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Four former Norman mayors file legal challenge to UNP TIF referendum petition

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University North Park

The sign in front of University North Park at the corner of 24th and Robinson on Oct. 31, 2019.

Four former Norman mayors filed a legal challenge Friday to a referendum petition seeking to overturn a city council vote on the University North Park tax increment finance district.

The petition to rescind the Nov. 26 vote, which approved an agreement between the UNP TIF developers and the city to reduce economic funding for several projects by at least $9 million, according to the Norman Transcript, received more than 4,000 votes and would force a referendum in 2022 to accept or reject the council’s vote.

Former mayors Lynne Miller, Bill Nations, Dick Reynolds and Bob Thompson filed the challenge to question the legality of the referendum, according to a press release from an attorney representing the former mayors.

“We feel, as do others,” the former mayors said in the release, “that this petition did not follow multiple safeguards required by law and, therefore, did not live up to those standards of honesty and integrity and should be dismissed.”

The revised project plan approved in November significantly reduced funding to the UNP TIF, according to the release. The former mayors said in the release that if the funding reduction is delayed until a 2022 referendum, the city’s budget would face a shortfall of more than $4 million.

“The delay and uncertainty caused by the referendum petition will have a disastrous effect on the City of Norman,” former Mayor Bill Nations said in the release. “The Norman Forward projects, as well as the road projects, are in danger of losing millions of dollars in immediately available funds, in addition to the potential of major budget cuts to important emergency services and public works.”

The challenge argues that the petition did not meet the three conditions it must meet in order to be upheld: an exact copy of the ordinance in question, a correct election date for the potential referendum and a gist description of the petition.

Stephen Ellis, an OU professor and opponent of the UNP TIF who submitted the petition signatures, told NonDoc on Jan. 8 that the petition aims to reject the council’s vote in the hopes of extracting from the UNP TIF agreement by other measures.

“What we are trying to do is disentangle Norman from this bad economic development deal,” Ellis told NonDoc. “Step one of that is taking a step backwards to get out of the place we got ourselves into, and we are still going to have to go forward to make things a lot better.”

The former mayors said in the release the agreement went through an “appropriate and transparent vetting process” and was approved by the elected members of the Norman City Council.

 “As former mayors, we want to see Norman succeed as a great place where people want to start a business and raise a family,” the former mayors said in the release. “We cannot sit idly by when the fragile financial condition of the City is at risk and the integrity of an important civic process is in jeopardy.”

A full copy of the former mayors’ legal challenge to the petition can be found below.

Scott Kirker is a letters and Spanish senior and assistant news managing editor for The Daily. Previously he worked as summer editor-in-chief and as a news reporter covering research and administrative searches.

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