If you weren’t aware, Norman has been pretty much anything other than united in 2020. A series of events this summer in Oklahoma’s third-largest city has left the college town divided, with some residents sniping at each other in feverish Facebook groups and others craving a return to civility and cooperation.
Unite Norman — a group of concerned citizens who submitted more than 20,000 signatures to recall Mayor Breea Clark — is either a symptom of the situation or a chief cause, depending on who you ask.
One of the group’s co-founders, Sassan Moghadam, threw a brick (poorly) at heckling high schoolers earlier in August, but he and co-founder Russell Smith have also alleged harassment of their signature gatherers.
Notably, Unite Norman sought signatures to recall more than just Clark for what they call reckless votes earlier this year to lower Norman Police Department funding. While the group failed to obtain enough signatures to recall Ward 7 Councilman Stephen Holman and Ward 1 Councilwoman Kate Bierman, members did submit signatures for the recall of Ward 3 Councilwoman Alison Petrone and Ward 5 Councilwoman Sereta Wilson. (Those signatures are still being verified.)
But Wilson actually announced her resignation from her east-Norman seat prior to signatures being submitted, a decision that triggered an application and appointment process for an interim councilperson. The appointed councilperson would serve the remainder of Wilson’s term, which ends July 6, 2021.
While several people applied, the City Council’s selection committee chose Michael Nash as its recommended interim councilperson. He now awaits formal appointment at the council’s Sept. 8 meeting.
In a sign of the times, Nash’s selection immediately drew criticism from Unite Norman before most of the town had even heard his name or read his application letter.
“Council’s Ward 5 pick has RADICAL family associations,” read the subject line of an email press release from Unite Norman.
Distributed at 6:21 p.m. Friday, the release notes nothing that Nash has done or said, instead quoting without hyperlink, identification or context the social media posts of Nash’s wife and people they know.
“The council’s selection committee on Ward 5 has chosen Michael Nash — whose resume at first blush appears to be moderate — however, a closer look at his family’s associations reveals radical, divisive views that are vastly outside the mainstream of Norman,” the release stated. “Nash’s family associates have stated in social media posts that white people suffer from ‘white fragility’ and ‘white privilege,’ and that white people’s opinions should not ‘be given equal weight to that of a person of color.’ They support the radical political Political Action Committee, BLM which has been responsible for protests that have turned violent and millions of dollars of damage across the country.”
Ironic colorless fragility aside, the Unite Norman press release goes on to say Nash and his wife have “besties” who “share anti-police and anti-police-funding sentiments.”
“Other associates of the Nash family openly state they are for ‘Secular Humanism,’ a worldview that relies upon science and is closely aligned with atheism,” the release states. “That same family associate attacks American rugged individualism, calling Americans ‘sociopathic narcissists’ (sic).”
Nash resume ignored by critics
To blast Nash for having friends whose worldview “relies upon science” likely gave the soon-to-be councilman a good laugh.
While I did not tell him I would be writing this piece, I actually attended Norman Public Schools with Michael Nash from roughly first grade onward, and we reconnected a couple of years ago when he reached out about authoring commentary on NonDoc. He produced two pieces about education that, combined, could probably manage to aggravate both ends of our polarized hometown, were you read them now.
Beyond holding a doctorate in mechanical engineering, Nash is also a father, a business owner and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.
As I read the scathing Unite Norman press release that criticized Nash’s wife and his friends, I looked closely for any recognition of his military service from an organization so committed to mainstream perfunctory patriotism.
But not only did Unite Norman ignore Nash’s military service in Afghanistan — where addressing the radical nature of certain groups used to be a priority — the press release offered no specifics from Nash’s own application.
Within that document, Nash — who is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation — actually stated his goals and positions on a number of things, including policing.
“My grandfather, Floyd Nash, served as chief of detectives with the Norman Police Department sometime after having served in the Marine Corps during World War II,” he wrote. “I see myself in a unique position to serve as a simultaneous advocate for Norman families, Native Americans, veterans and small business owners, and I hope to be seen as an ally to the Norman Police Department and supporters in-kind.”
How Nash will ultimately be seen is unclear at this point, but Unite Norman’s press-release denouncements are yet additional evidence of irony in the group’s name.
By making a lengthy initial post in the Norman – Ward 5 group on Facebook, Nash seems ready to be open and accountable to his constituents, even if his floating of a notion to move the Ward 5 boundary east frustrated some who apparently have strong feelings about which ward they live in.
May his willingness to speak with and listen to all constituents continue through July 2021.
Other updates on Norman news
The Norman City Council selection committee has also started the process of accepting applications for another vacant seat, this time in Ward 2. Councilman David Perry died Aug. 22, and those seeking to serve the central-Norman ward have until Sept. 7 to submit their applications. A longtime educator and businessman, Perry had been sworn into his council position on July 7.
Also, Norman City Clerk Brenda Hall has until Sept. 14 to verify and count the thousands of signatures submitted to her by Unite Norman. Should enough signatures be validated, the recall elections for Clark and Petrone would be scheduled for January.
(Correction: This article was updated at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 31, to reflect that Michael Nash would be eligible to seek election to Ward 5 in the future. NonDoc regrets the error.)