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.
Summer vacation? We don’t need no stinkin’ summer vacation! There are WAY too many city council meetings to cover and–despite the work of our time travel research team–so little time.
We saw a little girl get stoked to shake hands with every council member, heard about multiple people getting kicked out of council meetings, and experienced our first meeting in another language. If none of that is ringing a bell, go peruse our June Month in Review page.
And if you’re still not convinced that June’s council meetings were all that cool, have I got the picture to prove you DEAD WRONG:
Spirits were riding high in the Guthrie council chamber as Mayor Steven Gentling took center stage with a beaming gray-haired woman.
“Whereas Maxine Pruitt has displayed a true commitment for the city of Guthrie for 25 years,” he read from a plaque so shiny I could see my reflection through the TV, “and has worked for NINE mayors, I am honored to declare Friday, July 7 as Maxine Pruitt Day.”
Whoops and hollers erupted in the standing room-only chamber. The mayor flashed an ear-to-ear grin and Pruitt accepted his handkerchief to dab her eyes.
“I’m so overwhelmed,” she spoke haltingly between tears. “My father-in-law, he very seldom missed a council meeting. He loved this town. I love this town. I love everybody in it.”
She whirled around to the dais. “And council, you all are the best.”
City manager Leroy Alsup crept up to spring a second surprise on her. “Maxine collects paperweights,” he explained with a hefty key-shaped object in his hand. “So we got her a paperweight that has her name on the top and it says ‘Key to Retirement.'”
However, the good vibes promptly faded as the council turned to a subject even heavier than a paperweight: the old Excelsior Library.
“There’s been quite a bit of history on this,” frowned the city manager. “Over a three-year period, the Friends of the Library have committed to certain steps renovating the building.”
Suddenly, Council Member Brian Bothroyd leaned forward, grabbing his microphone.
“What happens if, after year one, the terms aren’t met?” he inquired sharply.
“The city has the right to terminate with 60 days written notice,” the manager replied.
His answer set off Council Member Bothroyd on a forceful diatribe toward the Friends of the Library.
“I was requested to champion and make sure this building wasn’t gonna get demolished. And I did that,” he thundered.
“My goal was always to get y’all the key to the building, which I did. We surplused the building so I could hand you the keys on a silver platter! And it’s still sitting there.”
He gestured in outrage. “I wanna see you guys be successful. Leroy said it: the city has 60 days and they can retract the deal! I don’t wanna do that!”
“The city has some responsibility,” interjected Mayor Gentling hotly, “that we’re not turning over a building that’s set for failure.”
I don’t know what part of “key on a silver platter” the mayor wasn’t understanding. But Bothroyd reached into his bag of superlatives and pulled out a ringer. “Again, when I’m championed to do something, I follow through. A hundred percent.”
If Council Member Bothroyd was a teensy touchy on the whole keys-on-platters ordeal, it may be because there was another issue knocking in his brain.
“I’m a straight shooter and I throw it on the table,” he ratcheted the folksiness to eleven.
“Let me tell you what happened the other night: I got about 40 calls and counting. They asked, how come I didn’t want to settle the Bruning case?”
His voice went high in disbelief. “I said, I voted no on the MOTION. The motion WASN’T to settle the lawsuit. The other part was a tax on you and I! THAT’S what I voted against.”
He waved his hand dismissively after venting. “So I don’t have to field any more phone calls on it.”
It is Presidents Days here in the U.S., which means we are taking this day to honor all of the city council presidents/chairs/mayors who make their meetings run like a finely-tuned clock. But more importantly, let’s have a look back at where we chronicled with the January month in review.
Take a moment to find a city council meeting review you haven’t read or a podcast episode you haven’t listened to, then spend your holiday catching up!
I often hear from people around the globe who say, “we don’t want fewer Oklahoma city council meeting reviews. We want Moore.”
Well, my thirsty friends, it’s your lucky day.
The inauguration may be 1,300 miles away, but the Moore city council was twerking to a different type of party.
“Mayor and council, this is our annual renewal of the fireworks contract,” a bespectacled staffer braced himself on the podium. The price tag was steep: $49,500.
But, he vouched, “they provide an excellent show. This is our premier event that we do.”
Mayor Glenn Lewis raised his eyebrows out of sticker shock. “How does this compare to how much other cities spend?”
The man cleared his throat. “We’re at or near the top when it comes to fireworks expense. Mayor, we feel that the show we put on–the event really is a great event. We think we get the most bang for our buck.”
