OKC redistricting criteria
The OKC City Council approved criteria for redistricting at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, while also deferring a potentially controversial resolution to a later date. (Matt Patterson)

The OKC City Council unanimously approved redistricting criteria today that will be used to redraw the council ward boundaries in the coming months.

The resolution, introduced by Ward 8 Councilperson Mark Stonecipher, was approved unanimously, but not without some back and forth between councilmembers.

Under the city’s charter, redistricting must be considered by the council within one year of the release of the latest census data. Delayed owing to the pandemic, the 2020 census has now been completed.

While some councilmembers expressed confusion as to why they were voting on something already codified in the city charter, Stonecipher said it was important to formalize details before the process begins.

“I thought it was really important that we put down on paper how we’re going to handle one of the most important things we’ll do as counselors while we’re on this horseshoe, and that’s the redistricting,” Stonecipher said. “The one thing I’m really fearful of is getting into partisan politics and gerrymandering issues.”

Stonecipher said the OKC redistricting criteria are the same ones developed under former Mayor Ron Norick and that have been used for redistricting in the past. The OKC redistricting criteria are outlined in the city’s charter.

“In my mind if it’s not broken, don’t try to change it,” Stonecipher said. “I think what has happened with Mayor Norick on down with the redistricting has worked. I don’t want to tinker with it. That’s why I put together this resolution. It will allow for public input. It will provide a map and have updates with the public input. It will develop the ward ordinance with a legal description. There will be a formal presentation to the City Council. The City Council meeting will have a public hearing. And then the council will vote.”

Ward 2 Councilperson James Cooper said he would prefer the redistricting be done by an independent committee.

“Anything we can do to remove any sense of partisanship from the drawing of lines at the council, state and federal level, that’s my strongest preference,” Cooper said. 

Under Oklahoma City’s charter, the council is required to determine the boundaries of each ward. There is no provision for that to be handled by a committee.

Stonecipher pushed back hard on the committee idea, citing problems in Norman with a similar body.

“The one thing this horseshoe does well is avoid partisanship,” he said. “I’m not a fan of the committee. I don’t want to abdicate or delegate my authority for some committee. I was voted into office, and I want to make that decision for my ward.”

Ward 6 Councilperson JoBeth Hamon said the Norman committee was an existing body that had been tasked with redistricting and that it wasn’t set up solely for that purpose. Hamon said Oklahoma City has had the same number of wards since the 1930s, despite the city’s growth. She said expanding the council is a discussion she would like to have in the future.

“I don’t think anyone is going to disagree that Norman has a different culture of contention within their city politics than exists here, and maybe some of that is people are a little more honest about what they see and hear about what’s going on,” she said. “But I would be interested in addressing those and exploring those two conversations in the future if this resolution doesn’t preclude that from happening.”

Carter resolution deferred

A proposed resolution that would compel OKC councilmembers to uphold the constitutional oath they took upon being sworn into office was deferred Tuesday to a future meeting.

The resolution, introduced by Ward 1 Councilperson Bradley Carter, was deferred because Mayor David Holt was not present Tuesday. Instead, vice mayor and Ward 7 Councilperson Nikki Nice chaired the meeting.

“I’m going to request that we move for a deferral since the mayor is not here to join us for this,” Carter said.

Even though the council deferred the resolution, several members of the public spoke in favor of it, including Oklahoma City resident Carol Hefner.

I want to make clear that our illustrious mayor was not here to vote on this resolution, and I do appreciate Bradley Carter for bringing it up at another meeting,” said Hefner, a conservative activist.

The resolution states that federal mandates, such as President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for some workers, are unconstitutional and infringe on the powers of the state and the OKC City Council.

A proposed resolution from OKC Councilperson Bradley Carter was tabled from discussion Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. (Facebook)

Carter’s proposed resolution further states: “This resolution shall serve as notice to the federal government of our intent to maintain the balance of powers as established by the Constitution and the people of the United States.”

It also would direct federal entities operating within OKC city limits to obey the constitution, although the City Council’s ability to enforce such requirements is unclear.

“Be it further resolved by the City Council of The City of Oklahoma City, that the City Council intends to ensure federal government agencies, and their agents and employees operating within the geographic boundaries of Oklahoma City, or whose actions have an effect on the citizens, shall operate within the confines of the Constitution of the United States,” the resolution reads.

Carter also wants a copy of the resolution sent to Biden, Democratic congressional leaders and all of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation.

Carter resolution follows opposition to COVID-19 mitigation efforts

Carter made opposing coronavirus mitigation efforts like mask ordinances a part of his campaign earlier this year, and he has continued to oppose them since his election.

In a City Council meeting earlier this month, Carter wondered aloud if rising hospitalizations were the result of fear, rather than medical need, in a bizarre exchange with Oklahoma County Health Department CEO Phil Maytubby. 

“Do you attribute the fear that we’ve been pushing on this virus to the rise in hospital attendance?” Carter asked Maytubby.

Maytubby responded: “Fear? No. People go when they are ill.”

Carter then compared the coronavirus to the flu.

“We don’t tell anyone to go when it’s the flu,” Carter said. “We don’t have that issue. Now you can’t turn on the TV or radio without being told to go to the hospital.”

Since the pandemic began, more than 10,000 Oklahomans have died from COVID-19 and the state has seen more than 600,000 cases.