Ahead of the April 6 runoff election, the OU Student Government Association hosted a forum Thursday night featuring Ward 3 Norman City Councilmember Alison Petrone.
The Ward 3 seat was the only race to enter a runoff election after Petrone received 40.34 percent of the vote, first ahead of second-place candidate Kelly Lynn’s 30.24 percent, according to online results from the Oklahoma State Election Board.
During the forum, Petrone answered questions submitted from a question box sent out to OU students. According to OU SGA University College representative and local government liaison Carson Poupore, Lynn declined his invitation to participate in the forum.
Petrone said low voter turnout is an issue in Norman and in Oklahoma as a whole. She said voting windows need to be expanded, and voting should be made easier.
In the 2020 Presidential Election, the voter turnout rate in Oklahoma was 51.9 percent. Cleveland County saw a voter turnout rate of 54.8 percent, according to statistics from NBC.
“We're constantly looking at ways to push that envelope as much as we can and really encourage our residents to plan ahead and sign up for those absentee ballots and participate more,” Petrone said.
In regard to Norman’s history as a “sundown town,” Petrone said the council will not stop efforts, such as publicly apologizing for Norman’s past, until Norman reaches a level of equality and equity.
Sundown towns are all-white communities that exclude Black Americans and other minorities through discriminatory laws, harassment and threats, according to Black Past. The name comes from warnings prohibiting Black Americans from working or traveling after sundown.
“I know that I don't know everything,” Petrone said. “I want to learn (and) I want to be that facilitator.”
When asked about gun control following the shooting in Boulder, Colorado on Monday and the threat of gun violence in Oklahoma, Petrone said Oklahoma is “frustrating” when trying to implement “common-sense legislation.”
“I don't want to be terrified (of) sending my children to school,” Petrone said. “There's got to be something that we can do.”
Regarding the police budget, Petrone said she does not see any department’s budget as “untouchable” by the city council.
“As city council members, our charge under the city charter is to come up with a budget,” Petrone said. “There isn't one particular department that is completely hands-off.”
Petrone voted in favor of reducing a proposed budget increase for the Norman Police Department in June 2020, noting the increase still resulted in a three percent larger budget for NPD than the year prior.
Petrone said she wants to see a working relationship between Norman’s general population and the OU student body.
“There needs to be a partnership,” Petrone said. “You're living here in this city. This is your home.”
Petrone said she believes the council has a responsibility to reach out to and politically engage Norman’s college population. She encouraged OU students to vote in Norman to “effectuate the future of Norman.”
Petrone said Norman has an educated and compassionate community adding, “we have our own identity here and we’re not trying to emulate any other community.”
“We are who we are, and it’s a beautiful community,” Petrone said. “I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in Oklahoma.”