A pastor and a community banker who disagree on topics such as homelessness and the proposed entertainment district are vying for the Ward 6 post in Norman, which will be decided in the Feb. 13 election.
The candidates are Joshua Hinkle, a lifelong resident of Norman currently working as a community banker, and Jerry Drewery a pastor who is endorsed by Norman Mayor Larry Heikkila and the Norman Professional Fire Fighters union, according to his campaign website.
Ward 6 runs southeast from the intersection of Indian Hills Road and 12th Avenue NW down to Alameda Street and 36th Avenue NE.
Ward 6 Councilwoman Elizabeth Foreman chose not to run for reelection and instead is seeking the State Senate District 15 seat, which covers the majority of north Norman.
Hinkle is a graduate of multiple civic exploratory programs, such as Leadership Oklahoma, Citizens Police Academy of Norman, Leadership Norman and Team South. He has also served on the board of directors for several Norman nonprofits, such as the Center for Children and Families, Thunder Bird Clubhouse, Norman Care-a-Vans and the United Way of Norman, according to his campaign website.
“I’ve studied a lot of different government policies,” Hinkle said. “I have been involved in the political process since I was in high school, and I’ve worked on city council races, state races and have been a part of policymaking for a number of years.”
Hinkle said he wants to be a voice for Norman’s constituents, including all agencies and nonprofits.
“All of the people that benefit from Norman being a good city, that’s who I’m looking to be a voice for — versus a very narrow train of thought — based around things that a lot of people in Norman are finding that they don’t agree with,” Hinkle said.
Drewery has lived in Norman for the last 15 years, and he said he and his wife want to reside in Norman for the rest of their lives.
“I really like the heart and the attitude that Norman has on both sides,” Drewery said. “City Council is supposed to be neutral, and I’m going to do my best to stay neutral and do what’s beneficial for all, not just certain groups.”
Drewery said he wants to treat everyone with respect. He is a pastor at a church in Norman, but he stated he is not running to benefit it.
“That’s not the motive. That’s not why I’m running,” Drewery said. “It’s about making a difference.”
Candidates discuss homelessness and affordable housing
Norman’s two Ward 6 candidates noticeably disagree on how the homeless should be taken care of in Norman, but they agree it’s the most important issue facing Norman.
Hinkle said many things lead to people being displaced, such as mental health experiences and drug and alcohol use.
“There’s just a lot of factors that go into them being unhoused,” Hinkle said. “And there’s a lot of factors that will go into the solutions to make it equitable for everyone. So that’s a big focus right now for Ward 6.”
Hinkle said he supports the idea of a permanent shelter while providing case management services.
“I think we definitely need to have a more permanent shelter. One type of shelter, I don’t think will solve all problems. And I don’t think any one thing is going to solve all the problems,” Hinkle said. “But to have some sort of shelter that potentially has a dorm for people that are temporarily displaced (and) potentially have some types of single-resident occupancy facilities. If there are situations where people are in need of medical treatment or treatment from drug activity or alcohol activity or anything like that, there need to be places where they can go and get case management and have the support that they need to kind of get a leg up to see if there’s an opportunity for them to be helped.”
Drewery said he would like to stop the homeless population in Norman from growing or to slow it down.
“What I’m seeing being proposed doesn’t do that,” Drewery said. “If anything, it increases, and that makes it worse.”
Drewery said he believes Norman is attracting people across the country who want to take advantage of Norman’s hospitality.
“We’re attracting more and more people that are coming into our city, and we’ve got our hands full with people that really need help, that are a part of us,” Drewery said. “And what we’re doing right now is giving free room and board. Anybody that wants it, here they come.”
Tax increment finance district and arena
University North Park LLC, a development company, has proposed a $1 billion entertainment district west of 24th Avenue, between Interstate 35, Rock Creek Road and Corporate Center Drive in Norman.
The plan has been made in partnership between civic organizations, the City of Norman, Cleveland County and the University of Oklahoma Foundation. Team Norman showed plans in September for an 8,000-seat arena for OU basketball and gymnastics, a hotel, hundreds of housing units and a variety of shops, restaurants, bars and offices.
The arena would also be utilized for concerts, business expos, local graduations and more. A tax increment financing district has been proposed to support the development.
Hinkle said he is open-minded about the goals for the district but wants the city to be informed as plans develop. Drewery said he wants to see the district built, but he said he has reservations.
“But then again, I go right back to the homeless situation,” Drewery said. “We can have all this going and have people coming in, but if they’re not safe walking down the streets, which right now they’re not, they are being harassed by people wanting money. We need to take care of this other problem. And still look at this new TIF and this entertainment district.”
Drewery said the district is a great idea, especially with a possible TIF. He also said Norman should not stop there.
“We need the same kind of thinking on the east side also,” Drewery said.
Hinkle said while the plan isn’t fully fleshed out, he is trying to keep an open mind on the development.
“I’m a banker by trade, and so development and things like that are always a big part of what I look at,” Hinkle said. “Anytime there’s a private entity or another entity that wants to invest $800 million in the City of Norman, I think that we need to look and see what that is, wait for the plan to come out and see if it’s something that everybody thinks will benefit the City of Norman.”
OG&E franchise agreement election on horizon
Norman will have another opportunity to vote March 5 to reauthorize a franchise agreement between OG&E and the city for electricity infrastructure.
The city’s franchise agreement with the utility expired in 2018, leaving Norman without a formal agreement. A new agreement was rejected by voters in January 2023, with 60.7 percent of those casting ballots opposing the renewal.
After a court ruled that there is an “implied agreement,” OG&E continued to provide electricity to city residents and businesses. Customers pay a 3 percent franchise fee on their electric bills as they did in the past.
Drewery said he does not favor the current plan, saying a 25-year agreement is too long.
“Let’s go five and see where we are at five years down the road,” Drewery said. “Twenty-five years does not make any kind of sense whatsoever.”
Hinkle said he is glad the agreement is going to a vote but isn’t sure yet how he is going to vote.
“I’ve been following it. I understand both sides of it,” Hinkle said. “I think that part of this is how good of a partner has the City of Norman been with its other partners. So I’m looking at that, too.”
Hinkle said OG&E has done a lot for Norman but that no relation with a major company is going to be perfect.
“What OG&E has done for Norman has been positive,” Hinkle said. “So we’ll be able to find something, find some sort of middle ground on there, I’m sure.”
ACCESS Oklahoma turnpike program
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s request for bond validation for its ACCESS Oklahoma plan, a process that is required before bonds can be sold to pay for the projects. ACCESS stands for Advancing and Connecting Communities and Economies Safely Statewide. Announced as a 15-year project, it proposes three new routes to complete the Oklahoma City outer loop and relieve I-35 congestion.
One of those loops would run east around Norman, a proposal that has drawn significant opposition from homeowners and environmental advocates. While supporters say the extension will be important for redirecting commercial truck traffic and other travelers around the OKC metro, opponents claim the turnpike expansion would eliminate more than 600 homes.
Hinkle said the project is hitting close to home, as his mother-in-law will be directly impacted.
“I think there’s probably the inevitability of the turnpike happening. It’s going to happen,” Hinkle said. “We may have some say so in the final actual path that it takes. And I think that’s probably our best hope right now, to try to just create the least amount of impact on families in Norman. I hate losing any houses and, I mean, we’re already in a housing shortage as it is. So, to displace anybody further or to take away housing opportunities will never be my goal.”
Drewery said that the City of Norman should forget about the turnpike.
“I have nothing to do with it,” Drewery said. “Whether I’m on board or against it or anything, I can’t do anything about that, so why waste time with it?”