to as a “trailer park.” Some residents in a neighborhood meeting about the development expressed great concern about the development.

Most concerns were focused on property values, though some residents of the neighborhood voiced concern about the type of people who would live in a neighborhood like that, coupled with the slow response of police to the area.

At the Council’s previous meeting, a person who works for the Yukon Public School district bemoaned a large influx of students without receiving ad valorem taxes.

The ad valorem concern was addressed in Tuesday’s meeting between Ward 1’s Carter, who represents the area, and Attorney David Box, who is the legal representative of the applicant. While ad valorem taxes are different on land property than on moveable houses, both taxes will be paid by the landowner and the homeowner, though the homeowner will pay less in those taxes than an owner of a traditional home.

Representative Jason Lowe and former Ward 7 City Councilman John Pettis, Jr. addressed the Council on behalf of the neighborhood, who they said they represent.

Carter ultimately moved to deny the application. Hamon and Holt were the only votes against denial.

This will likely not be the end of the case, as the applicant is likely to file a civil suit against the City for basing their corporate decision on grounds other than land use.

The City Council will meet again on September 14 at 8:30 a.m.

*Hamon is the spouse of the author of this article.

**Carter is not an attorney or a medical professional.

Last Updated August 31, 2021, 8:26 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor