The Norman City Council voted to modify city code to approve the installment of community fridges with valid permits, denied a proposed amendment to the Norman 2025 plan and postponed a vote regarding a software donation to the Norman Police Department.
Community resource fridges provide Norman’s homeless population with 24/7 access to food and water. Volunteers ran two fridges, one located on Comanche Street, the UNR Resonator fridge, and one in front of Redeemer Church on Lindsey Street. Due to the enforcement of city code sections 10-203 and 10-204, citing public health and easement obstruction concerns, the fridge on Comanche was relocated to 12th Ave NE, while the fridge on Lindsey was removed.
Assistant City Attorney Anthony Purinton presented a plan that would amend city code to exclude community resource refrigerators from the current limitations that do not allow for “unattended or discarded” refrigerators. Fridges would be allowed through new set of requirements, including a permit and application, daily temperature checks, posted donation guidelines, contact information and an appropriate electrical setup.
“It doesn’t feel good that the City of Norman stopped it (the community fridge) in the way that it did, but I think that the step forward is passing this ordinance.” Alan Hatcher, a fridge volunteer, said.
The council passed this resolution with a vote of 8-1. Ward 3 Councilmember Kelly Lynn voted against the measure after his proposed amendment to add insurance to the application requirements failed.
The council also voted unanimously to postpone consideration of a donation of GrayKey Digital Forensic Tool.
The digital software would allow investigators to extract evidence in child pornography and sex crime cases from IOS devices with a warrant. This software would be donated by nonprofit organization Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), whose mission is to work with law enforcement to “free survivors of human trafficking and exploitation.”
However, as brought to the council and Deputy Chief Ricky Jackson’s attention by Ward 1 Councilmember Brandi Studley, OUR has frequently come under fire by activists for their name and history of racial incidents. OUR likens their name to the Underground Railroad, a series of safe points that escaped slaves used to travel towards their freedom in the 1800s, and compare themselves to the abolitionists that advocated against slavery throughout U.S. history.
Studley also pointed to a painting from artist Jon McNaughton, who created a portrait of former President Barack Obama burning the U.S. Constitution. It depicted the founder of OUR Tim Ballard, Ballard’s wife, and other white people carrying Black and brown children assumed to be victims of trafficking across a railroad with Harriet Tubman, the leader of the Underground Railroad, President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Studley cited an essay written by Anne Gallagher, who is classified as the leading global expert on international law by the U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons, that was critical of OUR’s tactics, calling them “arrogant, unethical and illegal”.
In 2020, Ballard was under investigation by a Utah prosecutor because of his “connections to corrupt foreign government officials” and history of “fudging details” regarding rescue missions and statistics.
“I just wanted to make sure that we all understand who we’re getting in bed with here. … I’m not comfortable getting into bed with this company at all, and I don’t think you guys as a police department should want to get in bed with someone like this either,” Studley said.
OUR would require NPD to provide the organization with the number of associated arrests and victims identified through this software in bi-monthly reports. The support of OUR would be required to be acknowledged in web, social and other media releases if the donation led to any “arrests or other success stories.”
Ward 2 Councilmember Lauren Schueler asked Jackson if the fact that OUR would require media recognition, outwardly attaching NPD’s name to OUR, caused concern for NPD considering the company’s reputation.
Jackson said if what Studley presented about OUR was found to be true, it would be concerning, leading to Schueler’s move to postpone the vote, so NPD and the council have an opportunity to research OUR.
Sean Rieger, an attorney representing Shaz Investments, also presented a request to amend the Norman 2025 Land Use and Transportation Plan. This plan, adopted in November of 2004, lays out future growth and development in the City of Norman through a long-range plan.
The amendment would have Reiger approved the construction of over 140 new homes in the Eagle Cliff neighborhood.
Several homeowners and the Board of Directions of the Property Owners Association for Eagle Cliff South signed letters of objection and protest to this request.
“The planned project will likely cause actual potential adverse effects on adjacent property and its value, create an enhanced flood danger, present a health hazard, be an adverse land use, and significantly increase traffic congestion,” the letter of objection read.
B & L Ranch owner William L. Baskett signed a letter of protest, saying his property has seen an increase of standing water caused by stormwater runoff. Owners of the Potts Family Farm also spoke out against this request, as stormwater issues caused damage to their property.
“This is tough, there’s nothing easy about it, but it’s an opportunity for all of us to work together,” said Potts Family Farm Owner Kevin Potts.
The council voted 7-2 against the request from Shaz Investments, with Lynn and Ward 5 Councilmember Rarchar Tortorello voting for the amendment.