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CONTINUES TRIBUTES TO EXCELLENCY BY SAM TONKINS
University enshrines student accomplishment publicly through alumni pavers, leadership tables and Scholars Walk
he courtyard of the Oklahoma Memorial Union is filled with engraved bricks, each one featuring a name and a date, celebrating students and alumni who shaped the university and were shaped by it. These engravings are one of the many ways students are able to leave a lasting mark on OU’s campus, documenting their college experiences and achievements on the bones of the university. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic when the community feels disconnected, the names scattered throughout campus help tie OU together. Dave Hail, executive director of the OU Alumni Association, said the bricks — or “pavers,” as the organization calls them — enable alumni to leave a record of their time at OU. The program was started in the early 2000s when the Conoco Student Leadership Wing of the Union was opened, Hail said. “The program … allows alumni and friends to purchase a paver to be engraved with their name and graduation year to commemorate their time on campus and recognize them as alums of the university,” Hail said. The courtyard has space for 6,000 pavers and around 1,500–1,800 have already been engraved, Hail said. The bricks are made out of a particular kind of limestone, and require a special contractor to do the engraving. Because of this, new pavers are added to the courtyard only a few times a year. “It’s a really natural, human thing to want to leave your mark on a place where you’ve spent time, and I think a lot of people who have that instinct recognize or appreciate something that OU did for them, and I think that it’s an opportunity for them to have a piece of themselves permanently on our campus forever,” Hail said. The pavers also serve as a way for current students to understand the history of OU and their role in it, Hail said. “In a lot of cases, we are sharing experiences that generations of OU students and OU graduates had while they were here,” Hail said. “So, when you look down and see a name and a degree and the year 1985, there’s some sort of remarkable kinship that you can say, ‘This person was here during this time and went through some things I’m going through, too.’”
In addition to their historical role, the pavers recognize the backbone of the university — the students, Hail said. “This university is kind of a living thing,” Hail said. “Beyond just the circumstances of whatever current time we’re in, whether it’s now or before or in the future, we recognize that the people make up this university. … Our students are the reason we are here. It’s not just the current students that are here now, but the hundreds of thousands of students who’ve come before.” Hail said he always enjoys seeing alumni find their bricks for the first time. “My office is here in the Union, and so I‘m in that courtyard almost every day, and it’s really cool to see people finding their pavers and taking pictures. And we’ve seen parents and grandparents and graduates,”
Hail said. John Bronzini, who graduated from OU in 1982, said the pavers were a way to celebrate the lifelong friends he made at OU. After purchasing one for himself in 2014, Bronzini bought three more for his friends from college. “I wanted to honor them and our friendship — our brotherhood we call it — and get stones for them,” Bronzini said. Bronzini said the group tries to come back to Norman every year for a football game, and in November 2016, he was able to surprise them with their pavers. “I walked them through the courtyard, and only then did they find out that their names had been engraved in the square next to mine,” Bronzini said. “So they were pretty surprised about that, and it was a real special
PHOTO BY TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
gift.” Now, when the group of friends meet in Norman, they spend time in the courtyard near their names, telling jokes and catching up. “It’s such a happy place that we won’t make a trip without spending time in the courtyard and just hanging around indulging that memory,” Bronzini said. Bronzini said he now owns seven pavers, including some for his children. “It’s an amazing way to honor somebody you really care about and show how much you love them by putting that down in stone — permanent,” Bronzini said. Even when he is not in Norman, Bronzini said he often looks at the picture of the bricks to feel connected to the university and the memories attached to it. “When I’m feeling homesick for Oklahoma, which is often, I’ll go ahead and put those squares up as the screensaver on my phone,” Bronzini said. “I’ll go ahead and put the four names up, and it’s very emotional.” Moving from outside the Union to inside it, students’ names are also carved on tables in the Clark-Anderson room. Laura Tontz, the director of the Oklahoma Memorial Union, said the room and the leadership tables were an idea from former OU President David Boren. Boren, who went to Yale University for his undergrad, took the idea from Mory’s, a famous New Haven restaurant where Yale students would carve their names into the tables. Boren wanted to recreate that tradition in OU with the Clarke-Anderson room, Tontz said. The room was finished in 1999, and the first leadership table was created, complete with the names of dozens of student leaders. Tontz said that for the past 20 years, a new group of students has carved their names onto a table each year, and a photo of all the signers is featured above each table. Tontz said the tables are a way to memorialize the way student leaders shape the university. “I hope that it’s meaningful to them and that they can come back throughout many times in their life, maybe with their life partner, maybe with their children or their grandchildren and be able to find their name … and reflect back on their time here,” Tontz said. Connor Sharp, computer science senior, signed the 2019 Leadership Table for his involvement in Camp Crimson. He remembers sitting at the leadership tables with his friends when he first came to OU but never imagined having the opportunity to sign one himself. Getting to sign the table was a surprise to him, and it made his time at OU feel impactful and significant, Sharp said. “I was definitely beaming with pride about it,” Sharp said. “I was able to go tell my friends, ‘You know those tables we sat at … I actually got to sign that.’” Sharp said the tables help showcase the fact that the things that happen on OU’s campus are often student-led and that any involvement on campus can be meaningful to the community. “It’s inspiring to realize that things built around you on campus are built by other students that have come before you, and you have the same opportunity to do that,” Sharp said. Names of students are also featured on plaques along the Scholars Walk on the South Oval. Brian Johnson, assistant professor of
writing and rhetoric, helps students apply to nationally competitive scholarships, such as the Rhodes, the Goldwater and the Fulbright, and has been in charge of the Scholars Walk for two years. He said the Scholars Walk was created in 2014 in order to celebrate the academic achievement of OU students throughout the university’s history. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate the fact that, even though OU is just this big school in the middle of the country and some people think of it as a football school, we have some pretty terrific academic things going on around here. We have some really strong students,” Johnson said. There are 322 slots on the Scholars Walk with 238 plaques installed and 84 blank spaces,
to them as a freshman. “It was super impactful to me when I was a first-year student to see all those names and all these people accomplishing great things, and so I hope I can do the same in the future,” Ho said. While OU was not their first choice, Ho said they really found a home on OU’s campus, changing how they saw the university. “The more that I saw of OU and the more I saw how much people cared about this institution, the more I was like, ‘Oh, maybe there’s actually stuff I can do here,’ and ended up devoting a lot of my undergrad years to improving campus climate for LGBTQ folks,” Ho said. Ho said that having their name on campus will enable them to see a physical representation of their impact on the university.
PHOTO BY TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
Johnson said. However, there are 47 plaques ordered for recent scholars. “The good news and the bad news is that we are running out of space quickly,” Johnson said. Johnson said a lot of scholars come back with their families and take pictures with their plaques once they’ve been installed. “I’ve seen a lot of our really strong students acting like silly people and laying down on the sidewalk right beside their plaques so that friends and loved ones can take pictures,” Johnson said. Every year, OU produces a significant number of scholars, anywhere from six to 16, Johnson said. “Amongst our regional peers, and amongst the Big 12, not only are we No. 1 in the Rhodes, we are either one, two or three in a lot of the other really prestigious ones,” Johnson said. Leanne Ho graduated in May 2020 with a bachelor’s in English and is currently a graduate student at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom studying evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation. As a 2020 Rhodes Scholar, Ho’s name will one day be featured on a plaque along the Scholars Walk. They said the walk was inspiring
“It’s super cool that I will be physically a part of the campus in addition to the stuff I got to change while I was there,” Ho said. In addition to recent scholars, Johnson said the Scholars Walk also celebrates a history of nationally recognized students. “I also think a really important lasting legacy is that you can go back and see,” Johnson said. “For instance … our oldest winner, William Kendall, who won the Rhodes back in 1904, so that gives you an indication that OU has not just a strong student core but a longstanding tradition of excellence here.” Overall, Johnson said the Scholars Walk is a way to show visitors and potential students the academic excellence of the university, even on game days. “It confirms, in even casual football fans’ minds, the fact that OU is a really strong place of learning that has an amazing tradition,” Johnson said. “And then again, when we host prospective faculty, when we bring students on board … they always walk along the Scholars Walk.”
