Judge says Norman council’s meeting to cut police department’s budget violated law

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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – A judge recently ruled that a controversial decision by the Norman City Council to cut the police department’s budget violated the law.

The Norman City Council held a special meeting in June to vote on the city’s budget for fiscal year 2021, which included proposed cuts to the police department.

Norman Citizens for Racial Justice called on Mayor Breea Clark and the city manager to defund and demilitarize the Norman Police Department.

City council member Alexandra Scott initially proposed a $4.5 million cut to police. The money would have been re-allocated in part to public safety sales tax and police sensitivity training.

Council members say the 11-hour meeting was the longest meeting they’ve ever been in but they wanted to give everyone a chance to speak.

At the end of the meeting, city council members voted to cut $865,000 from the police salaries and benefits portion of the department’s budget.

After the vote, the Norman Fraternal Order of Police filed a lawsuit against the Norman City Council, claiming its actions violated the Open Meetings Act.

On Thursday, a judge ruled in favor of the FOP.

The judge said the notice for the meeting “was deceptively worded or materially obscured the stated purpose of the meeting and is therefore a willful violation” of the Open Meetings Act.

“The City Council’s actions at a late-night meeting clearly violated the Open Meetings Act and the will of Norman voters who want to live in a safe community. We thank the court for invalidating the Council’s actions to defund police,” Robert Wasoski, president of the Norman Fraternal Order of Police, said. “The Norman FOP will continue to hold City Council accountable and advocate for adequate funding for the police department. Our members proudly protect and serve, and they appreciate the outpouring of support from our community.”

United Norman, a group that has been outspoken about the council’s decision, also applauded the ruling.

“Unite Norman has stated since our formation that we need more transparency from the city council,” said Russell Smith, co-founder of Unite Norman. “From their dark-of-night votes to defund the police, to their unwillingness to truly hear constituents on the issues of school resource officers or equipment for officers, meeting in abesentia for months, and now limiting public comments at meetings — this city council has sent a clear message that they don’t believe they report to the people. Today changes that. This is a victory for the people.”

Norman city officials issued the following statement in response to the ruling:

“The City of Norman has received an advance copy of Judge Thomas Baldwin’s ruling on the Fraternal Order of the Police v. the City of Norman case, but has not yet received formal notification of filing. While the City respects Judge Baldwin’s professionalism throughout the case, we fundamentally disagree with his decision in regards to the Open Meeting Act and its potential negative future impact on citizen involvement in government.

The City believes its citizens have a right to influence the decisions of their elected officials through open public discourse. We believe this court’s decision has a direct negative impact on this right and is inconsistent with the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Open Meeting Act. The City will file an appeal to protect the right of its citizens to suggest amendments and changes to government decisions in open public meetings at the City of Norman.”

CITY OF NORMAN

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