Ward 3 incumbent Alison Petrone will face off against two challengers to maintain her seat, including current National Guard member and general practice lawyer Kelly Lynn and attorney and co-owner of Scratch Kitchen & Cocktails Sam Talley.
The Daily interviewed each candidate on their platforms, background and goals ahead of regular voting, set to take place Feb. 9. If no candidate receives over 50 percent of votes cast, a runoff election is scheduled for April 6.
OU alumna Alison Petrone said she came to Norman for college in 1998, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2000 and a Juris Doctorate from OU’s College of Law in 2003. She said she planned to leave Norman, but ended up staying because she fell in love with her husband there and, in turn, fell in love with the city.
Petrone said her 20 years of residence have allowed her to serve the community as an attorney, small business owner and real estate agent. She and her husband are now raising two children together.
Petrone became the representative for Ward 3 in 2019 after defeating Richard Bailey in a runoff election by 1,548 to 1,365 votes. She said she decided to run again so she can continue serving Norman residents.
“Prior to COVID, the council had a whole lot of goals that we were intent on achieving,” Petrone said. “We still have the same goals and policy initiatives we want to accomplish. It was important to me that if I was going to give up so much volunteer time for the community for things that are near and dear to everyone that (I would get) the opportunity to see those projects come to fruition and watch those shovels go through the ground.”
Petrone’s time on the council has seen controversy among Norman residents, especially following councilmembers’ June 16 vote to cut $865,000 from the proposed increase of the Norman Police Department's budget. While she knocked on doors for her campaign, however, Petrone said Ward 3 residents would tell her “what the council did was an appropriate compromise,” especially for community members who feel like “outsiders.”
“What (the council) did hear were stories after stories of personal, deep experiences of people in our community who were crying out for justice,” Petrone said. “And, even to this day, when I'm knocking doors, people are so grateful that we did not turn our backs on the desperation that was presenting itself to us.”
Unite Norman filed recall petitions July 10 against Mayor Breea Clark and odd-numbered council members, including Petrone. The group’s efforts failed following certification by City Clerk Brenda Hall, but a lawsuit filed by Petrone reopened the case after her lawyer located 12 duplicate signatures.
The suit ended in the invalidation of Petrone’s recall petition as it did not include an affidavit or warning for fraudulent signatures.
Petrone said she saw her constituents' frustration with the process, and she felt the need to disconnect emotionally and mentally from the process so she could continue with her life. She said although it was a moment of “vindication,” residents who testified their signatures were forged on the petition need "some accountability.”
"I feel like it's important that organizations … (know) it's not okay to sign someone's name to something without their consent,” Petrone said. "So that effort will continue … but, for right now, I'm focused on continuing to do the work for my constituents and get ready for election day.”
Petrone said she looks forward to accomplishing a list of Ward 3-specific projects if she is re-elected. She said stormwater maintenance is a crucial issue in Ward 3, and she hopes to combat the issues that come with stormwater through projects like the Norman Forward Canadian River Nature Park.
The project would preserve land near the South Canadian River and create a recreational amenity for residents. Petrone said she thinks the project would help the city better manage pollution while improving Norman's quality of life.
Petrone also said she’s concerned about local businesses, as they have been hit “pretty hard with COVID-19.” She said it's important to make sure the city’s economic policy going forward isn't hurting local businesses.
Petrone said she will work to “get people back on their feet” if re-elected beyond the pandemic. She said she, along with the rest of Norman, has seen the devastating effects COVID-19 has had on the community, and she will follow scientific guidelines as the city eases back into “normal life.”
“Once everyone has had the vaccine, we cannot just jump right in and pretend like everyone's safe — they're not,” Petrone said. “But once we hit that point where it's safe to do the things that we love to do again, well, city council certainly wants to make sure that all of those festivals, arts and entertainment things that we love are available to us.”
Petrone said her time on the council was a “learning experience on many levels." She said she “found beauty” in her position by working with the “dedicated city staff.”
“It has been a remarkable experience to see how much our staff truly loves our residents (and) really loves the jobs that they do,” Petrone said. “They're damn good at their jobs — the private sector could steal them away any day — but they stay because they’re a family … They’re a well-oiled machine in that we ask a lot of them and they do it with a smile on their face.”
Petrone said she hopes to foster unity in Norman, noting that one way to accomplish that as a council member is by “fact-checking claims” and “not spreading disinformation or misinformation.” She said being “honest” and “vetted” are crucial traits for city representatives to have.
“The way you bring (unity) is to listen to all the voices and encourage everyone to participate in not just elections, (but) every day,” Petrone said. “This is local government, this is your neighbors, so come up to a city council meeting … There are all kinds of interests pretty much every two weeks on that agenda, (and) it all affects your life.”
Kelly Lynn said the council has caused “a lot of craziness” since he moved to Norman ten years ago from southeastern Oklahoma. He said he chose to run for Ward 3 to “do what’s right for the city” instead of “griping from the sidelines.”
Lynn said he joined the Army National Guard in 2007 and attended Alabama Military Academy, graduating in 2010. Lynn served in the Oklahoma National Guard and, in 2017, was deployed to Afghanistan, receiving a Meritorious Service Medal for his leadership.
Lynn said he initially moved to Norman from southeastern Oklahoma in 2010 to attend Oklahoma City University Law School. He then became a partner for Pitts, Amend, & Lynn Law Group, LLC, and he and his wife are now raising three kids.
Despite spending a decade in Norman, Lynn said he was never involved in city politics, but actions like the June 16 vote to cut $865,000 from the proposed increase of the NPD’s budget caught his attention.
“I honestly was a little bit ashamed of myself, as I haven’t been involved or even paid attention to the city council or mayor before," Lynn said. "In my opinion, a good city council and mayor are ones that you don’t even know about because your city is going so good … That has certainly changed over this last year.”
Lynn said he felt the council’s decision concerning the NPD’s budget was a “knee-jerk reaction” to national politics localized during a movement to defund the police. He said the job of law enforcement officers is often thankless and he feels they have been “vilified, as of late.”
“I have some very fine friends in law enforcement from federal down to local base tops … and I respect what they do,” Lynn said. “When we bring (defunding) to this city, I just don't believe that the majority of people want that or even agree with that.”
Lynn also said the council’s delay in accepting a $500,000 federal grant to hire more student resource officers to elementary schools and denial of a $26,226 federal grant for protective police equipment and informational software was just another “thumb at the nose” to citizens.
“They turned that ($20,000) grant down because they said it's too scary of equipment — it looks scary,” Lynn said. “There have been other armored vehicles that they could have used … It hasn’t even been offered to be donated to the police department, and it could have been used in different situations, (including) hostage situations here in Norman. City won’t let them have it because it’s too militarized, is their term. It’s useful equipment.”
Lynn’s reference to council’s reaction to these grants matches Petrone’s comments in an October 2020 meeting, as she said demilitarization was a "uniting topic” and that “people didn’t want to feel like their neighborhood policing was looking so scary if you will."
Lynn said he is also concerned with how the council is spending its budget, especially following its approval of a $100,000 strategic plan to curb homelessness.
“These studies have already been done," Lynn said. "And to get a company from San Francisco which has the absolute worst record on the homeless issue … That's just not a good steward.”
Lynn cited the example of the Senior Wellness Center, in which the council allocated $4.8 million in CARES Act funding to supplement the remaining dollars required to complete the project. He noted Norman residents voted against the center in the Norman FORWARD bond proposal in August 2020 and said paying for it was “irresponsible spending.”
Concerning life beyond the pandemic, Lynn said he is “all in favor of opening the city up.” He said he takes COVID-19 seriously, as his entire family has had the virus, but he is also “business-friendly” and in favor of “letting people be adults with freedom to make their own decisions.”
“I think my life is best served by my own decisions than the government telling me how to make my decisions, and I think that is the best for businesses too,” Lynn said. “Everybody should be able to calculate their own risks.”
Lynn attended the Norman Transcript City Council election forum Feb. 3 but left after he declined to wear a mask due to “a medical condition.” Lynn was sent the debate rules and masking requirement weeks before and did not inform the Transcript about his condition.
Lynn said he is “unashamedly endorsed” by Unite Norman and the Norman Fraternal Order of the Police, and he is “a proud supporter” of both.
Lynn said he is just a “regular guy that wants to "right some wrongs in the city.”
“This is nothing I planned on doing or had any ambition of doing, but here I am,” Lynn said. “It has been overwhelming the support I've had and the people willing to help me to do the right thing in the city.”
During the election cycle, the Norman Transcript reported Lynn did not disclose a felony drug plea of not guilty rather than conviction on his campaign forms Lynn had just turned 18 when he was charged and the charge was expunged.
Amid what he has deemed to be a “leftist council agenda,” Lynn said he seeks to serve as a voice for Normanites who feel like “they have to keep their head down” and refrain from sharing their views. He referred to this as his desire to “center the ship.”
“There’s a whole lot of people who have come together and said ‘Hey, we’re not alone’ and ‘We don’t have a conservative voice on that city council’ — I look forward to being that,” Lynn said. “So, from where it’s at now, we pull it back to the center and bring people together because we’re working together from two different perspectives instead of just slanted in one direction. I think that would be better for the city.”
OU alumnus Sam Talley said he was born and raised in Norman by his parents as a third-generation Normanite. Talley said he and his wife are high school sweethearts, and they are now raising three kids together.
