Norman voters will cast ballots Tuesday, Feb. 12, to decide which of three candidates will become the next mayor of Norman. With Mayor Lynne Miller not seeking re-election, two city council members and a community activist seek to fill her spot.
Breea Clark, the current Norman Ward 6 council member, works as the director of the J.C. Penney Leadership Program at the University of Oklahoma’s Michael F. Price College of Business. She addressed her relationship with the university in an interview with NonDoc.
“Some have argued my being a staff member at the university is a detriment,” Clark said. “But I actually see it as an advantage. I’m invested in both [the City of Norman and OU], and so I’m going to make sure our negotiations are fair.”
Clark also stated a desire to increase the civic engagement of OU students, describing them as “student citizens” of Norman.
Bill Hickman, the current Norman Ward 4 council member, works as an attorney and small-business owner. In an interview, Hickman talked about restoring public trust in the City of Norman.
“I love Norman,” Hickman said. “I have a servant’s heart and I want to be a voice for the people”
He said that the failure of city government to deliver on the Norman FORWARD project, including the construction of a new senior center, had eroded public trust. As mayor, he said he would deliver on projects people had voted for.
Like Clark, Hickman has dealt with his own public backlash after using his role as moderator in a Ward 4 Facebook page to delete comments he judged as personal attacks. Norman resident Casey Holcomb recently filed a lawsuit against Hickman on the grounds of free speech violations.
Evan Dunn, a community activist and former teacher, attempted to set himself apart from his opponents by discussing moral problems in Norman. He said the city needs the silent majority of non-fundamentalists to “come into the fold and to make the arguments and to shame people into becoming more moral.”
“[We need] to combat the ease with which alcoholism, casino addictions can all cause the moral corrosion and collective decay of our society and the common culture,” he said.
As mayor, Dunn said his first priority would be for people to understand the need to conserve oil and fossil fuels in society. Dunn advocated for a Ward-by-Ward, door-by-door approach to inform people of oil’s value.
“I don’t think people know a single barrel of oil contains 25,000 hours of human muscle power,” Dunn said. “If they appreciate that, it is an immediate change in how they think about their suburban homes.”
Dunn stressed oil’s importance and called several times for residents and businesses to use less of it.
Stormwater utility and UNP
In April, Norman will vote for a second time on a stormwater utility bond to address flooding and pollution problems. If passed, the city would be able to allocate more resources to make infrastructure improvements to stormwater conveyance and collection systems.
“There aren’t just parts of Norman, little pockets, having this issue. It’s all around our city,” Clark said. “That’s why I really like what the stormwater citizen committee has come up with. I believe it’s a citizen-based solution to a city-wide problem.”
Hickman echoed her thoughts.
“It’s a need for our city,” Hickman said.
He also voiced support for “no-tax transportation bonds” that would allow Norman to build a new traffic management center.
Dunn is the only candidate who does not support the stormwater utility bond.
“I am not at all in favor of it,” Dunn said. “I am not in favor of the school bond, I’m not in favor of any of the transportation bonds. I’m voting no on all of them because we have bypassed, I think, the opportunity to turn the funding source for the implementation of those programs to be derived from resident investments. It is absolutely possible for us to sell war bonds, not necessarily just stormwater bonds or school bonds, but if you sell war bonds to residents, you save on underwriters’ fees. The individuals who do it, they don’t take on debt. They don’t put debt on future generations to repay those bonds back.”
Dunn acknowledged that selling war bonds might not generate the revenue of stormwater utility bonds, but called it a first step in finding some financing.
“After that, I am not at all opposed to these bond sales as an alternative or adjunct approach. But initially, as they are right now, I don’t think they’re equitable, I don’t think they summon or motivate our residents to change the way that their homescapes are designed so that stormwater isn’t the problem.”
Clark and Hickman were united on the removal of the University North Park TIF. Hickman views it as a way to balance the budget while Clark acknowledged TIFs as a valid economic tool, but that Norman residents wanted it removed.
Clark and Hickman feel the same about many Norman issues and both have city council member experience. They each spoke about what they believe makes them the best choice for Norman.
“This is a really important election for Norman,” Hickman said, adding that the new mayor will appoint a new city manager and a new city attorney and that he has the necessary experience to do so.
He also touted his experience as a small business owner and attorney, saying he had the tools to negotiate contracts and stand up for his client when the need arises.
Clark said the main separation between her and Hickman was leadership style.
“I believe in collaboration, positive hands-on leadership, and I think those should be priorities for the next leader of our city,” Clark said. “Because we’ve got a lot of major issues and difficult issues we will be facing. We need someone who can bring us together moving forward.”
Dunn spoke on his vision for Norman and set lofty goals for the city’s role in national politics.
“Municipal actions and municipal policies can change the way Oklahoma brands itself and how Oklahoma can go from being one of the least-desirable states to being a leader in shaping our foreign policy and shaping our domestic policy,” Dunn said.
The Norman Transcript recently published analysis of Norman campaign finance reports through Jan. 28. Hickman’s campaign has received $48,670 in contributions, Clark has received $18,781, and Dunn did not raise enough to meet the minimum reporting requirement.
Norman voters will also vote in Norman City Council races on Feb. 12.