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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The City Council of Oklahoma City met on Tuesday morning for a slate of resolutions and ordinances that grew tense more than once.

Among the business of the day were two resolutions from Council members regarding the redrawing of ward boundaries across the city. 

The first resolution asked for a mayor-appointed nonpartisan committee with members from each of the eight wards to provide transparency and feedback in the redistricting process. The second resolution concerned the addition of at least two Wards to the City Government. 

Both were defeated.

The Council also reviewed and adopted the annual Federal Legislative Program and State Legislative Program, but not without arguments on the horseshoe.

Updates were given to the Council about two MAPS 4 projects in Northeast Oklahoma City, including removal of the Freedom Center from the implementation plan for the projects.

Only one Council member, Ward 3’s Barbara Young, was absent from the meeting. Mayor David Holt left at about the halfway point of the meeting, and Ward 5’s David Greenwell left at 11:30, as is his custom.

Marty Peercy reports Local government

Redistricting

Council members James Cooper (Ward 2), JoBeth Hamon (Ward 6), and Nikki Nice (Ward 7) authored a resolution to impanel a committee to review and give feedback to staff during the upcoming process of redrawing the boundaries of the wards after receiving updated census information.

In the past, this process has happened outside of open meetings with Council members making agreements about which parts of their wards would change.

Hamon introduced the resolution, pointing out that there are many rumors about the process of redistricting. Some believe the process happens behind closed doors to keep the public from having input. A common narrative among residents is that some Councilors have asked for certain parts of their wards to be removed because they “don’t do well” in those voting precincts.

Hamon said that while she isn’t suggesting the previous redistricting efforts have been corrupt, the fact that the public thinks so should cause great concern to the elected officials.

“Representation matters,” said Nice.

Cooper pointed out that in our current political climate, nonpartisanship doesn’t exist, and forming a committee would be an opportunity to get diverse feedback and transparently fulfill this needed process.

The resolution called for a non-partisan, mayor-appointed committee of four people from each ward. Those people should represent different areas of each ward so as to capture the geographic and demographic diversity of those wards. 

The resolution specified persons who should not be on the committee, including already elected officials, staff of any political party, and any person who is a lobbyist or paid consultant for federal, state, or local elected officials.

Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell walked through the process that is traditionally used for redrawing the borders, saying that it was simple. He added that he’s never heard of anybody abusing the process.

City of OKC
Current wards in the City of Oklahoma City. (screenshot from City website)

Mark Stonecipher of Ward 8 said that he thinks the system works fine and doesn’t need fixing.

Neither addressed the issue of transparency.

Before moving the item for approval, Hamon said, “When I hear that the process ‘is simple’ or that ‘it works,’ I have to ask ‘For whom?’”

Hamon looked around the horseshoe and said, “We have two people of color here. I don’t see anybody who speaks another language.”

Indeed, there are no Latin-American voices on the Council in spite of the large population of Spanish-speaking persons in Oklahoma City, especially in the “near South” part of Oklahoma City near the meeting of Wards 4, 5, and 6.

The resolution was defeated as Bradley Carter (Ward 1), Todd Stone (Ward 4), Greenwell, and Stonecipher were joined by Mayor Holt in voting against the suggested move toward transparency.

New Wards

The authors of the failed redistricting resolution also presented a resolution that would force adding at least two wards to the Council if redistricting was necessary.

Hamon pointed out that even though the ward she represents is geographically fairly small, she still has challenges getting to all corners of the very dense Ward 6. 

Nice agreed on that point, explaining that while she does everything she can to advocate for constituents in the rural parts of Ward 7, she can’t know precisely the issues they face because she doesn’t live in rural Ward 7.

The last time the City added wards was in 1966. Prior to that date, there were only 4 wards. Nice pointed out that the addition in 1966 included her home, Ward 7. In 1970 the population of Oklahoma City was 368,164. The recent census showed the population at 681,054.

“That’s why I say representation matters,” Nice said, pointing out that all people in Oklahoma City deserve to have appropriate representation.

One member of the public signed up to speak on the resolution.