FINANCIAL CHALLENGES BY BLAKE DOUGLAS
The cash cost of COVID-19: A look into OU’s finances during the pandemic
s the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt daily life across the United States, higher education institutions have been among the most scrutinized and affected bodies nationwide. Among U.S. colleges, 44 percent are primarily or fully online, with 10 percent of all universities deciding to go entirely virtual to protect the health of their students, faculty and staff. These decisions, however, have significant effects on university finances. At the OU Board of Regents’ Oct. 2 meeting, OU President Joseph Harroz highlighted the economic impact the pandemic has had on the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which is projecting a $168.6 million loss in its operating budget after moving online for the fall semester. Prior to the start of the fall semester, OU projections looked similarly grim should classes be held online only, according to Kesha Keith, OU director of media relations. “In early August, the university considered the financial impact to the Norman campus should classes be moved fully online prior to the start of the semester,” Keith wrote in an Aug. 27 email. “At that point in time, the projections showed the university would suffer losses well in excess of $150 million. The factors related to the projected shortfall include, but are not limited to, not having a full football season, a possible 20 percent decrease in enrollment and a lack of housing, meal plans and parking revenues.” At the Oct. 2 meeting, Harroz said since OU’s dorms are at 86 percent capacity and the campus is still open, the university has avoided the loss of millions and there are no plans for campus-wide furloughs or any departmental layoffs “that he knows of.” Harroz also said the university’s non-athletic revenue is meeting approximate projections, though some departments may see funding reductions of roughly 2 percent. The OU Athletics Department budgeted for “at least” a $25 million shortfall in the fall semester, though no football games have thus far been canceled. While Harroz said OU has managed to avoid such drastic losses — and continues to seek ways to reduce costs through university health care changes and other means — data from OU Parking Services and OU Housing and Food shows that substantial revenue has still been lost this semester as students and faculty alike are less inclined to spend time on campus.
ata provided by OU Parking Services Director Kris Glenn and Gary Epperson, a manager in the department, indicates that university revenue from parking passes saw a sharp decline in the fall 2020 semester. From July 15, 2019, to Oct. 5, 2019, OU students, faculty and staff purchased 14,640 parking passes.
During the same time span in 2020, that number fell off to 10,875 passes. Commuter passes saw the most steep dropoff among all categories. Up to Oct. 5, 2019, 6,470 commuter parking passes were purchased. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and into the fall 2020 semester, however, only 4,081 commuter passes had been purchased by the same date. As each commuter pass costs $274 — and the price of parking passes has not changed for three consecutive years, according to Glenn — the difference in commuter parking alone has led to a shortfall of approximately $654,586 compared to fall 2019. The price of parking passes falls throughout the semester, however, so only approximate estimates of losses are available with current data. Many OU faculty and staff have also forgone their parking permits for the 2020-21 academic year. By Oct. 5, 2019, 4,382 faculty or staff had purchased their parking permits. But by the same date this year, only 3,555 had done so. According to the OU Parking Services website, each faculty/staff permit costs $311, meaning the drop-off in faculty/staff permit purchases translates to a loss of approximately $257,197 compared to fall 2019. The only category of parking passes that saw an increase in sales for fall 2020 was the Headington Hall pass, which increased from 246 purchases in fall 2019 to 266 in fall 2020. The combined revenue loss for only commuter and faculty/staff parking permits is $911,783. When accounting for all types of parking passes, OU Parking Services has lost roughly $1,062,209 from parking pass sales amid the pandemic. Campus shuttles have also seen a sharp decline in ridership as well, according to Glenn’s data, with the first week of the fall 2020 semester seeing a 61 percent decrease in the number of riders. In the previous fall semester, the average daily number of riders for the first week of classes was 5,172. This year, the daily average was only 2,038. This decreased ridership comes despite the university expanding CART shuttle routes and increasing the number of buses to facilitate social distancing prior to the beginning of the semester.
nother major aspect of welcoming students to campus is the money many university housing residents spend on on-campus meal plans. According to data provided by Amy Buchanan, director of marketing and communications for OU Housing and Food Services, several meal plan types saw substantial purchase decreases, but some freshman plans were purchased more this semester. During the fall 2019 semester, OU students purchased 6,571 meal plans. As of Oct. 5, 2020, however, only 4,766 meal plans of any type have been purchased. Part of the change is reflected in an overall
enrollment decrease at OU’s Norman campus from fall 2019 to fall 2020, according to OU Institutional Research and Reporting’s fall 2020 enrollment summary. Enrollment on the campus fell 1.1 percent from 28,089 in fall 2019 to 27,782 in fall 2020. Some parents have expressed concern about allowing their students to live on campus amid the pandemic, leading even those who are still enrolled to seek housing elsewhere. A decline in freshman meal plans — which make up a majority of all plans purchased for both fall 2019 and fall 2020 — has also cost the university. Incoming freshmen purchased 4,171 meal plans in fall 2019, but only 3,690 in fall 2020. Each regular freshman meal plan costs $2,377 per semester, with the rate remaining the same since the 2019-20 school year. With 481 fewer freshmen purchasing meal plans this semester, the university lost approximately $1,143,337 in revenue, not accounting for the revenue from other meal plan types apart from standard freshman plans. When the overall costs of other meal plans are factored in — including commuter meal plans and “enhanced” freshman plans, which offer more meals or meal points than standard plans — the university has lost approximately $1,963,362 in meal plan revenue compared to fall 2019.
n the fall 2019 semester, 4,009 OU freshmen lived in on-campus housing, according to OU Institutional Research and Reporting. Currently, the cost for students to occupy a standard double room in one of OU’s residential towers for the 2020-21 academic year is listed as $5,662 per semester on the OU Housing and Food website. Applying the standard room rate for the towers as a rough base for the cost of other room types, OU made approximately $22,698,958 from freshmen students living on campus in fall 2019. Since OU students are required to live on campus for two semesters, the university made roughly $45,397,916 for the academic year — not accounting for the prorated refunds provided due to the spring semester being moved fully online after spring break. Overall, 5,235 students were listed as living on campus in the fall 2019 semester in data from OU Housing and Food. If the $5,049 average of the listed rates for all OU housing facilities is used — as each housing facility has several different floor plans to choose from, and the data does not indicate which floor plan a resident may live in — then the university made roughly $26,431,515 from housing costs in fall 2019. According to Harroz, OU’s dorms are at 86 percent capacity for the fall 2020 semester. Data from OU Housing and Food lists 4,455 students currently living in OU housing facilities. Using an approximation from the average of listed OU facility housing rates, the university has made roughly $22,493,295 from housing this semester, down approximately $3,938,220 from fall 2019.