Talley said he works as an attorney for Talley, Turner, Stice & Bertman Law Firm — an extension of his father’s law practice — and has participated in various community efforts, including service on the Norman Regional Health Foundation board.
Talley said he plans to use his roots in Norman to his advantage, as he has had the opportunity to foster deep connections throughout the city. He said he feels it is his responsibility to “use those relationships for the good of everybody.”
“It's a responsibility that, if you're going to run with that and try to problem solve by knowing those people and connecting the dots, you better make sure you're transparent and a positive leader so that nobody thinks that you have motives or an agenda,” Talley said. “Out of the three candidates in my race, I'm the only one that was born and raised here.”
Talley said council members have done a “pretty good job with transparency” surrounding their “collective and individuals beliefs.” The real problem, he said, is a lack of transparency regarding their decisions.
“I think that decisions have been made, outside of the public's purview and I think there's been some staging unfortunately in some situations with regards to specific decisions,” Talley said.
Talley said the major decision he is referring to is the $865,000 cut to the proposed increase to the NPD’s budget. He said the June 16 vote has formed two equally passionate sides, with one “saying it was defunding” while the other is “saying it was a reduction of the budget."
As a moderate, Talley said he finds himself in the middle “with most voters.”
Talley noted how former Ward 8 Councilmember Alex Scott initially called for a $4.5 million decrease to the police department budget and said the conversation “began with a defunding.”
“The problem I have … is that (this) didn't just happen by happenstance,” Talley said. “I watched that meeting, and I know there was discussion prior to that meeting of that number, potentially. It wasn't picked out of thin air."
Talley said Norman is “not a perfect public safety or law enforcement community,” but he feels the police department is effective in the way it trains its officers. He said there are issues with law enforcement on the national level, but he thinks Normanites “did not feel represented” by the council’s decision.
Talley also said although Norman has a balanced budget, he feels it “is not living up to its potential financially or economically.” He said he wants to put an equal emphasis on development and redevelopment.
“I can't just talk about the University North Park District and all of the things going over there … I need to be egalitarian and spend as much time talking about Campus Corner, Lindsey Street, 12th Ave. and Cedar Lane, 12th Ave. and Alameda Street and 24 Ave. and Main Street," Talley said.
Talley said Norman needs to explore opportunities and build relationships, asking residents and business owners what they can do to help maximize the city’s potential
Concerning Norman’s homeless population, Talley said he would rather take a grassroots approach over approving studies on homelessness from outside third-parties. He said having the opportunity to work with homeless people as a lawyer taught him the city requires a “more coordinated plan” with the state of Oklahoma.
“I don't know if you really need to study it as much as you need to get out there on the streets, help police and not make it just a county jail or police problem,” Talley said. “We need to really coordinate state services, local services, nonprofits and community leaders to get out there and try to meet these individuals and absolutely see what we can do to help.”
Talley also said he has seen Ward 3 struggle specifically with Homeowner’s Association fees — a monthly due paid by homeowners to maintain properties and amenities — and dealing with stormwater. He said although stormwater is “not a sexy issue politically,” it is an important one to tackle.
“Norman has tried to pass three times now a bond package to improve its stormwater plan and stormwater infrastructure and establish fees in property taxes to pay for that and the voters have said ‘heck no,’” Talley said. “That's a major issue because Norman has to get that done at some point … but no one has been able to make a consensus plan that the voters would approve.”
Voter’s’ rejection of community improvement bonds is another example of resident’s’ “lack of trust” in the council, Talley said. He said he hopes to build credibility by fostering closer communication with residents.
Talley said his campaign is running completely independent from any political city group. He said he is “running on a platform of Norman.”
“I don't have a political party or an agenda to serve — I have this Norman agenda on my heart,” Talley said.
Beyond the pandemic, Talley said he would open up “slowly and carefully with positivity.” He said the approach he seeks is “old school” and would emphasize safe outdoor activities.
“There are five neighborhood parks, I believe, in Ward 3,” Talley said. “I think about what the neighborhoods could do to make their quality of life more … What could Norman do creatively to have more summer block parties and have more people outside and socially distance and safe, and have more of that neighborhood night out type of mentality or movies in the park or music and entertainment”
Talley said what sets him apart from the other candidates is that he “will never sacrifice a principle or promise such as not attacking the other candidates.” He said his prayer for Norman is that everyone feels united, whether they are a resident, an OU student or just visiting.
“I think we can be one of the best places to live in America because we have that heart, and we have that heritage,” Talley said. “(I want to) invite more people to have that experience that I've been blessed (to have) after living here, and having parents and grandparents who lived here … It's just a special community and opportunity, and I hope that prayer comes true.”