Sam Wargin
Sam Wargin Grimaldo who ran for the Ward 4 City Council seat in the last election. (provided)

Sam Wargin Grimaldo, who ran for the Ward 4 seat in the last election, explained to the Council that he knows what it’s like to grow up in a neighborhood that is always ignored. A life-long Southsider, Grimaldo explained the need for his part of Oklahoma City to be represented more directly and robustly.

After Grimaldo’s comments, Stone thanked him for his words and said they will discuss this further. Stone went on to say he would champion the idea of more wards but would be voting no on the resolution to create those extra wards because the resolution, according to Stone, “required” doing so.

Cooper pointed out that City Councilors in Oklahoma City have more constituents than State Representatives. Council is a part-time job that pays $12,000 a year for Councilors and $24,000 for a councilor-at-large in the person of a Mayor. It is not possible, in Cooper’s explanation, for a City Council member to be able to be responsive to all constituents all the time, unless they are independently wealthy and don’t need to work to support themselves.

Stonecipher said that he had looked at the American League of Cities and found many peer cities that have the same or even fewer council members than Oklahoma City.

The preceding presentation listed many peer cities that have more councilors than Oklahoma City. Kansas City, for example, has a population of 508,090. Kansas City, however, has 12 council members.

Again, Hamon moved the item for approval, and again the suburban Councilors (Carter, Stone, Greenwell, and Stonecipher) were joined by Mayor Holt in turning down the option to add more wards that would represent fewer people.

Legislative Packages

Every year the City Council’s legislative committee works with staff and the City’s lobbyists to create a package of legislative priorities for the City at both the federal and state level. The packages simply represent priorities for lobbying and influencing legislation that will affect our City.

This year’s priorities at the federal level include continued support in the wake of a deadly pandemic, a clause with which Greenwell took issue.

Greenwell said that this administration, speaking of the Biden administration, doesn’t need any encouragement to spend money. He showed concern that the City might ask for more. The language of the package was amended to appease him, even though all agreed that there was no intention to ask for more money.

Greenwell went on to say that the City could use money and joked that citizens are encouraged to send any extra money to the City.

The federal package was adopted with the amendment.

State Package

When the time came to address the state legislative package, Councilwoman Nikki Nice took exception to what she saw as an omission.

Nice said that part of our state legislative package needed to include lobbying for changes in statute to empower our forthcoming Human Rights Commission. She asked that things like subpoena power be legislated in a fashion that would give the Human Rights Commission some teeth.

Mayor Holt and Ward 1’s Carter both argued that since the Commission doesn’t exist yet, there was no point in lobbying for legislation to empower them.

Nice moved an amendment to include the items she had discussed, and Hamon seconded.

Stonecipher then said that he hasn’t had the opportunity to “look at” those recommendations.

At that point, Nice, who is characteristically assertive, became atypically aggressive. 

She looked directly at Stonecipher and reacted with incredulity and annoyance that he was claiming to have not seen them even though he is on the committee.

He repeated that he had not seen them and Nice interrupted to say they have been in his email for a month.

After a heated exchange, Stonecipher, Councilman to one of Oklahoma City’s wealthiest Wards, said, “My voice doesn’t matter!” A vote was called.

The Council voted down Nice’s Human Rights amendments, again by the same 5-3 margin as in earlier votes.

MAPS 4

Updates for two MAPS 4 projects were given to the Council at Tuesday’s meeting.

The first involved requesting proposals to be advertised in finding an operating partner for the “Innovation Hall” project in the so-called Innovation District.

Nice balked at the idea, saying that there was no subcommittee overseeing this project yet. Nice suggested that this item should be tabled until after the Innovation Hall Subcommittee has been formed, in order to maximize transparency and community involvement.

The item was not delayed or tabled.

David Todd, who oversees MAPS projects for the City, then brought an item to remove the Freedom Center from the MAPS 4 Implementation Plan.

Representatives of the organization that owns the Freedom Center explained that they have, with the help of departed Oklahoma City enthusiast Sam Bowman, secured private funding for the restoration of the Freedom Center located at 2609 North Martin Luther King.

This will allow the MAPS tax money to go directly to the construction of the planned Clara Luper Civil Rights Center south of the Freedom Center. This also allows the Freedom Center to remain the property of the original organization, instead of the City of Oklahoma City.

City Council meets again on November 23 at 8:30 a.m.


Last Updated November 9, 2021, 6:58 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor