The Public was Heard

The Norman Economic Development Authority was created, last Tuesday, after nine months of public meetings, and five weeks of intense public input. I did received; two petitions (one for and one against with over 330 Norman residents signing), over 300 emails and messages and several dozen phone calls. Additionally, I did listen to public comments and questions in a four and half hour meeting exclusively about the Trust. Most people find this to more than a reasonable amount of time, input and listening.

The first emails which came to me were concerned about how this had been brought out of nowhere, drafted by the Chamber and forced on the agenda as a surprise. The Shadow Government rumors were running rampant. The fact was this was first discussed in August of 2010 as a Council priority, but it was not until Mayor Rosenthal created the Business and Community Affairs Committee in July of 2011, that detailed public discussion started. There was Council Conference on NEDA at the end of March 2012 and the normally the next step would have been to put it on the Agenda for the next Council meeting in April. But the Council asked for a public hearing. A month went by and it had not been scheduled nor or was it on any timeline to be scheduled.  So the Rule of Three was use to express the will of the majority of Council by requesting NEDA be put on the Agenda for public discussion. The May 8th meeting would have been that discussion.

In order to address concerns that this was not enough time five weeks were added to give more than the normal amount of time for public scrutiny and input. A public meeting was held as well a follow up committee meeting to make any tweaks to address any issues.

The Second concern was who controlled the NEDA. An expert on trusts, recommend by Mayor Rosenthal, had been asked to speak to the committee. He urged that: Council not be the trustees so that discussion about projects be on a non-political basis. The Accountability would come from a required 2/3 or ¾ vote of Council to fund any project, and trustees would be subject to the Conflict of Interest rules. Transparency would come from requirements to follow the Open Records and Open Meeting Act.

This was insufficient to satisfy the concerns of the some in the public, who had been told NEDA was a shadow government for special interests. So we reinstated Council as the Trustees and the professionals would be used only to advise Council on the viability of proposed projects. That too was insufficient to a few who did not want the Board in the Trust. So we removed the Board from the Trust with the intent of creating a citizen board of professionals to do the same function.

The Mayor asked why we need to do this at all if we had a Trust that already was the same. So we asked our independent counsel to look into that. They advised us it would be best to just create a new trust, to keep the perception of the use clear to all.  The Duplication would cost no money or extra time so we choose to follow their legal guidance.

After all the effort to accommodate questions and concerns, we were left with those that are philosophically opposed to economic development, those that supported it, and a few that asked why we need it.

For the latter, the answer was to attract and retain quality jobs for Norman as had been done with Hitachi. It would be used as a financing tool only and not intended for retail. For the former, I respect that point of view but I feel if proper safeguards are in place and with proper vetting, the community can benefit. The vast majority of the people I have been in contact with over the last few years are concerned about quality jobs in Norman.

Those who opposed it, have an absolute right to their opinion. I value and welcome honest and respectful debate. Honest debate, in my mind includes open mindedness for all parties. Once all the arguments have been heard it is time to decide. For most of Norman the arguments had been sufficiently presented for them to formulate an opinion.

I understand emotions run high when you are trying to win an argument. People were frustrated by the lack of debate for both Council and the public, on the night of the vote. The unfortunate consequence of those who made a reasoned debate into a political one created a situation of an imperfect solution to a problem of debating for the sake of delay with the hope of postponement. I felt the public at large deserved an up or down vote to end what had become a divisive debate. This silenced no voices. They were all heard, many of them several times; they spoke for the next hour in Miscellaneous Discussion. They continue to be heard in their emails and letters. They will be heard when and if we have an actual project, and when we form the committee. All this will be welcomed. For four years I have worked hard to encourage and enable participation by the public and I did so, on this issue, well beyond what the average citizen in Norman would expect. I had over 20 emails from one couple who are not even my constituents, but that was not enough for them. They wanted live blogging despite the fact we provide live streaming video of meetings ( which I fought hard to make sure the city provided). In the end the very reason Robert’s Rules have a motion to move the previous question is in recognition that at some point it is time to end debate that has become circular and to vote.

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