Without Ward 1 Councilmember Kate Bierman running for a third term, her seat is up for grabs in the Feb. 9, 2021 elections.
Two candidates remain after OU alumnus Finn Guttery dropped out of the race Jan. 11: activist Brandi Studley and former Norman Planning and Reapportionment Commission member Chris Lewis.
The Daily interviewed each candidate on their platforms and goals ahead of regular voting Feb. 9. If no candidate receives over 50 percent of votes cast, a runoff election is scheduled for April 6. Almost 600 people have already voted early for the Feb. 9 municipal elections, according to the Norman Transcript.
Brandi Studley said she was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, before moving to Ward 1 in Norman when she was 4 years old. She graduated from Norman High School in 1997 and currently works in dental practice management for Dentrix Ascend.
Every weekday, after she finishes work, she and her family cook meals in her kitchen and hand them out to the homeless from 5:30-8:00 p.m.
“Something that I really have always taught my kids (is that) you always have to help your fellow human out in life,’” Studley said.
Studley’s giving back comes from her own past struggles of homeless, she said.
After having her first two kids shortly after graduating high school, Studley said she struggled with homelessness for around two years. She began working various jobs until she could afford to live in hotels, paying by the week, and then began living in a trailer park.
Studley said she moved back to Arkansas and worked toward getting her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Business Administration and Management from the University of Phoenix.
Studley moved back to Norman five years later, and her job in dental management brought her to various cities in Oklahoma, including Lawton and Chickasha. However, Studley said Ward 1 in Norman has always been her home.
Homelessness is a big issue Studley said she wants to tackle if elected to the Norman City Council’s Ward 1 seat, as her passion for mental health inspired her support for mental health evaluations of the homeless.
Studley cited Griffin Memorial Hospital, where she said homeless people are often sent to have mental health evaluations and are released without receiving proper assistance.
“The issue is that when we're releasing these people from Griffin, who have mental health issues and who were homeless, we're not taking them back to the cities from which they came — we're releasing them back into homelessness here in our city,” Studley said. “We have a small group that helps with mental health issues, but it's not enough for the amount of homeless people that we have with mental health issues. We really need to work on finding a solution.”
One of Studley’s ideas to combat this issue is to create a place for recently released Griffin Memorial patients where they can get additional help before being on their own again.
“A halfway house is my thought, where these people can still have some type of independent living,” Studley said, “Because a lot of them do have moments of clarity and are able to take care of themselves as far as taking a bath and making themselves food if they had a place to do so. But they don't have the mental capacity to necessarily pay their bills on time or make sure that they get to appointments.”
Studley and her three kids created the Social Injustice League of Norman in June 2020. The league has around 40 volunteers who help Studley and her family deliver meals to the homeless.
Studley also said she supports Norman City Council’s vote to cut $865,000 from the Norman Police Department's proposed budget increase June 16, 2020, and was even in attendance, advocating for the cut with her daughter.
“I was there till five o'clock in the morning,” Studley said. “I spoke, my daughter spoke, many other activists in Norman spoke and many people who I've never met or seen spoke and told their stories of unfortunate encounters with the Norman Police Department. … I 100 percent agree with what the mayor and City Council did. I honestly feel like it should have been more. We've been sitting here with these unfilled positions — nine positions unfilled — for two years.”
Although Studley respects her opponent and believes he’s a good businessman, she said she feels “more in touch” with what Ward 1 needs.
“We have a progressive city,” Studley said. “We have people from all walks of life that don't really give a crap about all this special interest and development money that's going on (in) the west side. We have real needs and real desires that need to be filled here in Norman and central Norman. … I just think that he's not in touch with what his constituents in Ward 1 really are in need of.”
OU alumnus Chris Lewis has lived in Norman since his freshman year in 1982, and said he is a graduate of and donor to the university.
Lewis said he completed his postgraduate degrees from OU and the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, although he declined to comment further on his education in an interview with The Daily. He has worked as a medical scientist researching mental disorders including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia for 26 years, according to his Facebook page.
Lewis’ experience in Norman includes a 10-year tenure as commissioner to the Norman Planning Commission. He said this makes him qualified to take Norman City Council’s Ward 1 seat, since the position requires fiscal responsibility he can already bring to the table.
“Running a half a billion-dollar budget is not on the job training,” Lewis said. “Ten years of going through public planning, government planning and working and partnering with people is what the (council) actually must have.”
Lewis said he told himself a month before the deadline to run for the seat he wouldn’t make the decision to run unless others suggested that he should. About three weeks out from filing, Lewis said he received multiple phone calls telling him he should run.
“A month before (the filing deadline), with the challenges that our city is currently having (and) many cities across the nation are having, I thought about whether I would entertain running for City Council,” Lewis said. “Throughout my life, I've always been someone that has been giving and supporting of others, and I made that decision that it wouldn't be a decision that I made — it would have to be a decision that others made.”
Lewis, a registered independent, said he describes himself as a “fiscal conservative,” a “social moderate” and “environmentally conscious.” Lewis also served as the founding director of the Summit Lakes Properties Owners Association, and said as a member of the board of directors, he and the association were able to put aside over $150,000 in their budget.
Lewis has been critical of Norman City Council’s decision to cut $865,000 from the Norman Police Department’s proposed budget increase on June 16, 2020. In an interview on Unite Norman’s YouTube, Lewis said the decision “is the most idiotic thing (he has) have ever heard of.”
“There are some in this city that don't want to just defund the police department, they want to abolish it altogether,” Lewis said. “I, as a business owner, am I going to bring a business into Norman and develop that? As a homeowner, am I going to build a home and raise my children and pay taxes in the city? Absolutely not.”
Lewis has multiple issues he wants to tackle if he were to take office, but he said the fiscal needs of the city need to be solved right away in order to address other situations like education and job opportunities.
“When the city is recklessly spending money that the city doesn't have, especially in the year of COVID — and we know sales tax revenue is what the city runs on — it's just irresponsible,” Lewis said. “Too many knee-jerk reactions are going on and frivolous spending, as opposed to spending on the needs of the city as opposed to the one. … There’s also very much an economic disparity in Ward 1 in some areas. This is not going to be an overnight process.”