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Norman City Council accepts committee recommendation for city ward boundaries, awaits formal adoption

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Norman City Council meets Oct. 12, 2021.

The Norman City Council approved a plan to redraw ward boundaries from the city's reapportionment committee in a vote of 5-4 Tuesday following hours of public comments and an attempt from council to create its own proposal using the current ward boundaries.

The committee's proposal was drafted using data from the 2020 Census that was delayed due to COVID-19. The committee, formed in January, aimed to evenly distribute the growth of Norman's population among the wards in this proposal. The reapportionment process occurs every ten years in line with the release of census data. 

Citizens of Ward 5 spoke against this proposal at a previous public hearing Sept. 27, claiming the committee practiced gerrymandering, due to a part of the rural Ward 5 being moved into the more urban Ward 6. Ward 5 Councilmember Rarchar Tortorello also voiced his opposition to the proposal in a letter to Mayor Breea Clark, where he ask the mayor to disband the committee following comments made by a committee member who characterized him as "dangerous."

This article is written in the form of a live blog. 

9:30 PM

Clark opened public comment on the original committee's proposal, where three speakers stated they believe the council should send the proposal back to committee. 

On the motion to adopt a resolution supporting the reapportionment committee's original proposal, the council accepted it with a vote of 5-4. Lynn, Tortorello, Foreman and Peacock voted against the measure.

Norman's ward boundaries are not finalized. The council will now vote on an ordinance, with a tentative date of Dec. 14. Should that fail, the council may consider sending redistricting back to committee.          

9:23 PM

Clark said she couldn't support the council's proposal, citing the controversy surrounding redistricting at the state level. 

"Yes, we can do it. But should we do it. ... This is something that belongs to the people, regardless," Clark said. 

The motion to accept council's recommendations for Norman's ward boundaries failed in a vote of 5-4, with Studley, Schueler, Hall, Peacock and Clark voting against the measure. 

8:50 PM

Clark opened a public hearing on the council's new proposal. Ward 2 citizen Matt Leblanc said the new plan is a "trainwreck" and "messy". 

Rich Lubbers, the Ward 7 representative on the reapportionment committee, said it seemed council members concerns took focus in the council's process, noting that only 3 of the 11 square miles Ward 5 residents were upset about were placed back in Ward 5. 

Studley said she believes the council participated in gerrymandering by messing with the proposal. 

"I feel like this had way more to do with just some personal issues rather than what it didn't have to do with ward boundaries and gerrymandering," Studley said.

Schueler also expressed concerns about the way the council handled the proposal, saying the map they created wasn't much different than the original proposal. She said she is worried about the precedent that the council may have set. 

"I think that it is dangerous for us to sit up here as elected officials and draw boundaries based on the things that we know. We know where we live. We know our districts, we know our voters very well," Schueler said. 

Foreman said she did not like the way the council acted tonight, saying she "did not feel great" about how the council's presentation transpired.

Hall said there was a reason the council turned reapportionment responsibilities to an independent committee. She thanked the present committee members for their work. 

Peacock said he was fully willing to pass the original map, even though it moved him out of Ward 8. He said he took offense to claims he participated in gerrymandering by suggesting changes to the proposal. 

Studley said it was nothing personal to Peacock or his morals, but it was "purely on how it looks on this map." 

Lynn said the reapportionment process was "mandated by the voters of Norman," and suggested that if people didn't like the way the process was conducted, they could consider a change to the charter.

8:35 PM

Ward 8 Councilmember Matthew Peacock asked that the neighborhoods near Robinson Street be placed back in Ward 8, citing their historical presence in Ward 8. Studley asked where Peacock lives, as according to the first proposal from committee, he would be moved out of Ward 8.

Peacock said he lives in the neighborhood he requested remain in Ward 8. 

8:25 PM

After several minutes of the council requesting line changes, Holman said he supported looking at the original proposal from the committee. 

"Do we really think we're gonna sit up here and change and make a better decision than a committee that met multiple times," Holman said. "Are we gonna do this on the fly and make a better decision?" 

Councilmember Studley said she thinks it is important to show how difficult the redistricting process is, and how hard the committee worked to make a proposal. 

8:11 PM

Preceding with the current ward map, Hall and Schueler expressed concerns that, in beginning a new map, the council would upset several wards instead of just one. 

Hall and Schueler argued with Foreman and Tortorello, saying the council was not in agreement to start from the beginning.

8:04 PM

The meeting resumed after a break, with the council debating on whether to start completely over or not. 

Schueler asked that if the council should start over, what was the point of having a committee at all. Studley asked if they could vote on starting over. 

After Councilmembers Foreman and Lynn agreed with the council restarting with the original map, Clark said the council should start from the beginning. 

"If we thought it was political before, it's certainly going to be political now," Clark said. 

