ON THE ISSUES
Voters don’t just want one or two sentences about a candidate’s position on a particular topic - they want details.
That’s what you’ll find below.
On this page (and continually updated), you’ll find specific, detailed policy positions about some of the biggest challenges facing Norman and Ward 1 specifically, as well as some of the actions I’ve taken to move these issues forward. These are NOT in order of importance. Need more info? Ask me. Did I leave out an issue of importance to you? Tell me.
Elected officials need to go above and beyond to be as transparent and accountable as possible - particularly in Norman as we face short election cycles and difficult issues ahead of us. Because our election cycle is only six weeks long, and campaign reports are not filed until just a few short days ahead of the election, I have taken steps to be as transparent as possible by posting (and continually updating) the list of my donors on my website - linked here too - so that Ward 1 voters can know well in advance who is financially supporting my campaign. I have nothing to hide and think it is in the best interest of all candidates to do the same. As far as I’m aware, the only councilmember or candidate who has taken me up on my challenge to be this transparent is Ward 7 councilmember Stephen Tyler Holman.
I have also taken the time to add considerable detail to the issues I find important to Ward 1 and Norman generally, the actions I’ve taken to address these issues, and the actions I plan to take in the future. Why? Because detail is how you hold your elected officials accountable for the things they say and do. If candidates aren’t willing to give specifics about the issues they would like to tackle on city council or how they plan to do it, there is no way to hold them accountable in the future for lack of progress. Detail also helps you know that your councilmember or candidate has a depth of knowledge about the inner workings of your city government and how to get things accomplished.
The Senior Center remains an unfulfilled commitment of the city to Norman residents. In 2015 Norman Forward voters believed they were voting in part for a standalone senior center, despite the “fine print” that there was no budget included in Norman Forward for this project. I have long been a supporter of the standalone senior center, campaigned for my first term on finding a solution, and worked to fulfill that promise to Ward 1 voters by working hand-in-hand with several other councilmembers to identify a site and a funding source that Council unanimously approved in February 2018 - a plan that the 21st Century Seniors Association approved.
However, at the time the plan was approved, developer interests in Norman were also attempting to push forward a plan for an arena in the University North Park district partially subsidized with taxpayer dollars through TIF funds, and unfortunately the senior center was used as a bargaining chip in those negotiations. The plan to use TIF funds for the senior center was not approved by the statutory review committee that must make a recommendation on the use of TIF funds, and the University of Oklahoma to this day continues to drag their feet on land acqusition on which two Norman Forward sport facilities and the senior center were planned to be located.
I remain optimistic about the prospects for breaking ground on a standalone senior center in 2019. We have identified several promising sites and have freed up money with savings from other Norman Forward projects that can be used to fund a state-of-the-art senior center that our community can be proud of. This unfulfilled commitment to our seniors remains one of my top priorities.
UNiversity north park TIF/arena
I have consistently opposed the use of taxpayer money to subsidize an arena in the UNP TIF area, and I believe we must dispense with the idea that picking winners and losers in the free market by being selective with which businesses deserve to be given incentive dollars paid by taxpayers. Instead, we must work to make Norman’s business environment friendly and supportive to all businesses, across the whole city. We should be reviewing our permitting processes to make sure we are welcoming to disruptive and burgeoning industries without adding unnecessary administrative hurdles and identifying areas in need of reinvestment instead of incentivizing specific businesses.
(Ok, so that included more than just UNP/arena….)
OG&E franchise agreement
Less than a month after I was seated in July 2017, OG&E came to the city to ask for a renewal of their franchise agreement (the legal agreement that allows the utility to use our city right-of-ways to place their equipment so they can provide service to residents). They said it was a 25 year agreement. They said it was non-negotiable.
OG&E collects franchise fees from residents and pays it to the city - to the tune of somewhere between $2m and $3m. They also “pay” $500k in electric credits for the electricty used by the municipal complex and traffic lights. For the $500k OG&E “pays”, they get the right to place their revenue-generating infrastructure on city property. What do residents get for the $2-$3m they pay? Smart meters. Brownouts in core Norman. Tree removal and almost indiscriminate defoliant/Round-Up spraying.
So I and several of my colleagues said no. We wouldn’t rubber-stamp OG&E’s franchise agreement. We are the third largest city in the state, and we were not going to be pressed to submit to an antiquated agreement that doesn’t help better the service residents were getting.
So we amended the agreement. Included opt-out clauses and protections for residents. All of a sudden, OG&E was willing to negotiate. They asked us nicely if we could please rescind the amended agreement and let them come to the table - which is where we are now. We have retained outside counsel with specialization in franchise agreements to help us find a consensus on the length and content of the franchise agreement and we are working on complementary tree and vegetation management ordinances that will be applicable to all utilities operating within city limits.
For the last few decades, Cleveland Area Rapid Transit (CART) has been adminstered by OU and only partly funded by the city. Because of this arrangement, the city has had no say in CART routes, schedules, or bus stop locations. This has been particularly troublesome for east Norman, as bus stops end midway between 12th and 24th Ave NE. Many Ward 1 residents must walk more than a mile to reach the nearest bus stop. I profiled this dilemma recently and walked the route from a high concentration of homes south of Lindsey St to the nearest bus stop to shed some light on the impact this public transportation failure has for many residents of Ward 1.