OU Student Steps Up to the Plate During the COVID-19 Pandemic By: Bradley Cooney, OKARNG While the hustle and bustle around OU campus has diminished since spring break, one of your fellow students has been supporting her community and her state in the fight against Covid-19. Kaitlyn Remington, a biochemistry major, serves as a health care specialist in the Oklahoma Army National Guard (OKARNG). She spent a portion of 2020 with the OKARG working supporting a medical team in McAlester, OK. I had the privilege of asking her about her experience during her missions as well as her experience in the Oklahoma National Guard.
What was the scope of your duties while you were working on the governor’s COVID response team? “During the COVID-19 mission, I had the opportunity to work closely with civilian health departments in rural Oklahoma. As a medic, my duties mostly involved swabbing people, then packaging and sending specimens to be tested. I also got to be a part of the public health side in the education of prevention which was nice to see the other side of things with the pandemic; both treating and preventing.” What are some things that you will remember most during your time working the COVID mission? “I will most definitely remember the unsung heroes of the pandemic. All of the civilian workers that took us in with open arms while we were away from home in these unique times. Working alongside them was so much fun and so eye-opening to all of the people you never see that are behind the scenes making it all run. I want to give a huge shout out to the Pittsburg County Health Department and surrounding areas! That’s really what the National Guard is all about. Being a public
servant to your community when needed alongside the daily public servants. It was really rewarding.” What sort of feelings did you have while you were working the COVID mission? And how do you feel looking back on it now? “It was definitely different working during the start of the pandemic. Such unprecedented times to live in. But I felt really proud to be a part of it. And proud to work alongside the other Soldiers there with me. We were still in Oklahoma but away from home at the same time. And it’s always great to see how people from all sorts of different units come together and work so well as one to get a mission done. Pride is definitely at the top of the list.” How does it feel to give back to your community during a time of need? “To be able to be in a position to give back to the people who are there to support us as Soldiers is really awesome, honestly. The people of Oklahoma are always quick to say thank you and show support in different ways. To be able to give back directly is a great feeling.” What has the Oklahoma National Guard done for you? “The Oklahoma Guard has changed my life in so many positive ways. I’ve learned so many lessons in every aspect of my life. From learning how to truly keep going through whatever life throws at me to the medical skills I get to use in my career, everything is honestly irreplaceable and the experiences alone I’ve gained through the military are unforgettable. As far as resources, you really can’t get them anywhere else. The ability to gain realworld experience and job skills to use on my career path and still be able to go to school and continue my degree is great. As a medic, I got my civilian EMT license and learned even more in trauma, so when I came home from training I was able to start working in an ER in a hospital and learn so much to carry with me. As I begin to apply to physician’s assistant schools, this experience alone really sets me apart from other applicants!” What would you say to someone who is thinking about joining the National Guard?
“Just do it! There are so many benefits. Not just for money for school, but so many real-life lessons and experiences you get to carry with you into your future. It’s truly is irreplaceable to any other decision you could make for yourself and your future.” How has the National Guard helped you during these hard times? “I was fortunate enough to work in a profession that stayed open during COVID. It definitely impacted my schooling though and made things more difficult. The Guard reached out multiple times during the pandemic to me and other Soldiers and did what they could to ensure those that needed jobs had a way to earn money throughout the pandemic relief. And honestly, that really speaks to how we look out for our own even in the worst of times.” Kaitlyn has since returned to her civilian job as an Emergency Department Technician and the Lab Coordinator for Integris Community Hospital. While she is still pursuing her biochemistry degree, she continues to serve her state one weekend a month as a health care specialist in the Oklahoma Army National Guard while getting 100% of her tuition paid for. If you would like to serve your community in some capacity, not just medically, please reach out to your local career liaison below. Heather Britt-Davis (405) 228-5059 Heather.email@example.com
BLUEBONNET BAR ‘We have a bright future ahead of us’: Norman’s historic Bluebonnet Bar continues supporting local musicians amid COVID-19
ucked away at the end of Main Street sits a bar and music venue older than most Norman residents. Despite the b a r ’s
recent smoking ban, the scent of old cigarette smoke and the history attached to it lingers. As always, the Bluebonnet Bar sells some of the cheapest drinks in Norman. But the history, inclusivity and community it serves with every drink is priceless. The bar shut down in March, following Norman’s COVID-19 guidelines, and after 10 weeks the bar reopened with limited capacity. Months later, the bar is still open with half its normal seating but with all of its drive to remain a steady venue for Oklahoma musicians. Michelle Miller and her then-boyfriend Tanner Miller bought the bar in 2017, and while COVID-19 may have gotten in the way of a few months’ worth of income, since opening in the 1930s, Bluebonnet has seen and survived its fair share of economic
hardship and national unrest. “Everyone gets along while they’re at the Bluebonnet,” co-owner Michelle Miller said. A day at the Bluebonnet begins with its opening at noon, and then the older generation comes in to play dominoes and watch “Jeopardy!” at 3:30 p.m., Michelle said. After they leave, people in their 20s, 30s and 40s shuﬄe in after work. By night, music from the evening’s musical act and people of every age fill the bar. Manager and bartender Chris Levings said the variety of clientele forms a tight-knit community, and with that community comes a sense of safety and tolerance. “You should feel comfortable being able to come down here by yourself and not be worried that something’s gonna happen. ... We have a lot of people who return just because they’re like, ‘This is one of the first places I’ve ever felt welcome being me,’” Levings said. “That’s really nice and heartwarming to hear.” Outside the bar, under a glowing purple and green “OPEN” sign, hangs a sign noting, “We stand with you. You are safe here,” and a few more with social justice-related messages. Michelle said bigotry is a rare occurrence for those who come inside the Bluebonnet Bar. “Everyone is welcome. ... Once you’re in the bar it’s just a place for everyone to just escape the outside world ... (and) the chaos,” Michelle said. Michelle said the bar’s message isn’t about politics — it’s about acceptance. “If you wanna make people feel bad for who they are ... there’s other places to drink,” Michelle said. COVID-19 may have closed the bar for a short time, but Michelle said the sense of community didn’t lessen. Michelle and Tanner both work full-time jobs outside of the bar and were able to fund Bluebonnet through the closure. For them, Bluebonnet is a worthy investment to save — the same worthy investment they made a few years ago when they came up with the cash to buy it in the first place. “We love that bar. If they close it ever, it’s not gonna be on our watch. … We were just not gonna
BY ABBY TOW
let COVID get in the way,” Miller said. Before Michelle and Tanner took over, Levings said the then cash-only, beer-only Bluebonnet wasn’t exactly her speed — she wasn’t a beer-lover, didn’t fit in with the older clientele and rarely saw the bar full. But Levings had been friends with Michelle long before the Millers bought the bar, and she knew they would do something special with the historic joint. Michelle and Tanner, now married, have made major renovations to Bluebonnet — including getting a liquor license and credit card capabilities — but they aren’t trying to turn the historic bar into something that it isn’t. “It’s the oldest bar in Norman, and we don’t want it to feel or even look like a newborn, ’cause it’s not,” Michelle said. While some things have changed, the pool tables and shuﬄeboards from its older days remain in the bar, along with loyal patrons and the title of the oldest bar in Norman. The new no-smoking rules, a garage door for the bar’s patio and knocking out the drop-ceiling to reveal the ductwork above the bar were moves to make the space more welcoming for patrons, employees and musicians. “We were always just afraid to go non-smoking because we thought we would lose a bunch of regulars,” Michelle said. “Then COVID happened, and we saw what it was like to make zero dollars for 10 weeks ... we were like, when we reopen let’s go ahead and go non-smoking.” Feedback has been positive, Michelle said, but some patrons were lost to the change. However, the clientele remains a mixed bag of ages and demographics. Levings said the bar’s success with maintaining their patrons through an ownership shift a few years prior to the pandemic assured her Bluebonnet would be OK. It also didn’t hurt that Bluebonnet has earned its stripes as a decades-old establishment. “That itself showed we can pull ourselves out of anything. ... Y’know, keep the historic Bluebonnet feel but get up to speed with everyone else,” Levings said. Losing money during the closure was stressful for businesses downtown, Levings said, but some of Bluebonnet’s regulars and other service workers looked out for each other. Part of reopening in July and staying operational meant being mindful of Bluebonnet’s older and immunocompromised patrons, Levings said. Half