7:47 PM

Ward 2 Councilmember Lauren Schueler said the opportunity for council to redistrict the lines worries her, along with the fear that several citizens in Ward 5 feels unheard. 

"While I don't think that council should necessarily be the ones that are manipulating the final maps, here we are, because of this condensed timeline, because of the pandemic, because of getting the census numbers back so late from the Census Bureau," Schueler said. 

Schueler added that council should want to hear out every citizen because "that's what they signed up for."

7:40 PM

Ward 4 Councilmember Lee Hall asked Walker if the main focus was on population, with all other considerations being second to that. Walker agreed with that statement. 

"We made the conscious decision, according to our charter and state, to turn this over to what I think we all thought was an impartial, neutral commission, with the goal of not necessarily putting it back in the hands of the city council," Hall said. 

Hall also asked if there was an option to send this proposal back to committee, saying she didn't see why some members of council were considering it if they thought the committee was biased. Walker responded that it was not an option, and everything was in council's hands. 

7:35 PM

Councilmember Foreman said she was happy that the representative she appointed, Michael Zorba, voted no at the last reapportionment committee, adding she would've voted no as well. 

Ward 1 Councilmember Brandi Studley asked if the council could go clockwise across the map, relooking at each boundary as they go. 

7:30 PM

Tortorello said that he is unsure if the time spent on this proposal was enough to truly make a decision on redistricting, adding that the previous committee had published their reasoning behind every line movement.

"I think there's a lot more room we can use to maneuver and get these numbers where we need to meet the parameters as outlined by the charter and the instructions to make everyone happy," Tortorello said. 

Tortorello also said that it is hard to take future growth into account, saying that "things change" and "things could be voted out."

7:19 PM

Ward 7 Councilmember Stephen Holman asked Walker if the ward maps anticipate deviation and population that may rise over the next 10 years. Walker says that committee tried to keep this in mind and referred to the map the committee was given that showed the currently approved land plats. 

Holman pointed out the developing neighborhood of Dustin's Landing that was approved for Ward 5 several years ago. None of the plats were developed in this area yet. 

7:11 PM 

Tortorello motions to amend the boundaries, which was seconded by Lynn, and requests the committee review the suggestion made by Ward 6 Committee Member Michael Zorba at the last meeting of the committee. This suggestion would move the 11 square miles taken out of Ward 5 back into the ward, while shifting the lines of Wards 2, 4 and 7 to fit with the 10 percent deviation standard. 

7:09 PM

A motion has been presented to close the public hearing, and passes unanimously. 

7:03 PM

Clark reminded the crowd that comments should be directed to the council as a whole, not a certain council member, following direct mentions of herself, Ward 6 Councilmember Elizabeth Foreman and Ward 3 Councilmember Kelly Lynn. 

6:58 PM

Jonathan Campbell, Ward 5 citizen, speaks in support of the agricultural community, saying that he feels the council has ignored Ward 5's concerns long before the reapportionment matter. 

6:48 PM

Karen Goodchild, the Ward 5 representative on the Reapportionment Committee, said she felt the committee did not listen to Ward 5's concerns regarding the impact this plan would have on her ward's agricultural community.

"Our AG community has different needs than Norman, they're not better, they're just different. ... This is a community of interest, because we all have similar issues that I would like for the council to take into account, because it was not heard in our meeting," Goodchild said. 

Tom Hackelman, who spoke at the first public hearing, also voiced his opposition toward the proposal, citing comments made by a committee member calling Tortorello "dangerous". 

"This smacks of gerrymandering," Hackelman said. "This smacks of abuse of power, for lack of a better word." 

6:39 PM

Joyce Green, a GIS specialist for the city of Norman, presented the proposed maps, explaining their deviation and change in population. 

Ward 1 started with a population of 15,018, and would end with its population count at 16,083, with a deviation of 0.50.

Ending with a population of 16,757, Ward 2 would end with a deviation of 4.71, having started with a population of 14,845. 

With a deviation of 5.87, Ward 3 with end with a population of 16,043 having begun with 14,824. 

Ward 4 started with a population of 14,129 would end with a population of 15,897 and a deviation of -0.66.

Ward 5 started with a population of 16,610 and would end with 15,339 and a deviation of -4.15.

Starting with 18,515, Ward 6 would end with 15,344 population and a deviation of -4.12.

Ward 7 would end with a population of 16,067 and a deviation of 0.40, beginning with 18,309.

Ward 8 started with 15,776, but would end with a population 15,596 and a deviation of -2.54. 

6:32 PM

City Attorney Kathryn Walker presents a presentation on the framework that is outlined in the charter and was given to the reapportionment committee at the start of the redistricting process. 

Walker explained that, due to the population spread in Norman, it is "impossible" to keep interests in the same ward.

6:31 PM

The meeting is called to order with a motion to begin the public hearing.

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