Who would have thought that Oklahoma would be such an emotional hotbed for council meetings? In Norman, first-term council member Breea Clark has seen tensions run high over an obscure procedure, a street with an offensive name, and even a minor cultural proclamation.
Q: What is the Norman city council “rule of three?”
A: [sigh] Oh, the rule of three. It’s when three council members can choose an issue and force it on the agenda.
Q: Council members have some differing opinions on whether it is a good thing or, as someone else put it, a “bastardized” procedure.
A: I think you use the rule of three when you reach out to fellow council members and say, “hey, let’s talk about this” and they all tell you “no.” Having seen that process and the lack of communication when [other council members] used the rule, I personally will do everything in my power to never use that rule because it is so divisive.
Q: When I say the name “Edwin DeBarr,” what can you tell me about him?
A: I can tell you that he was one of the first four professors at the University of Oklahoma. He was a very knowledgeable man who spoke many languages. And I can then tell you that he went on to be a grand dragon of the Oklahoma KKK at the height of the brutality.
Q: People started showing up in your meetings and told council, “we have a street named after Edwin DeBarr and that is racist. Please change the street name.” The fact that it wasn’t happening immediately rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. At the October 24, 2017 meeting, the mood was tense. You’re sitting up there as a white woman with an all-white council–there was some shaming going on. How did you sense that the others felt when people were accusing you of being tone-deaf white people?
A: I don’t think any of my colleagues intended to be tone deaf, but it was uncomfortable. I think those comments hurt a lot of feelings, but they shouldn’t have.
Q: Some of the commenters called you out in a complimentary way to thank you for being a leader on the name change. Did any other council members come up to you and say, “I didn’t appreciate being called racist. I wish you might have told people to tone it down.” Did anyone lay that at your feet?
A: They did not lay that at my feet directly. I don’t think it’s my position to be the tone police. But how that all went down has created some very tense relationships with some of my colleagues. It changed everything. I will always regret the outcome of that. How they got a little beat up on the dais–I am the face of blame for that. We do not have the same relationship that we had before.
Q: Does that bother you?
A: Of course it does.
Q: Before you were a council member, there was a meeting the night of September 28, 2010. The council was considering a proclamation for GLBT history month. Have you ever listened to that meeting before?
A: I will be honest and say no, because I know what happened. I have seen pieces of the ugliness of our community since then and I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it.
Q: A week after that meeting, a 19-year-old gay man who had been in the audience and heard some of the anti-GLBT comments killed himself. Do you feel that the council, by allowing hate speech, might bear some responsibility?
A: [pause] That is a slippery slope. I wasn’t there that night. I’m glad I wasn’t there that night. But I wish somebody would’ve spoken up.
Follow Councilmember Breea Clark on Twitter: @clarkfornorman