Unite Norman
Russell Smith and Sassam Moghadam of Unite Norman speak at a press conference in front of Norman City Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. (Annemarie Cuccia).

Organizers of Unite Norman, a group seeking to recall Norman Mayor Breea Clark and three City Council members, said at a new conference today they believe the have secured enough signatures to trigger a recall election of Clark. But the group has also asked the city clerk for a 10-day extension to collect more signatures.

Unite Norman leader Russell Smith said the group is seeking an extension because of what he called “election interference” and fraud. Friday is the current deadline to collect and submit signatures to Norman City Clerk Brenda Hall.

“Today, our group has provided legal evidence of violent threats to signature gatherers by supporters of the mayor and (the) City Council, including vehicular assault,” Smith said. “We have publicly asked time and time again that both the mayor and City Council condemn this violent behavior, and they have failed to do so.”

Harassment cited as reason for extension request

Some may find Smith’s critique of “violent behavior” to be ironic. On Aug. 4, a member of Unite Norman named Sassan Moghadam was caught on camera throwing a brick at a group of teens in a vehicle he said shouted obscenities at Unite Members as they manned a booth.

Moghadam joined Smith at Wednesday’s news conference, and Smith said other members have also been harassed as they attempt to gather signatures, and he said the group has received reports of people impersonating Unite Norman members.

“Numerous reports have surfaced of impersonators impersonating Unite Norman volunteers, pretending to collect signatures, and then destroying the documents,” Smith said.

When asked for specific examples by a reporter, Smith said the group has many.

“We’ve got video footage of at least one individual which we have shared with the district attorney, and we will be sharing more as we receive more information,” he said. “We have pictures, stories. Quite a bit of it. It’s pretty overwhelming.”

Smith said the group has collected enough signatures to trigger a recall of Clark. Under Norman’s city charter, 25 percent of registered voters from each council member’s ward, and from the city as a whole, are needed. For Clark to be recalled, the group would need to submit about 18,000 valid signatures by Friday.

Efforts to reach Hall, the city clerk, late Wednesday afternoon were unsuccessful. Smith said if the extension is not granted, the group is prepared to pursue action in court to get one.

The group said it gathered 3,000 signatures to recall Ward 5 Councilwoman Sereta Wilson, who has already announced her resignation.

“We’re aware that the council member in Ward 5 has reportedly resigned,” Smith said. “But this is to ensure the individual actually does so and does not in any way continue to fill out her term and so she cannot run for office for one year.”

If the signature threshold is met, the recall election for Clark and the other council members would likely be held in January ahead of the city’s regular February election. Clark’s term ends in July 2022. The group is also attempting to recall Ward 1 Councilwoman Kate Bierman, Ward 3 Councilwoman Alison Petrone and Ward 7 Councilman Stephen Tyler Holman.

Unite Norman formed in the wake of the City Council’s decision to cut more than $850,000 from the Norman Police Department’s budget for the current fiscal year. Despite the cut, the police department’s budget is still larger than the previous fiscal year.

Norman For All, a group that opposes Unite Norman’s recall efforts, have emphasized that the council and Clark have not defunded the police department.

“First and foremost, the reasons being given to the public by Unite Norman for the recall are based on a false narrative,” organizer Troy Tumberlinson told the Norman Transcript. “The police have not been defunded and the City Council has not implemented a radical agenda.”