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A citizen group pushing for 12 Oklahoma City council members representing 12 smaller wards pitched their plan to the council Tuesday.

At present, eight council members represent eight expansive wards in the city limits of over 600 square miles and 600,000 residents.

OKC Council 2018-4-24 Making the pitch
Various members of a group pitched the idea to expand the wards and their representatives on the OKC Council from eight to 12. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

The group used comparisons to cities with similar populations and many more city council members.

Most city council members stayed quiet during the presentations.

The group has no name but is made up of experienced activists and a retired council member who favor more representation for city residents.

Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid has been a proponent of ward expansion since 2011 he told Free Press.

Expansion need

Former council member Pete White came to the meeting to speak on the matter and was the first to be called of the six who came with carefully-crafted arguments.

He used an illustration that showed just how expansive the city has become over the years and with the same number of city council members.

OKC Council 2018-4-24 Pete White plan
Former OKC Council member Pet White argues at least four wards are so big they are “unmanageably large.” BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

“I used to tell people that if my ward was a city it would be the 17th largest city in the United States geographically,” said White. “In addition, Wards 1,3, and 7 are unmanageably large.”

“You know how I feel about ward expansion,” White said to the council members.

“I thought I was going to be through with that when I left the council. But then I found out there was a whole group of people that were for expanding the number of wards.”

Initiative petition?

White warned the council that since the last mayor’s election had so few votes cast, the threshold for an initiative petition would be the lowest in several decades.

The number of signatures on an initiative petition to put a matter to the vote of the people of a city is 25% of the last city-wide election of an officer, according to City Clerk Frances Kersey.

She told Free Press that in the last election where Mayor Holt was elected, there were 25,990 votes cast.

That means only 6,498 valid signatures would be needed to make an end run around the city council and put the matter to a direct vote of the people.

Comparisons

The other five speakers used a variety of comparisons to illustrate what they argued was a need for more representation on the council.

David Glover said the last expansion of council seats to the current 8 was in 1927 when the city had only 185,389 residents. If the same ratio was used with the current 650,000+ population, the city would have 28 wards and city council members instead of the current eight.

OKC Council 2018-4-24 Rena Guay
Rena Guay points out that Memphis has 40 council members serving a very similar-sized population. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

Rena Guay pointed to Memphis with almost an identical population of 652,000+ and said they have 40, “that’s four-zero” council members compared to Oklahoma City’s eight. (UPDATE: 2018-4-26 – The City of Memphis has 13 council members.)

The City of Norman has 110,000+ residents, which is roughly 1/6th the population of Oklahoma City and their council has eight members like Oklahoma City said Leslie Bonebreak.

Sam Frederickson chose Nashville as his comparison saying that city has 684,000 and 35 council members representing them.

Diversity?

“With all due respect, this council does not reflect the diversity of our city,” said Guay in her presentation.

“It doesn’t reflect the different socio-economic classes.”

“It doesn’t represent the different racial and ethnic groups completely.”

“It doesn’t reflect the different ages in our community.”

“It doesn’t reflect the different interests represented in this city.”

OKC Council 2018-4-24 Dario Elizando plan
Dario Elizando argues that more council members would give the opportunity for more representation of the city’s diverse population. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

Dario Elizando praised the city as a place that had become a place of refuge for his family when they came from Mexico years ago. And others in Hispanic culture have done the same.

He argued that Latinos on the south side have a great sense of belonging and investment in the city, but are not fully represented on the council.

Further Plans?

The group met in a circle after the council meeting adjourned and talked about their options of what to do next. They had come to the meeting simply to introduce the idea and see what reaction the council would give.


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