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Norman City Council approves $500,000 from general fund for non-police Mobile Crisis Response Program

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Norman City Hall (copy)

The Norman City Council listens to public comments during the special session June 16.

2:37 a.m.

The council moved to discuss the budget as amended. It was passed unanimously. 

1:50 a.m. 

Studley moved to increase General Fund allocations to the City Manager Department by $630,321 for the implementation of an unarmed and non-police Mobile Crisis Response Program. The amendment was approved by a vote of 8-1, with Peacock being the only vote against. 

12:13 a.m.

Studley amended her original amendment by moving to allocate $500,000 from the general fund instead of the NPD budget to increase City Manager department allocations by $500,000 for an unarmed and non-police mobile crisis response team.

Caleb Creed, the coordinator of the Red Dirt Collective, said the argument for the mental health crisis team is that if you are going to be a mental health professional, you need a different set of tools.

"You don't need a gun. You don't need handcuffs. You don't need, ultimately, cages. You don't need tasers," Creed said. "You can call someone who has those things, but most people have mental health problems."

A Ward 1 resident advocated for the Norman Compassionate Response Emergency Workers, or Norman CREW. This unarmed and non-police crisis response team was proposed by the People’s Budget Coalition, which includes the Red Dirt CollectiveSocial Injustice League of Norman and Norman Collective for Racial Justice

"The money proposed in this amendment should be helping our community members within their current means, which the services of CREW and other community resources can help address," the resident said. "This big divide in the defund the police (movement) is really just a divide between the people who have the privilege of feeling safe around police and those who don't." 

McFarland said his background in psychology and behavioral sciences encouraged him to seek out mental health training to help people. He said he hopes to see this program implemented in Norman so he can apply what he has learned to help people in the city of Norman. 

"The employees are out there," McFarland said. "The folks who want to do this are out there. The folks who have the education and the interest and willingness to step up to the plate and do this work. We're out here. My resume is right here, and I'm putting it forward as soon as this program is matched." 

NPD Capt. Stacey Clement said she believes the mental health crisis unit is "set up for failure" because it is "not well thought out" and "doesn't fully partner with the police." She said she would suggest inviting NPD to the table to seek a solution for impacting the lives of Norman residents. 

NPD Maj. Chad Vincent said he has worked closely with his department and hopes to highlight their focus on the people they serve. He said, while he appreciates the offer to remove the police department from this amendment, that it is still "isn't reasonable." 

"It would be dangerous for mental health responders," Vincent said. "We want to be there. We need to be there, and our hearts are with the community, and we want to help." 

Ward 5 Councilmember-elect Rarchar Tortorello said although he appreciates Studley's amendments, he feels Norman has "the best officers in the state" and they "don't deserve this hostility." 

"They feel like they're coming into a hostile work environment, and nobody deserves that," Tortorello said. "So, as we go forward tomorrow, and the next day, and next year, I want you guys to realize that no one in our department deserves this." 

This amendment was passed by a vote of 5-4. Nash, Schueler, Peacock and Clark voted against this amendment. 

11 p.m. 

Hall moved to increase General Fund allocations to the Planning and Community Development Department by $80,000 for services to individuals experiencing homelessness.

Norman resident Mary Francis said she has worked with members of Norman's homeless community and is very sympathetic to the needs of individuals in this population. She said she is in favor of the amendment and "showing kindness" to the homeless population.

Blunk said people need a permanent shelter to stay in where they can be cared for and appreciated.

"The reality is that, between (a reliance on resource extraction) and cost of living ... things are going to get harder," Blunk said. "That's why we as a community need to be ready to support each other when that happens."

Rogers said she supports showing compassion for this population by increasing these funds to uphold the city's "moral obligation" to maintain a shelter and services for Norman's homeless residents.

"I will remind you that item 19 on the consent docket was $95,774 for exotic animals, (and) item 13 was $324,000 for parking," Rogers said. "It would be great, talking about people that are struggling. I don't think we should write people off for whatever reason they are homeless."

Studley said she visits encampments twice a week and has seen the impacts of the pandemic on Norman's homeless community, she hopes to seek permanent solutions through the warming shelter. 

"If we close the shelter at the end of this month, they're going to go where? There's no more camps for them to go to," Studley said. "They're going to be on your front steps, on your business steps that you're complaining about." 

Studley said she understands that not every homeless individual will "rehabilitate and be perfect," but she hopes people will empathize with their neighbors.

"We have disabled vets out here in the streets, disabled vets that served for our country," Studley said. "But ... we're talking about funding $80,000 so that this one particular vet that I know can have a place to lay his head at night. Have some compassion." 

The amendment was approved unanimously.

10:37 p.m. 

Nash moved to increase General Fund allocations to the Police Department by $6,000 for the acquisition of data analysis software. 

Nash addressed the previous $26,226 grant proposal from October 2020, saying it had a lot of strings attached and ultimately got rejected. He said the data analysis software is already made available in raw format, but he hopes to make information available to everyone so they don't have to rely on individuals who able to analyze it. 