of the barstools are still removed, bartenders wear masks at all times and Levings uses up bottles of hand sanitizer constantly. Levings said while the occasional customer doesn’t believe the pandemic is worth all of the health precautions Bluebonnet is taking, she sees patrons remaining considerate of the rules every day. While the bar is still slow during the day, Levings said, business picks up at night as performers bring their music to the space. “Bringing entertainment to people who have been stuck inside and lifting the spirits of people ... that’s pretty much our biggest role,” Levings said. Every night except Sunday, Bluebonnet hosts musicians from a variety of genres, but Levings said the “red-dirt” style makes the most appearances. The bar maintains a general no out-of-state musicians policy. The goal of this, Michelle said, is to support local musicians whose livelihoods depend on performing, especially in the wake of COVID-19. “Everyone has bills to pay,” Michelle said. Norman-based singer-songwriter Troy Alan started playing at Bluebonnet before Michelle and Tanner took over and a few dozen bottles of liquor lined the back wall. He began at the bar as a bass player in a friend’s band, but has since performed as a solo folk artist and even bartended at Bluebonnet. Now, Alan has a recurring spot every other Thursday night. Alan said not being able to perform for a few months before getting the call from Michelle about the recurring gig was particularly scary for him — in March, just before mass shutdowns began across Oklahoma, Alan quit his retail job, bought a pricey guitar and planned on making music his main hustle. Bluebonnet’s stage has been a way for Alan to re-enter the music scene with relative safety. Alan said while campus bars are packed, Bluebonnet stays a bit less attended. “I had a group of about 10 people right in front as I was playing. We just sat there and cracked jokes all night. ... I had the whole bar
singing along,” Alan said. “I don’t know how to describe it. It feels like home.” Alan said Bluebonnet has done a good job making space for new and local artists in a bar that spans decades. “They’ve renovated a little, but when you walk in there ... I don’t know if it’s a smell that hangs in the air or the beer stain on the floor that, despite mopping it a hundred times, you can’t clean it up ... there’s some history in the air there,” Alan said. “People have taken its legacy and are extending it into the future. They’re definitely doing a great job of preserving an old Oklahoma mainstay.” Another Norman-based singer-songwriter, Celia Monroe, is also a regular act for Bluebonnet and has been for about eight years. She now plays her acoustic stylings the first Wednesday of every month. Monroe’s first ever solo show was at Bluebonnet — or, in her words, “the Bonnet.” The bar has been a home base for Monroe during COVID-19, as it’s one of the only gigs she books lately. “Bluebonnet is definitely one of those ‘walk-in-and-you’ll-know-everyone’ (places). If you don’t know anybody, there’s gonna be somebody friendly being like, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Hope you’re having a good day,’” Monroe said. “On the general, it’s just a very welcoming, peaceful-natured bar.” Oklahoma-based band The Bottom of the Barrel has been playing at Bluebonnet for about two years. Lead singer Kasey Dillon said Bluebonnet was one of the first bars to give the band a chance, and the space allows them to try their new songs out for a crowd they can actually interact with. “You can literally see from 3 feet away people’s interest in it,” Dillon said. “You can really see people’s participation. ... If somebody gives you a tip, you can say thank you, and you can wave at them. ... It really feels like you’re part of the community when you’re there.” The Bottom of the Barrel brings a nontraditional fusion of bluegrass, outlaw country and rock ‘n’ roll to Bluebonnet every other
Wednesday night — a style of music Dillon said one fan accurately described as “bluegrass Eagles.” Dillon said Michelle and Tanner’s faithfulness to his band is encouraging and keeps them coming back to Bluebonnet. “They’re really good people ... they have a good crowd. Not always the biggest crowd, but it’s always a crowd that’s there to listen,” Dillon said. “We’ve played a lot of places where they couldn’t care less who was on stage, but the patrons there know they’re gonna hear a band that does their own thing.” Bluebonnet is a usual venue for Norman Music Festival, which is typically slated for spring but was canceled due to COVID-19. Michelle said she gave the organizers total support in canceling the festival despite what it meant to a venue like Bluebonnet. “We care more about people than we do about profits,” Michelle said. “Yes, of course there was a loss there, but it was well worth it for us.” Norman Music Festival usually brings close to 100,000 people through the bar’s door over the course of the weekend, but Michelle said the community did what it needed to do to remain safe — and to her, that matters most. “I have an autoimmune disorder, so I’m all for the safety of everyone. I get it. I don’t want to put anyone at risk,” Michelle said. None of Bluebonnet’s regulars or staff have tested positive for COVID-19, but Michelle said there’s procedures in place in the unfortunate event that somebody contracts the virus. The future for Bluebonnet is still a bright one, Michelle said, and hopefully one that continues for decades upon decades to come — but right now, they’re hoping for Norman Music Festival’s return in 2021. “My husband and I would like to own (Bluebonnet) for our lifetime. We’re gonna keep on maintaining our inclusivity and maintaining the local community and local artists,” Michelle said. “We have a bright future ahead of us.”
PHOTO BY TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
BY CALEB MCCOURRY
In September 2014, Tim Langford created a cross country course with a single lawn mower by himself. But it wasn’t a rider — it was a lawn mower the second-year South Carolina State track and field and cross country head coach used to cut his own yard with. Before it was made, Bulldog athletes trained with road runs and sometimes got permission to run on local golf courses. Determined to make a course his athletes could not only train on but host meets on as well, Langford put the mower in his trunk, drove to a plot of land 3 miles from the school’s campus in Orangeburg and mowed five hours a day for a week. The course is 5 miles. South Carolina State, which shared meet locations with other local schools, didn’t have the funding to make a new course. When Langford told Paul Bryant what he had planned, his athletic director didn’t believe it until Langford brought him to his new creation. “It was the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen,” said Bryant, who is now the athletic director at Edward Waters College. “That’s when I knew he was passionate about what he did.” This story of Langford doing anything to improve his team is just one of many in his coaching career that spans two decades. From a humble beginning, Langford is now the head coach of Oklahoma’s track and field and cross country program after getting the interim tag lifted in May 2020. While spending one year as OU’s interim head coach after the departure of Jim VanHootegem, Langford had four NCAA indoor qualifiers and two individual Big 12 titles — senior Jackson Webb in the 60-meter dash and freshman Lavinja Jurgens at high jump. And he’s currently OU’s only Black head coach, the first since former OU basketball head coach Jeff Capel’s departure in 2011, and the fourth Black head coach at OU ever — a feat Langford does not take lightly. Coming from South Carolina State, a historically Black university that lacks the funding or resources of a Power 5 school such as Oklahoma, Langford now has the power to not just build on a bigger program, but create a new culture of inclusion in NCAA coaching, which is a predominantly white career path. As of March, out of 6,406 coaches, there are 554 Black Division I coaches of non-historically Black colleges and universities in the country, per a study from the NCAA. To Langford, being hired by Oklahoma can serve as an example to athletic directors and all other aspiring coaches of what’s possible in college athletics. “If you look at the makeup of collegiate coaching and how many African Americans are in head coaching positions and at head coaching positions in Power Five institutions, it’s not a large
percentage,” Langford said. “And I truly feel that it’s my job, it’s my place to show that it can work, that we can have food at the table. We can do leadership, not just with other African Americans, but with all demographics. … Every demographic will respect you if you’re doing it, if you prove that you do it, and I don’t take it lightly that I’ve been granted the opportunity.” “It urges me,” said the coach who once cut a path where none existed, “to do such a good job that another institution models their program after what we do.”
