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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Tuesday, the City Council of Oklahoma City held a marathon five and one-half-hour meeting to handle recurring and new business for the City.

Council heard updates about the redistricting process, and some plans for using American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

The Council also made a split decision about paying for legal services for police officers in a civil suit resulting from the shooting death of Bennie Edwards by OKCPD.

A proposed solid waste transfer station in a heavy Industrial zone is facing permit trouble from some neighbors, and the Council discussed and deferred the item for a month, citing misinformation as a cause for concern among residents of the affected wards.

With one vote of Council, Oklahoma City grew by 160 acres, despite protest from councilors in the urban core.

Finally, urban hens and quail were discussed briefly in the next-to-final public hearing on the matter.

Marty Peercy reports Local government

ARPA Funds

With the final decision from the Treasury Department just coming down on January 7, municipalities, counties, and states across the country are scrambling to finalize projects using the relief money provided by the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) intended to provide relief from the effects of the COVID pandemic.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Council received a presentation from Assistant City Manager Kenneth Tsoodle, and Cathy O’Connor, Executive Director of the Alliance for Economic Development, a private para-municipal financial organization. The pair discussed the City’s plan for assistance to businesses using ARPA funds.

The current plan closely resembles the business relief packages the City offered through the CARES Act funds of the previous presidential administration.

Members of the Council were concerned with so much of the money being dedicated to “technical and legal assistance.” In fact, in Tuesday’s description, $5 million dollars are earmarked for that purpose.

Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice expressed great concern over the amount of money earmarked, or perhaps not earmarked, for minority and disadvantaged businesses.

Market at Eastpoint
OKC Ward 7 Council member Nikki Nice cuts the ribbon of the new grocery at the East Point development at Rhode Island and NE 23rd Street, along with Restore OKC interns Oct 3, 2020. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Nice repeated the same assertions she has over the past year of COVID response. Nice has spoken with constituents whose small businesses have suffered under COVID, a deadly pandemic that readers should know still exists and is ravaging our community, state, and nation.

Nice specified some businesses that fell through the cracks of the relief program previously administered by the same groups. Some were businesses like those in the East Point development at Rhode Island and NE 23rd Street. Some businesses opened right on the cusp of the rise of COVID, and were not eligible for assistance.

Other owners of even smaller businesses had situations that required them to close up shop temporarily to take care of family members or themselves through illness. Many small businesses with “shoestring budgets” were simply unable to weather the storm.

A contemporaneous problem with the above-mentioned is that many small business owners have little training in some of the ins and outs of record keeping and accounting. Without the proper documents in place, those businesses were unable to get assistance, whereas larger businesses that are more established and have more experience with navigating government systems were able to pounce on assistance opportunities as they arose.

Ward 6 Councilor JoBeth Hamon* addressed the shortcomings of the plan to offer relief to nonprofits. Hamon described the offer of “technical assistance” as not being any part of the needs she’s heard expressed by nonprofits that she has heard from throughout the pandemic. Most needs communicated to her, she explained, were about capital improvement to build larger meeting spaces or to otherwise expand in space in order to onboard and continue development for staff.

Nice moved to amend the contract presented to move more money toward the benefit of minority-owned and disadvantaged businesses. The amendment passed unanimously.

After the amendment passed, Hamon moved to defer approval of the contract so that more input from the community could be gathered. The deferral passed with all but Mayor David Holt voting in favor.

Redistricting

Kenneth Tsoodle brought a presentation to the Council regarding the ongoing process of redistricting the City’s 8 Wards. Statute requires a redrawing of ward lines after each decennial census from the U.S. Government.

Since Oklahoma City has grown so significantly in population, some Councilors suggested expanding the number of Wards by adding two new ones. The idea was rejected by councilors who represented mostly suburban wards.

On Tuesday, the Council was given an explanation of what work has been done by City staff already.

Public input on the redistricting has been limited so far, as a vote to empanel City residents to oversee the redistricting was also rejected along urban/suburban lines in the Council with the urban councilors favoring the panel.

Readers may visit okc.gov/redistricting to see the existing Ward maps and the changes that are suggested. There will be a virtual town hall on January 24, and an in-person meetup with staff on January 27 at the Bennett Event Center at the State Fairgrounds. Residents are welcome to send questions and feedback to [email protected] in the meantime.

Feedback will be accepted through February in order for City staff to deliver a proposed ordinance to the Council by March.

Police Defense

In December 2020, Oklahoma City Police Department officers responded to a call about an undesired person on the premises of a business.

That person’s name was Bennie Edwards. By the end of that encounter with OKCPD officers,  Edwards was dead with three bullets in his back, fired from a police officer.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Council, two agenda items were provided for the City to hire private attorneys to represent two of the officers involved in that shooting.

Sgt. Keith Duroy was the initial responding officer. Duroy called for back-up and Sgt. Clifford Holman was one of the officers who responded. Within seconds of his arrival, Holman had opened fire on Edwards who was running away at the time.

Holman faces criminal charges in the killing.

Some members of the family of Bennie Edwards have brought a civil suit against the officers.

In an emotional series of comments from Ward 6’s Hamon and Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper, the pair described their misgivings about paying for this service.

The governing rules state that the City is required to pay for Counsel provided the officers involved were discharging their duties in good faith.

The question will remain if shooting a retreating man in the back is “good faith” discharge of police duty.

Cooper pointed out that when he thinks of Bennie Edwards, he feels like he was too late in his championing of mental health response that doesn’t include weaponizing police.

The item was passed with an affirmative vote by all members save, Cooper, Hamon, and Nice.

Garbage Strife

A heavy industrial zone spanning a portion of Wards 3 and 5 came to the attention of Council on Tuesday.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Barbara Young opened discussion by pointing out that there has been a campaign of misinformation about a project planned for the site at 11501 S I-44 Service Road.

Proposed for the site is a Solid Waste Transfer Station.

The business planning to open there will be a site for sumping of some waste, but the facility will be entirely indoors. Furthermore, the facility will collect its own wastewater and recycle that, as part of the business plan.

Some unidentified opponent of the project has started a website full of misinformation about the work done at sites like the one submitted. The website claims that odors and water and other excess waste plague such sites.

Councilwoman Young explained that she had visited similar sites recently and found that they are not noxious waste-spillers, as described in the misinformation campaign.

After allowing two members of the public to speak against the proposal, Young moved to defer the item until February 15, so accurate information could be shared.

Annexation

In spite of cogent arguments against the move, the Council approved a plan to annex 160 acres near Deer Creek for another Single-Family development.

Hamon, who is often against further annexation in a city of 600+ square miles, spoke up first, explaining that the City needs to focus on infrastructure already crumbling, rather than investing in new infrastructure for land that isn’t even in the City.

Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher, representing the ward in question, said that many people don’t want to live near downtown and prefer a rural setting.

Stonecipher said that those people should be accommodated in their desire to move where infrastructure doesn’t even exist yet.

Hamon asked David Box, attorney for the applicant, why Deer Creek Schools had not come to protest this expansion into their school district. Hamon pointed out that when Box was before this Council asking for leave to develop a multifamily apartment complex in the area, Deer Creek Schools protested.

She then said that there must be a difference between kids in multifamily living from kids living in large single-family homes.

Again, the body voted 5-3 in favor of the annexation.

Mayor David Holt left the meeting just over three hours into the five and a half hour meeting. All other members were present for Tuesday’s meeting.

The City Council meets again on February 1 at 8:30 a.m.


*Disclosure: Reporter Marty Peercy is the husband of Oklahoma City Council member JoBeth Hamon.

Last Updated January 19, 2022, 7:42 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor