OKC Council votes against adding neighborhoods

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Oklahoma City Council members discuss the current map of the city’s eight neighborhoods during their meeting on Tuesday. Neighborhood boundaries need to be redrawn to equalize the population across neighborhoods now that new census data is available. (JR screenshot)

OKLAHOMA CITY – Two motions intended to give Oklahoma City residents more participation and representation in city government were defeated at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

The vote on each point was 3 to 5, with City Councilor Barbara Young absent.

Oklahoma City Council is to redraw the boundaries of its wards to equalize the number of residents in wards following the 2020 U.S. Census which shows the city’s population grew by 17.4 percent over the course of the last decade.

Three council members – JoBeth Hamon, Nikki Nice and James Cooper – introduced a resolution calling for a committee of residents appointed by the mayor to help draw the new dividing lines and a second resolution to increase the number of wards at less two.

They were the only three who voted in favor of the proposals.

Hamon said that a more direct public contribution to the redistribution effort early on “would lessen distrust of our process.”

The first resolution called on the mayor to appoint a committee of four residents from different wards in each of the eight wards to review the maps provided by city staff and develop recommendations on those maps before city council votes on the new ward boundaries. in April.

“The more voices there are in this conversation, the stronger the product at the end of the day – the product being government that works,” Cooper said. “I like this transparency and this oversight.”

As an elected official, Cooper has said he prefers not to be the one who draws the boundaries of the area he represents.

City Councilor Mark Stonecipher expressed the opposite view.

“I am not prepared to abdicate my responsibility and obligations to play a role in this process, especially when I look and see the problems they had in Norman, Oklahoma, where they had one of these committees,” Stonecipher said. “So I will vote against the resolution. “

City staff will draft a new map using mapping software to equalize populations between neighborhoods to plus or minus 2% of the average neighborhood population and provide it to council members in January. Staff will update the map in March based on public comment.

“It’s a very simple process, less than six steps,” said Councilor David Greenwell. “There is no hidden agenda on this.”

Hamon said she was concerned about the growing number of Latino residents who have seen “their voices minimized, rejected and completely ignored”.

Sam Wargin Grimaldo, a longtime resident of southern Oklahoma City, agreed. “It’s a part of the city that too often seems to be forgotten or ignored,” said Grimaldo. “We need accurate representation.”

Downtown, south of Oklahoma City, is divided into five neighborhoods, “effectively diluting and depriving our right to vote,” he said.

Councilor Todd Stone said: “I totally agree” the area should not be divided like this.

Jane Abraham, director of community and government affairs, said the last increase in the number of wards was in 1966, when it grew from four to eight today. A committee considered expanding to 12 neighborhoods in 1990, and 10 neighborhoods were considered in 2014.

“Most recently, in 2018, a group of citizens approached city council about the expansion,” Abraham said.

The population has increased by 312,890 people since the city grew to eight neighborhoods. Today, each neighborhood covers approximately 620 square miles and includes over 85,000 people.

By comparison, Tulsa has nine council members, each representing nearly 46,000 residents and approximately 200 square miles.

“It’s time for us to recognize that we are a growing city and that we need better and closer representation,” Hamon said. “I have the densest neighborhood, the smallest geographic footprint of the city, but I find it difficult to travel regularly to all corners of the neighborhood. “


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