‘I REALLY STARTED BETTING ON MYSELF IN EVERY SITUATION’ Langford understands perfectly why track and field and cross country is his calling. In the competitive sport, grueling training and conditioning pushes athletes to not only compete against the best, but to simply be better. “I stand on the line, there’s no play to call. It’s just me versus you,” Langford said. “It’s simply, ‘I’m better than you, and I’m going to prove it right here.’” But as a young kid, Langford had hoop dreams. In his neighborhood in Lynchburg, Virginia, he and his friends were playing basketball all through their younger years. It wasn’t until middle school that he began running track as a way to stay in shape. As he got older, he began competing in high jump at Heritage High School, something that he found success at. “Naturally,” Langford said, “you want to do what you’re what you’re gifted at. So, I got bitten by the track and field bug and never looked back.” So, in 1996 when Langford went to nearby Radford University, he wanted to walk on to the track and field team. However, there wasn’t a varsity indoor track team yet. It was a club, still being put together by then-head coach Al Barnes. It wouldn’t be an official team until after the 1997 season. As Barnes remembers it, meeting Langford was completely circumstantial. Barnes’ office was in one of the residence halls on campus and just outside of it was a piano. One day in 1997, Barnes was trying to work while Langford was outside playing it. “ I walked o u t and just
OU’s first-year coach Tim Lang�ord pushes through adversity, delivers success sort of went up to him and said, ‘Hey, do you mind going to the other residence hall?’” Barnes said. “I had a track shirt on, and he turned around, and we started talking about track, and he mentioned he’d like to be involved. And I was looking for walk-ons to start a program anyway, and it went from there.” Langford was the first official track athlete to join, and Barnes helped him land his first college coaching job. The two remain close to this day. From 1997 to 2000, Langford competed in high jump, triple jump, long jump, 100- and 400-meter relays for Barnes. In 1998, he became the first Big South conference champion in the school’s history in any event for high jump. He won it again the next year, but his first win is what Langford said changed his outlook on his mindset of the sport. “My coach walked over to me and said, ‘You’re the first conference champion in school history. Congratulations.’ And the rest of the meet was over. And my small team — almost ragtag in comparison to every other team because we were just starting so our numbers were low — everybody celebrated. We rushed the high jump mat, and it was like one of the biggest accomplishments in my life. “But at that point, I knew I could be successful. … That’s when I really started betting on myself in every situation.”
‘A HECK OF A COACH’ Langford first started thinking a b o u t coaching when he was in college, but his love of helping y o u n g p e o p l e came when he was one himself. As his mother, Mary Langford, describes it, his home i n
COURTESY OF OU ATHLETICS
Lynchburg was a place where all the neighborhood kids were welcome. Langford said his trait of helping kids comes from Mary and his father, Willie. “He loves young people,” Mary said. “And the more he can bring together, he don’t care. He would bring home kids from school if they were hungry. He was like, ‘Mom, they don’t have no food at home.’ This was the house where all the kids from the neighborhood came. … Everybody was always welcome here. If he saw that another kid needed something or a family member needed something, they would come and tell me. And if there was any way that we could help, we did.” After graduating from Radford in 2000, Langford went back to Heritage High for his first coaching job. Soon after, he got a call from Barnes asking him if he’d like to be an assistant at High Point University, which Barnes said he knew Langford was always able to do since he started coaching him. While still competing at Radford, Langford would help Barnes develop the new track and field club by recruiting talent among his friends or people he played basketball with. “We get a lot of athletes that have that talent, work ethic, then you get to the ones that want to continue to learn and want to know,” Barnes said. “He was always asking questions, always wanting to learn more. He was a student of the sport right off the bat. He became a leader. “Throw that highly competitive nature in the mix and you got a heck of an athlete. And then, as we learned, a heck of a coach, too.” While at High Point and working with the humble salary of a young coach, Langford got additional jobs as well, working at Home Depot and playing music for local churches. Langford described weeks where he would work at Home Depot from 6 to 8 a.m., teach activity classes during the day, coach in the afternoon and work as a study hall monitor in the evening. Langford also had to compete with larger schools for recruiting athletes — a challenge for acquiring acclaimed high school talents. During his humble beginnings as an assistant coach, the long hours and extra jobs were a necessity. But these were hurdles, Lanford said, that he embraced. “You knew you weren’t going to have the same resources, but you were going after the same talent,” Langford said. “You knew you weren’t going to make the salary from the Power Five schools were going to make. “Some people (think), ‘Well, if you pay me enough, I’ll do a good job.’ In my mindset, it’s just the opposite. I’m going to do such a good job that the people that can pay me will come looking.” Langford coached at High Point for two years before taking the head coaching job at Charleston Southern in 2003. He coached there 10 years before landing his second head coaching job at SCSU in 2013. With over a decade of coaching under his belt, Langford didn’t have to work other jobs like he did at High Point, but the program still struggled financially, and Langford still had to defer to his work ethic to make ends meet for his team. In December 2018, Langford became an Uber driver to raise money to buy warmup apparel. That year, track and field and cross country’s equipment budget was $12,000. Athletes had one uniform, and for two-day meets they would have to reuse them. The team needed money for basic necessities. So, Langford made a deal with his team: Whatever amount of money his team raised, he’d
match it by driving for Uber. His team raised just under $2,000, so Langford said he kept his promise and drove for Uber until he made the same amount. From creating a cross country course to driving for Uber, Bryant — Langford’s former athletic director at South Carolina State — witnessed him do whatever he could for the program to get what it needed. “It just showed me his commitment to the program, regardless of the amount of money he was getting paid, or how much we were giving to the program,” Bryant said. “He was committed. And that was something that for me, it meant everything as the athletic director.” In his 10 years at Charleston Southern, he produced nine NCAA Championship qualifiers and won Big South Track Coach of the Year four times. At South Carolina State, Langford produced talents such as Tyrell Richard, a 400-meter indoor NCAA national champion, and Demek Kemp, a 60-meter U.S. champion, all while Langford was fighting through these aforementioned challenges. The hard work paid off in 2019, when VanHootegem called Langford and asked if he’d be interested in taking men’s sprints and hurdles in the direction he’d taken at Charleston Southern and South Carolina State. “I knew what type of Olympians they had coming from Oklahoma,” Langford said. “It seemed like they had all the tools here to be successful.”