In the summer of 2018, OU decided to get out of the public transporatation business. The city and OU are now working in partnership to ensure an orderly transition of service (without any service disruptions). Because there are significant federal funds tied to CART, this transition must be oveeseen by the Federal Transit Administration, and it is an unusual situation - there have been only three or four transfers of public transportation programs from a university to a city in the last several decades. The rarity of this means we don’t really know how long the transition will take, but we are hoping by the end of 2019. The city could administer the bus system itself, or we could contract with a third party provider. Our discussions with OU and the FTA will help put us on the right path.
This also means we have a unique opportunity to truly ensure our public transit system works for the people who rely on it the most.
Adding to that (and I will discuss that later in the section about ADA accessibility), we must take the time to ensure that those with physical disabilities have better access to transportation services. Currently, we have many residents who have no way to get themselves to destinations outside Norman without exorbitant cost.
I continue to read up on new and novel ways to administer a city public transit system, and I look forward to ensuring that the system we end up with better serves the residents of Ward 1.
Because of systemic pressures on our budget, Council will have to take decisive action soon to prevent significant impacts on the city services Norman residents rely on. Due to major fluctuations in sales tax revenues, the inability to pay for stormwater maintenance except out of our general fund, and the capture of sales tax revenue in the TIF fund that would otherwise go to the general fund, we are facing a multi-million dollar deficit by 2021. Police and Fire make up nearly 50% of our budget, and with the addition of Public Works (roads, traffic management, etc) that number balloons up to almost 70%. We have “trimmed fat” in previous years by making small across-the-board cuts, but in order to prevent large-scale cuts to services, we must address this issue head-on by ending the TIF, passing a stormwater utility, and growing our sales tax revenue through a mix of redevelopment, reviews and necessary changes to our business permitting and licensing, and smart growth - particularly in agritourism and other new/disruptive industries and technologies.
In June 2018, the City Council adopted an updated ADA Transition Plan - a comprehensive review of city buildings, parks, programs, services, activities, and pedestrian facilities. The plan’s primary focus is ensuring accessibility of city buildings and facilities, and the transition plan provides a roadmap and schedule for modification to ensure accessibility. The city has also opened a complaint form and interactive map where residents can flag locations in Norman that need modification.
What this transition plan does NOT address is ADA accessible housing. I am working with a group of Norman and metro area organizations to formulate a possible draft ordinance and incentive program to encourage the development of additional accessible housing. A condo complex in Ward 1 has been a leader in accessible housing in Norman, and I am so pleased that Tom Sharp is participating in this informal ad hoc committee to encourage additional (and much-needed!) accessible housing.
A hot topic of discussion recently has been sidewalks. Sidewalks are the property of the landowner, and so repairs to sidewalks are also the responsibility of the homeowner. Since 1997, the city has funded a Sidewalk Participation Program which assists homeowners with the cost of repairing their sidewalks. While funds are available, residents can apply to have half of the repair cost covered by the city. Additionally, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds sidewalk grinding on an almost yearly basis, and this most recent grinding of sidewalk ridges included a number of sites in Ward 1.
While those programs have been helpful, the state of our city’s sidewalks prove it is insufficient to address this public safety and mobility issue. When sidewalks fall into disrepair, it makes it even more difficult for those with physical disabilities (for whom transportation options are already limited) to get around their town. This issue is not relegated solely to Ward 1 (which does have some terrible sidewalks). In core Norman, many of the sidewalks were constructed several decades ago and are also starting to crumble.
I requested that sidewalks be included in the upcoming transportation bond, but because sidewalks require a higher vote threshold (60%) compared to the road projects in the transportation bond (50%+1 vote), other councilmembers were reticent to support that. Councilmember Hickman (who represents much of core Norman) and I are working on identifying alternative funding sources to be able to do more sidewalk maintenance in the coming years.
One of the top issues I heard from residents of apartment complexes in Ward 1 is that they would like to have recycling. The city has conducted a pilot program with several apartment complexes to determine the viability of offering multi-family recycling through our third-party recycling service and has identified a few hurdles that we must overcome to ensure the recycling that comes out of apartment complexes is free of contaminants. Education, separating the recycling receptables from the trash, and fencing to prevent light recyclable material all need to be addressed. The work on that front continues! Now that we know what the hurdles are, we can tackle them. There has been less of a city emphasis on recycling for businesses, which is an initiative I would like Council to address in the future.
Additionally, I have coordinated discussions between our utilities department and a local church collective that is interested in finding ways to recycle styrofoam, which has significant environmental impacts. Our recycling company does not accept it, and from packing material to the styrofoam trays used by several local schools, we are generating a large amount of styrofoam waste. There is a styrofoam recycling effort in Ada and a company in Texas that repurposes collected styrofoam into a variety of uses, so I have helped us start the visioning process to see if we can implement a public-private partnership in Norman to recycle styrofoam.