Or the biggest boom, as it were. But hey, I report and you decide. This is what $49-large of fireworks looks like:
“And how many people would you say come out?” quizzed Council Member Melissa Hunt.
“We think 20,000-30,000 people view the show,” the staffer guessed. Wow! For comparison, only two cats and a bottle of Colt 45 viewed MY illegal backyard fireworks show.
Council Member Adam Webb was all-in on the pyrotechnics. “I love this event. I don’t feel like Moore has a lot that we’re known for.”
Council Member, don’t be ridiculous! The Moore Oil & Lube and the R&S Gun Supply are some of the finest establishments in the Lower 48! You were saying?
“Last year, I showed the mayor and some other council members chatter on Instagram, Twitter, and social media–people have come to Moore and enjoyed this.”
Mayor Lewis leaned forward to seal the deal. “The show’s always good to me,” he offered. “I remember when they used to pass a bucket to pay for $2,000 worth of firecrackers.”
“That being said–” he winced as heads swiveled and I held my breath, “several people seemed to be upset about it. Is there anybody here that would like to speak on this?”
The room was quiet as His Honor scanned the auditorium. The fate of our nation’s birthday was hanging in the balance.
“Okay, if you didn’t show up to complain,” he said with a smirk, “don’t complain anymore.”
Everyone exhaled as the council approved the fireworks show.
But to make the Fourth of July a little more festive, there was one other tiny gift from the village elders to the masses:
“Ordinance number 844-17, establishing a beer and wine license,” the mayor read from his notes.
An employee in a baggy suit explained the highly technical logic. “The licenses the city has now is: one for beer and one for mixed beverages. This would be in between. Restaurants could sell beer AND wine and choose not to pay the higher fee.”
The council swiftly okayed the new license–a great boon to Midwesterners who like their beer like they like their wine: in the same place.
Final thoughts: What this meeting lacked in sizzle, it made up for in patriotism. I give it 8 out of 10 sparkler sticks.
Charles Djou has done it all–Hawaii state legislature, U.S. Congressman, and most importantly, Honolulu city councilman. He got me up to speed on some city council traditions and local island lingo, plus the time a native chief put a curse on the council! Definitely listen to the podcast because there is so much more stuff in there than you’ll read below.
Q: Something I’m curious about is the dress code for the city council meetings. Is it suits and ties or Hawaiian shirts and leis?
A: Yes, so some of the things that are different about the Honolulu city council: the FULL council is in coat and tie. But our committee hearings are done in aloha shirts–
Q: They’re called “aloha” shirts, there? Not Hawaiian shirts?
A: Yes. The other thing that is perhaps a little different is the first city council meeting of the year after an election, everybody wears leis. And everybody gets leis.
Q: What is the lei protocol in Hawaii? Is there any occasion where it’s inappropriate to wear a lei?
A: You know…I wouldn’t say there’s any time where it’s not appropriate. It is relatively common to see people wear a lei if it’s your birthday, if it’s something significant, if you–
Q: Are you wearing a lei now?
A: I am not.
Q: OH, THIS ISN’T SIGNIFICANT FOR YOU?!
Q: Any interesting moments you can remember from the Honolulu city council meetings?
A: By tradition, usually the very first city council meeting, we’ll open it with an oli, which is a native Hawaiian chant and prayer. I imagine maybe some of the city councils in, like, South Dakota or Oklahoma with large Native American populations maybe have some similar tradition.
Q: You’re probably right about tribal involvement. But prayer, especially in the South, is common for kicking off council meetings. When you say “chant,” I think of something rhythmic, like BUM-bum-bum-bum BUM-bum-bum-bum.
A: Yes. It’s in the native Hawaiian language. And then frequently accompanied with hula.
Q: Hula! Does that mean you have bikini-clad women in the council chamber?
A: Uhhhhhh, no. The whole bikini-clad women thing is sort of a 1950s/1960s image people have.
A: I’ll share with you one interesting story. This occurred right before I became a member of the city council. The city council had a relatively controversial issue about condemnation of some native Hawaiian land. I remember a native Hawaiian kapuna (tribal elder) came in and put a curse on the city council members who voted against it.
Q: Wow, a curse! Did you feel worse voting no when there were eight other people you were working with on the council, compared to the state house with 50 other people?
A: No–if anything, on the city council I felt I had a greater voice in being able to dissent.
Q: Now, the listeners will revolt if I don’t ask this: between the Hawaii state house, the U.S. House, and the Honolulu city council, which had the nicest chairs?
A: Oh, the U.S. Congress! [Laughs] They have the nice comfy leather chairs over in Congress.