‘YOU CAN CHANGE THINGS FROM THE INSIDE’ Outside of OU’s athletic department offices, on the third floor of the north side of Gaylord FamilyOklahoma Memorial Stadium, there’s a wall missing a picture. The wall features a picture of every head coach at the school – from a headshot of Lincoln Riley to an in-game photo of Patty Gasso coaching a player – except Langford’s. That’s his spot. After almost two decades of rising up the coaching ranks at smaller schools, and fighting through the adversity that comes with it, Langford is a part of a Power Five program that has more resources than he’s ever had at a school. But with that comes the fact that Langford
will be the only Black head coach on that wall. To Langford, having his picture on that wall is a testament to what Black coaches are capable of in the world of college athletics. Soon, it’ll be there. “I’ve always been of the philosophy that you can change things from the inside,” Langford said, “and you do it because you earn it. … (Becoming the official head coach) made me feel like what I was doing was working. Because the second part of it is yes, you got it. But other athletic directors will look at me and say, ‘If it worked for Oklahoma, it can work for me,’ whatever institution that may be.” Langford realized his responsibility when he was named interim head coach in August 2019. In the team meeting when VanHootegem stepped down, OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione announced to the team Langford would take over as interim head coach. In response, athletes stood up and asked Castiglione how they could make sure Langford’s stay became permanent. “It was humbling. It was really so humbling,” Langford said. “Obviously, you want to jump in with both feet and do the best job you can. And I think it was gratifying because the kids saw my commitment to their success. That meant a lot to me.” In May of 2020, Langford had an evaluation meeting with Castiglione and had his interim title lifted. “It was a dream come true for me,” Langford said. “It really solidified some of the decisions that I’ve made, some of the investments that I’ve made on myself. It made me feel really good about betting on me. “It was it was like an ability to exhale ... but at the same time, it kind of reinvigorated me, like, ‘OK, let’s really get to work.’” Now, in his first year as OU track and field and cross country’s head coach, Langford is facing new challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But with what he’s accomplished as a coach for two decades, Langford is ready for any hurdle thrown at him. “They’re gonna have places that they name after him because of his passion for the sport,” Bryant said. “I think people need to take heed to who he is. … (OU has) got someone who was really student-centered and will do whatever it takes for the betterment of his program and his studentathletes.”
PHOTO BY TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
Wall of head coaches’ photos with Coach Langford’s designated spot ready.
A TOWN DIVIDED BY BETH WALLIS The Norman City Council decision to adjust the police department budget leads to lasting community division. During a raging pandemic, a surging social justice movement and a vitriolic stage of national election politics, one Oklahoma city council took a vote. A vote that came after nearly 11 hours of heated, impassioned discussion that night and nearly six hours from the previous week’s meeting. A vote that would fundamentally alter the political landscape of the town. A vote whose trajectory would cause such division in the community it earned itself a national spotlight. Neighbor turned against neighbor. Death threats and violent harassment became regular occurrences. And a national conversation about the role of policing in communities found a smoldering hotbed in Norman, Oklahoma. On June 16, the Norman City Council voted to cut $865,000 from a proposed increase to the city’s police department budget and reallocate it to community outreach. While the department still saw a $104,000 increase from the previous year’s budget, the vote symbolized, to some, a signal of the devaluation of police officers. To others, it symbolized a move toward racial justice in policing — something that Norman, a former sundown town until the early 1960s with a racial makeup of 77 percent white people and 5 percent Black people, has a more than complex history with. Normanites found themselves caught in the middle of a town being ripped apart at the seams. In the months that followed, numerous groups marketing themselves as supportive of either the council and mayor or the police sprung up around the city. Community social media pages were brimming with contentious comment sections, council members and community organizers feared for the safety of their families, and one group would eventually attempt to unseat half of the city council and mayor.
‘WE HAD TO DO SOMETHING.’ On June 9, the Norman Collective for Racial Justice occupied a city council budget meeting, weeks after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. In the meeting, the council planned to vote on the budget for the Norman Police Department — an allocation that normally makes up 27 percent of the city’s total budget and is the largest share of any department. Dozens of demonstrators lined up to comment on the budget proposal and cheer on speakers. Among the demands from the collective were to defund and demilitarize the police, increase transparency and accountability, provide justice
for victims of Norman police an end the School Resource Officer program. Ashley and Elisa, spokespeople for NC4RJ who asked their last names not be used for safety concerns, said they’d tried earlier in the summer to present their budget ideas about NPD to Norman Mayor Breea Clark. Elisa said Clark told them it was too late to submit proposals to the budget, and that the situation might “teach (them) to care about city government when nothing is going on.” After nearly six hours, the council nonetheless decided to postpone the budget decision to allow time for revision. One week later, the council returned to a packed city hall for a meeting that would end in the early hours of the morning the next day. “(Clark) told me two weeks before that it was too late to change the budget at all,” Elisa said. “But then here we were at a budget meeting weeks later at 4 a.m — literally at 4 a.m. in the chamber hall, changing the budget. I was just like, ‘I don’t understand what you were doing between these weeks.’ Things could have been changed.” At the June 16 meeting, then-Ward 8 Councilmember Alex Scott — now a Democratic candidate for Oklahoma Senate — proposed a $4.5 million cut to the NPD budget that would allocate $3.5 million to the Public Safety Sales Tax fund to the reconstruction and relocation of a fire station in Ward 5, $715,000 to improve the city’s stormwater drainage and sewer, $235,000 to an internal audit function and $50,000 back to NPD for additional officer sensitivity training. “This amendment basically cuts the salaries and benefits of the police department in half,” Scott said at the meeting. “And while I don’t expect it to pass, I do expect it to cause a conversation about … how we solve this problem.” Scott went on to detail several instances involving the NPD. Once in 2013, she said a friend called Norman police after a burglary and was interrogated by the officer, who asked the victim — a Black man — if he sold drugs, and the department failed to follow up on his burglary investigation. In another incident in 2014, Scott said her friend was raped outside of her work and there was “no follow up and no justice.” In 2015, Scott said she was assaulted near her home and was told by a Norman officer that “sex crimes are not treated as a priority in the City of Norman,” and that “unless you deface property or try to pass a hot check, the case would not take priority.” Scott said there was no follow-up. Scott brought up Marconia Kessee, a Norman man with a history of mental illness who was
dragged through the Norman Regional Hospital parking lot by two Norman officers. Kessee had been released from the hospital after an emergency room examination for a headache and had refused to leave. The hospital cited Kessee with trespassing, and officers dragged Kessee across the parking lot to the patrol car for an arrest. According to the police body cam video, officers refer to Kessee’s apparent psychosis as “bullshit,” and tell Kessee, who is homeless, to “get over (him)self” and walk across the street to a homeless shelter. Kessee, who is shaking and falling while trying to stand, is asked if he’s “putting on a show” so he “can have somewhere to stay.” “I’m not above dragging you off this property,” one officer says to Kessee. As they drag him to their car, an officer tells an onlooker that Kessee is “like a small child who doesn’t want to listen.” Two hours later, Kessee was found dead in a Cleveland County jail cell. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner Office ruled the death an accident caused by drug toxicity. Scott said she was also contacted by a resident whose daughter had been “violently raped.” While in the hospital, Scott said an officer “disbelieved, disrespected and disregarded” the survivor’s testimony and told the 19-year-old she “shouldn’t have been drinking.” Scott also referenced a May 5 internal email in which Norman Officer Jacob McDonough sent a picture depicting the Ku Klux Klan from the movie “Django Unchained.” Finally, Scott recalled an experience she had with the NPD in which she called officers to her house late one night in May after repeated issues with a stalker. She said even though she told the officers about a six-week history of stalking, they began writing down the information only after she called NPD Deputy Chief Executive Officer Ricky Jackson. She said she felt condescended to and not taken seriously. Following Scott’s testimony, Norman residents argued with council members and one another into the early hours of the morning. Residents told harrowing stories of being targeted or protected by the NPD. After tears, shouts, cheers and impassioned arguments, the council decided on the final cut from the proposed increase: $865,000. In an interview with the Norman Fraternal Order of the Police, Norman Police Chief Kevin Foster said his biggest concern was that the council cut nine positions — which had PHOTO BY TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
Senate-elect and former Norman Ward 8 Councilmember Alex Scott on Oct. 13.
