Norman Police
The Norman City Council voted for a controversial reduction to the Norman Police budget on Tues. April 20, 2021. (Screenshot)

At a special meeting Tuesday evening, the Norman City Council voted to ratify amendments to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which included an $865,000 cut to the Norman Police Department’s proposed budget increase.

The reduced increase was first voted through last June, sparking months of tension including attempted recalls and electoral challenges against those who voted for the measure.

In December, in response to a lawsuit by the Norman Fraternal Order of Police, Carter County district court judge Thomas K. Baldwin ruled that the measure was passed illegally because the budget amendments were not included in the council’s June 16, 2020 agenda, violating the state’s Open Meeting Act.

The city lost an appeal of the case in the Oklahoma Supreme Court last week. 

The budget change was passed in three amendments. Two passed by a 6–2 vote: one to divert $300,000 to community outreach and programs, and one to put $330,000 into a general reserve fund balance for those programs. A third, to put $235,000 toward implementing an internal auditor program, passed 5–3.

Council members Elizabeth Foreman and Matthew Peacock voted against all measures, with Mayor Breea Clark joining them on the third.

New council members weigh in

The meeting, held virtually, allowed public comment. Residents’ reactions to the budget were split between support and opposition.

Some argued that the city could use the funds for mental health services so that police officers can focus on crime. Others argued that diverting police funds causes crime to increase and that residents “would be in potential danger,” if the budget amendment went through, as Sue Bond, a Ward 2 resident, said.

Ward 6 council member Foreman, who was not on the council during the June 16 vote and voted no on the amendments, said she was concerned about the divide in the city over the police budget and had received threats because of it. She said she had made no secret of her opposition to the reduction though she agrees with supporters that the city should work on addressing mental health.

“I don’t understand why we as a community are having a hard time getting on the same page together with this concept. They do not have to be mutually exclusive,” Foreman said.

The council, she continued, should “figure out what we need for public safety, how can we best treat people with mental health issues or homelessness or drug addiction. I don’t think anybody is in disagreement with the conversation going on nationally that we have to respond.”

Other council members gave comments on why they were for or against the amendments to the FY21 budget and expressed concern about the division in the city over the topic of police funding.

Ward 8 council member Peacock, who was also not on the council for the June 16 vote, said that he sympathizes with those who have experienced trauma related to the police, but, he said, “good policy is rarely made on the fly,” but is hopeful and committed to having those difficult decisions during this year’s budget process.

“I feel that no one department should ever be at risk during one single meeting,” Peacock said. “My hope is if I were involved in those discussions I would have advocated for an increased dialogue maybe over a longer time frame.”

Ward 7 council member Tyler Holman, who voted for the amendments, said the city council has a duty to answer to everyone and take “the information we have and try to make the best decision possible.

“I believe that is what the council did,” Holman said.