Norman Police Department Chief Kevin Foster said this $6,000 will be used to make data and software more "public-facing" so they can look at the data in formats that fit their needs.

Foster said he thinks the software included in this increase would need to be addressed once a year. The motion for the amendment was approved unanimously. 

9:46 p.m.

Foreman moved to increase General Fund allocations to the City Council Department budget by $1,000,000 for a pilot participatory budgeting program. Participatory budgeting would allow community members to engage in dialogue with elected officials on “what services the municipal budget should prioritize."

Norman optometrist and Unite Norman member Nicole Kish said she believes a $1 million allocation is not a good idea and should be looked at by city officials more closely.

Ward 3 Councilmember-elect Kelly Lynn said a PBS video posted by Foreman on Facebook regarding the participatory budgeting program from the New York City Council doesn't apply to Norman. He said he doesn't support using this money for the budgeting program without studying it first when it could be put toward other portions of the budget. 

OU Math professor and Ward 8 resident Gary Barksdale said he feels this experiment will fail and wants the council to represent the whole of Norman instead of individual groups. 

"Boston, New York City, Cambridge, Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago, Phoenix — they've all implemented this program," Barksdale said. "Are we any of those cities? No, we're not. We're the people of Norman, and the people in Norman ask you to please shoot this down. Thank you."

Ward 5 resident and Red Dirt Collective member Thomas McFarland thanked the council for proposing amendments and noted that community members don't often show up to budget meetings, but city council meetings like those in Norman reflect the public's interest in participating. He said participatory budgeting is a fantastic tool because it allows for further discussion on city council topics. 

"It's a way of bringing the community into that fold so you don't just have meetings with two people sitting at home and you're really not accomplishing much in so much as like a community discussion," McFarland said. 

Ward 7 resident Red Dirt Collective member Jake Allen said he thinks participatory budgeting will serve as a democratic way to involve the community more in budget discussions. He said he thinks $1 million is a "great addition" to address the "many problems the city is facing."

Blunk said he loves the idea of having more public input on budgets and general mechanisms to give people more control over how their taxpayer dollars are spent. He said he does understand the weight that comes with these one-time capital investments, which may lead to the postponement of the vote. 

Foreman said community members who spoke out against participatory budgeting "misunderstood" the purpose behind participatory budgeting. She said she has been behind the emails and requests of her constituents and wanted to give them a voice through this program. 

"Everybody wants to tell council what to do with the money, but we're not doing it. So this was just my way of trying to give that to the public — that's all," Foreman said. "Not nefarious, not anything like that. If council shuts it down, I hope that we revisit it in the future, because I think this is very important for the public. But that's my whole intention behind it."

Petrone said she thinks this program has validity and hopes the council will discuss this topic at their retreat to flesh out how it would work for the city of Norman. 

The vote failed by a vote of 7-2, with Studley and Foreman voting in favor. 

7:34 p.m.

Petrone moved to decrease Capital Fund allocations by $753,600 for Vineyard Addition Flood Control Project. 

Norman's City Attorney Kathryn Walker introduced the stormwater capital improvements project in a presentation. 

The project is requested annually to address Storm Water Master Plan projects and other areas of need, according to the presentation. The number of projects funded depends on funds available in Capital Fund and priority projects in City Departments. 

The Vineyard Addition Flood Relief Project became a part of the proposed project in the Stormwater Infrastructure Bond Package in April 2019. The stormwater package failed, with 5,406 votes for the proposition and 8,220 votes against.

The project's application is currently under review by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and public works hope to hear from them in a few months. It would enlarge the detention basin with drainage easement, install additional stormwater pipes between the basin and Woodcrest Creek Dr. and would construct a concrete overflow channel between the basin and Woodcrest Creek Drive. 

Discussion continued for over an hour on this subject as crowd members became restless in and out of the City Hall's main room. Public comment began at 9:02 p.m.

Former Ward 6 Councilmember Bill Scanlon said he has lost sleep and money because of the stormwater issues. He said he would contribute $5,000 to fix this issue, as he has lost $41,000 out of pocket because of flooding events. 

"I'd really like somebody to step up and help me," Scanlon said.

Ward 2 resident Michael Blunk requested that the city consider a fee associated with development to make sure developers begin planning further ahead for future damage. He said every time developments are built without proper green zones to absorb water, they increase the risk of this problem and having this discussion. 

Holman said this matter is one of many complicated matters the council has to address. He said although some might find it boring, this issue is affecting many.

"To me, the art of living in the city is that we're a community, and our collective resources help take care of the collective infrastructure that we all use," Holman said. "So this is on Main Street downtown, but you go eat at a restaurant, and we sometimes work (there), maybe at the school where your kid goes has flooding issues. These types of things can impact you in so many different ways."

Holman said he hopes to wait for grant money to address this problem at a lower cost.

The amendment failed by a vote of 6-3, with Holman, Foreman, Clark, Hall, Schueler and Peacock voting against.  

7:33 p.m.

The council moved to increase Capital Fund allocations by $745,608 for the East Alameda Street Safety/Widening Bond Project. The amendment was approved unanimously. 

7:32 p.m.