PHOTO BY TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
Norman Ward 1 Councilmember Kate Bierman on Oct. 14.
been previously left unfilled — from 180 authorized positions. Foster said what was concerning about the decision was that the cut came from police salaries and benefits, rather than allowing him to go through the budget and suggest cuts from other NPD areas. Ward 1 Councilmember Kate Bierman said in an interview she had hoped the council would have come up with a plan before the June 16 meeting. “I was expecting a more thoroughly developed plan to have emerged prior to the meeting, and it didn’t,” Bierman said. “And so Councilmember Scott’s amendment was certainly a non-starter for most of us. But we didn’t feel like we couldn’t not act. We had to act. We had to do something.” Ward 7 Councilmember Stephen Holman said in an interview that every department wanted an increase and many did not receive them. He said considering the drastic decrease in sales tax revenue from the pandemic, the $104,000 increase was a fair expectation. Ward 3 Councilmember Alison Petrone said in an interview she felt like the compromise “struck a fair balance for everybody involved,” and it freed money to reallocate to social services such as social work professionals equipped to handle mental health crises in lieu of police officers. In an interview, former Ward 5 Council member Sereta Wilson — who has since stepped down from her seat citing financial issues from the pandemic — said she felt that while the $4.5 million proposed cut would have been “shocking” and “not the fair thing to do” to NPD officers and their families, she felt like the compromise of $865,000 was a move she could stand behind. “I feel very proud of what we did that night, even though I know it had a lot of backlash in the community, a lot of backlash politically,” Wilson said. Soon, that political backlash would mobilize. Two Norman residents who weren’t in attendance, but later watched the meeting, saw this moment as a call to action.
‘WE KNEW WE WEREN’T HAPPY’ When Norman residents Sassan Moghadam and Russell Smith heard the city council had voted to cut most of the proposed increase for the NPD budget, they didn’t yet know each other. But, the
two had the same idea: Recall the council. Moghadam said when he went to the city clerk’s office to pick up provisions for a recall, he was told he wasn’t the only one who wanted to unseat the mayor and councilmembers. After Moghadam and Smith met, the pair joined forces to found Unite Norman. “Because members of our city council did not represent their values while campaigning and have subsequently exhibited some of the most divisive and embarrassing behavior that Norman has ever witnessed, we will recall those holding seats in wards 1, 3, 5 and 7, as well as the mayor,” reads the goal statement on the group’s website. In addition to Clark, the group focused its recall efforts on all Councilmembers eligible for recall: Ward 1 Council member Bierman, Ward 3 Council member Petrone, then-Ward 5 Councilmember Wilson and Ward 7 Councilmember Holman. Chief among its complaints and similarly to the Norman Collective for Racial Justice, Unite Norman took issue with the last-minute nature in which the NPD cut was decided. “What bothered us a lot was that they worked on the budget for five months,” Smith said. “And the mayor worked on it for five months, talking to experts and presumably people across the aisle. And then all of a sudden, they cut (the budget) at 3 in the morning.” The issue of the meeting’s length was something Unite Norman and Bierman could also agree on. She said in an interview if Unite Norman ever starts an initiative petition to limit the length of city council meetings, she’d eagerly sign it. “I will make a big public display. I will Facebook Live me walking up to one of their petition tents to sign that petition,” Bierman said. “Because I don’t believe that good decision-making can happen at 3 a.m. I also don’t believe that it’s fair to the public to sacrifice so much of their day or their evening or their sleep, to be at city council to participate in
PHOTO BY TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
Former Norman Ward 5 Councilmember Sereta Wilson on Oct. 14.
whatever the final outcome is.” Moghadam and Smith said when they called the first Unite Norman meeting, they didn’t realize how many residents would want to join them. Moghadam, a developer, said 250 people showed up to the meeting, hosted at one of his construction sites. “We really didn’t anticipate this movement to be this big,” Moghadam said. “We just asked people what they wanted, and we didn’t have an agenda. We knew that we weren’t happy with the direction that the council was going. And we were given the mandate to not only recall the mayor, but recall four council members.” From that meeting forward, Unite Norman mobilized all over the city. The group filed the recall petitions July 10 and set up booths in parking lots and city easements and knocked on doors asking residents to sign.
Wilson said while Unite Norman’s rhetoric is appealing to some Normanites, she doesn’t think the group will be able to win over the city. “I don’t think they’re going to win,” Wilson said. “They might have won some small battles, but they’re not going to win the war.”
‘THEIR MISSION IS TO BREAK ME’ Even before the June 16 meeting, Clark was no stranger to harassment. After a controversial shelter-in-place order and city-wide mask mandate, Clark reported a Facebook post that read, “Mayor dipshit needs to be pulled out of office and tried on the courthouse lawn … the problem with politicians, they don’t get hung in public anymore … #bringbackpublichangings!” NPD’s investigation revealed the post had been made by Eddie Zaicek — a police officer in Lexington, a small town 30 miles south of Norman. Zaicek initially denied posting the comment and said his account had been hacked. He eventually admitted to writing and posting the message, but investigators found no indication of a direct threat to public safety. He had posted the message on the Facebook page Re-Open Norman — a group advocating against a shelter-in-place order made by Clark. Clark continued to be harassed. She posted a screenshot from June 22 in which an individual writes in all caps, “We know you are part of the new world order agenda, after we take back our country, you (will) be arrested for committing treason, that’s a promise so don’t get comfortable, you communist socialist b----. Your f---ing day is coming. Make no mistake you are f---ing with the wrong people here in the United States. You are a traitor to the people of Oklahoma.” Bierman said harassment directed at her moved past the local political sphere into the realm of national politics. She said she was criticized for failing to make Norman a “sanctuary city for the unborn,” for her “foul language” on her personal podcast and the rumor she had a “George-Sorosfunded radical leftist agenda.” “It’s one thing to disagree with me on a policy action that I actually took,” Bierman said. “And it’s a completely different thing to tie our local nonpartisan city council races to national political trends. Because we have a tendency to fail to recognize the humanity of our national elected officials.” Bierman said Unite Norman supporters have threatened to protest outside of her house and perform a citizen’s arrest on her. They have driven by her house asking if she was Kate Bierman and replied to her answer with, “F--- you, Unite Norman!” Wilson said she’s also faced aggressive harassment and threats. Even before the June 16 decision, she said she was told to die and to be careful when she ran errands, and anti-abortion groups threatened to kill her for the fetal “sanctuary city” issue. Wilson stepped down from the Ward 5 position after the pandemic put a heavy financial burden on the small business owner. Even though leaving the council seat in July meant no recall for her, she said she was still targeted and threatened by recall supporters. Wilson said one individual told her he had a video of her being sodomized that he would show everyone. Neighbors drove by her house screaming expletives. Another individual called her repeatedly saying he was going to kill her. “I just had it,” Wilson said. “I was working in my
