Ward 1 Norman City Council Member Kate Bierman announced Friday she will not file for re-election to represent her ward for a third term.
Bierman said in a statement sent to The Daily she happened to drive by a vacant 1924 bungalow in Ward 4 and has been “obsessing over” it ever since. When the owner put out a “For Sale” sign, Bierman said it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. The councilor decided to purchase the house and move out of Ward 1.
“When you’ve been weighing a thought in your mind, and then a message leaps out in your path pointing you down the road leading to that thought, one has to stop and listen,” Bierman said in the statement.
Bierman said she felt it would be “irresponsible” to proceed with purchasing the Ward 4 house and campaigning for re-election.
“I am beyond excited for this adventure,” Bierman said in the statement. “It is an opportunity for my family that I will not pass up. But it is painful. And abrupt, I recognize that.”
Throughout the course of her two-term tenure, the council member said in an interview with The Daily she was proud of the accomplishments she and her fellow councilors worked to achieve. One issue she said she’s especially proud of is the ordinance the council passed in February 2019 to mandate that new buildings, or buildings undergoing more than 50 percent remodeling, have changing tables in both men’s and women’s restrooms.
“I started getting messages when we were passing this (ordinance) from fathers, so incredibly thankful that someone was willing to address this, because fathers take a much more active role in their children’s upbringing these days than they did back when our zoning and building codes were written,” Bierman said in the interview.
Other actions the councilor said she’s proud of include working on renegotiations with Oklahoma Electrical Cooperative Fiber to provide municipal broadband to the community — a process that is still underway — authoring resolutions on the 19th Amendment and in support of women’s right to breastfeed, and pushing back against a proposed basketball arena that would’ve cost taxpayers $100 million.
Bierman said the most important part of her work as a councilor was listening to her constituents. She said Ward 1 is one of the most diverse wards in Norman, representing a spectrum of races, ages and socioeconomic statuses. Marginalized communities, Bierman said, needed a voice.
“I have always made it a point to amplify the marginalized voices who historically don’t have such a strong representation on city council,” Bierman said in the interview. “And that’s never served me wrong.”
But championing issues for marginalized groups, such as answering the call for police funding reform from groups such as Norman Collective for Racial Justice, hasn’t been without its challenges.
Bierman, along with Ward 3 Councilor Alison Petrone, Ward 7 Councilor Steven Holman and Mayor Breea Clark, were targeted by the local grassroots organization Unite Norman for their June 16 vote to reallocate $865,000 from the proposed increase to the Norman Police Department’s budget. Bierman ultimately survived the group’s attempt to recall her position through a petition.
Bierman said her advice for whoever takes her seat is to recognize the people of Ward 1 are unique and need advocacy that may conflict with the wills of other wards.
“You have to double and redouble your efforts to vocalize the needs of the marginalized communities in our ward because there are a lot of them,” Bierman said in the interview. “And they historically don’t get much representation, but they do support the people who voice their needs.”
Bierman said she hopes the council will tackle issues they didn’t get to during her tenure. One issue she said must be a priority in the next term is Norman’s handling of stormwater runoff — a problem that causes regular flooding in low-lying areas around the community.
“The city staff has done an admirable job trying to include stormwater projects in our other road projects,” Bierman said in the interview. “But all we’re doing is putting a Band-Aid on a leaking dam. And we also have a very substantive and real threat of the (Environmental Quality Company) or the (Environmental Protection Agency) coming down and telling us that we no longer get the luxury of deciding how we address our stormwater — they’re going to decide for us.”
Bierman said she hopes the council will continue its work to reallocate police department funding — a move Carter County Associate District Judge Thomas K. Baldwin ruled on Thursday violated the Open Meetings Act and was therefore illegal. The city announced Friday it would appeal the judge’s decision.
“We still really, really, really need to work on reimagining our police department and bringing the scope back to what they do best, which is investigate and solve crime — not handle mental health, not handle homeless issues that are not related to an actual crime and not just a crime of being unhoused,” Bierman said in the interview. “We need to address that, and I will not be quiet on that issue.”
Bierman said just because she is stepping down from her seat, it doesn’t mean she’s retiring from public service. She said the move away from council representation is bittersweet. While she’s excited for a new chapter in her family’s life, she’s also sad to leave her position at the table to advocate for her constituents. But, Bierman said, she won’t be disappearing from local advocacy altogether.
“I am not done serving the Norman community,” Bierman said in the statement. “You’ll hear from me again soon.”