Holman moved to increase Capital Fund allocations by $5,353,488 for Street Maintenance Bond projects. The amendment was approved unanimously. 

7:26 p.m.

Ward 2 Councilmember Lauren Schueler moved to increase Risk Management Fund allocations by $652,700 for projected worker’s compensation costs. The amendment was approved unanimously. 

7:15 p.m.

Ward 5 Councilmember Michael Nash moved to decrease Fire Department allocations in the General Fund by $841,486 and in the Public Safety Sales Tax Fund by $220,109 and reduce General Fund Transfer to the Public Safety Sales Tax Fund by $220,109

Clark said the decrease is a "clean-up item" due to inadvertently double counting. She said there is nothing that has been reduced in the current department or the police department as a result of this amendment. 

OU economics professor Cynthia Rogers said she is glad the council found these errors and, if they look at the numbers, this will account for about a million dollars in the general fund balance in the preliminary budget.

Studley clarified with Anthony Francisco, Norman's finance director, Rogers' value was correct. Francisco said this action by itself would increase the $1.6 million in excess to about $2.6 million. 

The amendment was approved unanimously. 

7:13 p.m.

Ward 8 Councilmember Matthew Peacock moved to increase Community Development Block Grant Fund allocations to the Property Owner Rehabilitation Program by $13,663. The amendment was approved unanimously. 

7:04 p.m.

Petrone moved to increase Capital Fund allocations by $30,000 for historical markers and signs.

Ward 6 resident Dan Munson said he appreciates this amendment to fund historical markers, as they will help educate citizens about history and "instill some hometown pride." 

"The city of Norman also has hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, and these markers will be an excellent guide for helping our guests find historical destinations," Munson said. "I know when I travel throughout the U.S., I appreciate it."

A Ward 1 resident said she does not support this because there are "other issues at hand" that the council should address. 

"I really think we should put this $30,000 to the people in need in our community. ... Let's start teaching our kids (actual) history, but no, our governor said we can't do that." 

Council members approved the amendment unanimously. 

7:04 p.m.

The council approved Clark's move to increase the General Fund and City Council budget by $100,000 for membership in Neighborhood Alliance. 

6:59 p.m.

The council approved an amendment by Holman to correct grammatical and typographical errors to the budget documents, with no financial impact, as necessary. 

6:41 p.m.

Councilmembers are giving updates for their respective wards. 

Ward 1 Councilmember Brandi Studley said she appreciates what law enforcement officers do in the city, as she has family that has served in both the military and law enforcement. She said she understands the sacrifice and the worry families feel for their loved ones, but she also understands that "our country has chosen to defund social services." 

"I understand the need for policing for crime, but I also understand that cities who have more social services in place for their community have less crime in their community," Studley said. "Maybe they would have you believe that this is (an) us versus them problem, and this is not what I stated at all. ... Having a mental health crisis response unit would help to relieve officers for non-emergency calls, increased response time for true emergencies, reduce overtime hours and, if this were presented as a way to offer help to our police force instead of fear-mongering." 

Ward 3 Councilmember Alison Petrone said she appreciates the emails and calls from people regarding the conversation the city will have tonight. 

Ward 4 Councilmember Lee Hall highlighted the importance of public transit in tonight's budget discussion, as the city reaches the end of a transit study it is has been conducting. She said tomorrow is the final opportunity to participate and encouraged those who are willing to participate to attend. 

Ward 6 Councilmember Elizabeth Foreman said she hopes for civil discourse and thanked people for participating in the conversation. 

Ward 7 Councilmember Stephen Holman said, in his eight years of city council, he would see only one or two people attend. He said last year's budget meeting was the first time he has seen crowds of participants, and he is glad to see people joining the conversation today. 

"One of the main reasons I became interested in city government was because anybody can come down to City Hall and get up at that podium, and speak to their government," Holman said. "And that doesn't exist at the state and federal level — there's no public podium that you can sign up to speak at. City Hall is where the public has the most impact." 

6:36 p.m.

The city proclaimed June 19 as Juneteenth in the city of Norman with a unanimous vote. Norman Mayor Breea Clark said a Juneteenth Festival will take place on the day at Reaves Park to mark the historic event. 

"Juneteenth is an important opportunity to celebrate the achievements and contributions the Black community has made and continues to make," Clark said.

4 p.m.

Members of Unite Norman and supporters of the Norman Police Department filled up City Hall, causing city officials to refrain from allowing anyone into the building beyond those who signed up to speak, according to Norman Transcript reporter Reese Gorman.

Original Post:

The Norman City Council is meeting to consider and adopt the FYE 2022 budget and amendments made by councilmembers. 

A preview of the meeting's agenda is available here, and live updates will be provided in this piece throughout the night. 

Editor's note: This article was updated at 11:12 a.m. on June 9 to reflect the proper spelling of Norman Finance Director Anthony Francisco's surname.

assistant news managing editor

Jillian Taylor is a journalism junior and assistant news managing editor at The Daily. Previously, she served as a summer editor-in-chief, news editor, senior culture reporter and senior news reporter.

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