office … and I had a pie pan or a cookie pan and a wooden spoon, and he kept calling. So I just would say, ‘bam, bam, bam, bam, bam!’ Every time he called me, ‘bam bam!’” Wilson laughed and added, “I guess I’m kind of an asshole.” While Petrone declined to specify the threats and harassment she’s received, she said the harassment she’s gotten since the meeting has “amped up in a volume that would be hard to even describe at this point.” Ward 6 Councilmember Elizabeth Foreman, who works as an administrative coordinator at the OU Health Sciences Center Police Department, wasn’t elected to her seat until weeks after the June meeting, but she said she’s still disturbed by the threats other council members received. During the Sept. 22 meeting in which the council passed a measure to penalize unmasked gatherings of over 25 — an order Unite Norman eventually unsuccessfully challenged in court — Foreman said hearing threats from residents was shocking and “completely terrifying.” “I can tell you what,” said a resident at the council meeting who identified himself as an Iraqi war veteran. “You can make any law you want to, but you come into my house, telling me that I have to wear this stupid (mask), and you’re going to have a firefight on your hands. I’m not backing down. I’m not scared of any of you.” While council members retold their harassment episodes, several mentioned the experience of Scott. Norman Officer John Barbour shared bodycam footage on YouTube from the encounter with officers following issues with a stalker that Scott had described in the June 16 meeting. The footage showed the front of Scott’s house. Barbour said he got the video from another person who obtained it through an open records request. Barbour also shared Scott’s arrest record, saying she was involved in a “protest turned riot.” In truth, Scott was arrested for misdemeanor obstruction after she strapped herself to a flagpole outside President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa on June 20. Norman Master Police Officer Michael Lauderback shared the police incident report and location of Scott’s 2015 sexual assault — an incident that happened by her home — to a Norman ward Facebook page. City of Norman spokesperson Annahlyse Meyer told The Norman Transcript that although NPD conducted an internal investigation, the city cannot prevent officers from sharing public information. June 27, Scott’s neighbor, a woman who lives in the same duplex, reported being raped at her residence by a stranger. The neighbor said the man approached her from behind and said, “Maybe next time you’ll learn your lesson, b----,” before raping her. The neighbor said she recognized her rapist’s voice from one of Scott’s threatening voicemails. said in She voicemail, the the man had referenced Scott as “being a dumb b---- for trying to burn
the flag in Tulsa.” Norman police handed the investigation over to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which is still looking into the case. After the rape, Scott said in an interview she continued to be inundated with threats. She was told she deserved to be hanged from the same flag pole she climbed in Tulsa, and that hopefully she wouldn’t get robbed because police wouldn’t help her. Another person told her she should be buried under the jail. Sept. 22, Scott — a vegetarian — woke up to severed duck heads and chicken feet all over her lawn. When Scott listed her death threats and harassment episodes, her tone stayed casual. “I’m completely desensitized,” Scott said. “With the death threats, the assault threats, the things that they’re saying, they’re trying to dehumanize and tear me down — their mission is to break me. And instead of breaking me, I’ve just completely stepped outside of myself.” Council member Holman said in an interview that in his 11 years on council, he’s noticed he doesn’t receive the same caliber of attacks as his female counterparts. He said especially lately, attacks against the council have “appeared to be much more intense” and directed at female council members. Council members aren’t the only ones on the receiving end of harassment. According to Moghadam, when Unite Norman set up their booths on public right-of-ways, several business owners were called and threatened with boycotts if they did not have the organization move. Smith said the group received repeated messages threatening to run the group members over, burn their houses down and shoot them. A Unite Norman spokesperson said they sent The Daily proof of these threats, but the package has not arrived by time of publication. Smith said people came to Unite Norman booths with billy clubs on several occasions, screaming, “F--- America! F--- Unite Norman!” and refusing to leave. He said one man parked his car near the booths, laid on his car horn, then “spread his butt cheeks” at female volunteers. Smith said he also received messages telling him what he was doing outside his house at any given moment, indicating he was being surveilled. He said Unite Norman has asked the council to condemn threats of violence against the group, but the council has not responded. Holman said Unite Norman has not reached out to the council with instances of harassment for the members to comment on. In mid-July, a Facebook group called the Norman Police Accountability Project surfaced, posting pictures of NPD officers and links to their addresses. Moghadam said the threats have shown him an ugly side of Norman. “Of course, we’re concerned,” Moghadam said. “You know, I have a family — I want to see my grandkids around, be around for my grandkids… The downside to not (carrying arms for protection) is what’s frightening. The PHOTO BY TREY YOUNG/THE DAILY
Norman Ward 6 Councilmember Elizabeth Foreman on Oct. 15.
threat of people terrorizing you and intimidating you, I don’t want to live in that society.”
‘OUR KIDS ARE WATCHING US.’ In the end, after the signatures were counted and over 3,600 signatures for the mayor’s petition were found to be invalid, Petrone was the only one of the five targeted council members who could have faced a recall election. However, on Oct. 14, the Norman Transcript reported the city clerk and legal staff had reviewed the signatures and found eight duplicates, bringing the total number of signatures down to three below the requirement. But the issue of whether the NPD received a reduction in funding is still being debated by both camps. Even though the department ultimately received a $104,000 increase, Moghadam said the group still considers the cut a reduction due to inflation. “I think that a lot of people are coming up with creative ways to be angry,” Petrone said when asked about Unite Norman’s reasoning. “... We made sure that our officers — no one lost their job and no one lost their raise. … We were actually very careful about being intentional that we weren’t actively hurting any of our officers.” Foster said the department is “continuously working to maintain minimum staffing levels for some shifts despite the cuts in staffing” that resulted from the budget cuts. He said the department needs funds for training so it doesn’t have to rely on seizure funds. He also said the department’s morale has taken a hit. Foster said 10 officers have resigned or retired since the June 16 meeting. He said while none “directly cited” the city council’s budget cut as the only reason they left the department, he said it was “clear it was a determining factor.” The department is accepting applications for its next police academy. Unite Norman filed a lawsuit against Norman City Clerk Brenda Hall after the petition signature counts fell short. Moghadam said because of the city charter, if a Norman resident moved into a different ward and did not change their address with the election board, their signature would be rendered invalid. Because a mayoral recall affects the whole city, Moghadam argued those signatures should still be counted. Moghadam and Smith said while their movement may be stalled in one area, it’s just beginning in others. The pair said they intend to file initiative petitions and open a permanent office in Norman. Smith said that even with the added stress in his life, he’s proud of the movement they’ve created and its growth despite the pandemic. “I want my kids to see that there is sacrifice in trying to change the direction of your city,” Smith said. As Petrone goes forward in governing a city divided, she said she will continue to “model respect” for her neighbors, and ultimately hopes the community will remember that the future of Norman is taking notes. “Our kids are watching us,” Petrone said. “And I don’t know what other people’s vision is for the future, but my vision is that my kids will be empathetic, compassionate, civic-minded, and that we lead with mercy and grace and intelligence, and that the future is a bright place. I just hope that people can remember that their kids are watching.” Note: Ward 4 Councilmember Lee Hall, Ward 5 Councilmember Michael Nash, Ward 8 Councilmember Matt Peacock and mayor Clark did not return requests for comment.
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