Politics, like most of life, isn’t all about pleasing people in the moment or creating instant gratification. Sometimes leaders get the privilege of making hard and unpopular decisions that ultimately better all of us.
But the Norman City Council’s vote in the wee hours of Wednesday, a decision that will direct $500,000 toward a proposed mobile crisis response unit, is the one that genuinely seems best and most agreeable to the whole political spectrum of Norman residents, a compromise that will hopefully prove valuable to our city in the long run.
The city will get to fund and experiment with a mobile crisis response unit for mental and behavioral health calls, among other needs, an experiment I hope to see succeed in our city. If a budget is indeed “a moral document” as our council has reminded us this year, this budget amendment affirms our city’s commitment to doing better for Norman residents dealing with mental illness and to reducing even the remote potential for harmful interactions in our community.
The money for the experiment will come from our general fund, not from our police department, a last-minute amendment to the amendment that seemed to clear many of the worries residents brought to Tuesday’s meeting.
We now shift into decisions about how to model and create this unit, and how to execute that alternative model of response and care we get to build from scratch. Let’s hope empathy, clear communication, a willingness to learn, collaboration and humility are at the heart of this process.
As we move forward, I hope we’ll remember a few things as a city. If a budget is a moral document, our city’s morals don’t only matter at the last minute in June, and they don’t only matter when it comes to how we fund law enforcement (though how we approach safety and policing in our community is and should be an essential and ongoing discussion).
Our expression of our morals matters when it comes to how we treat our city’s unhoused — not just how we vote on homeless shelter funding, but how we actually think about and talk about and act toward these neighbors. It matters in how we tackle issues like flooding and stormwater that affect all of us; it matters in how we envision a more inclusive approach to even building our budget.
It’s encouraging to see so many sign up to speak during public comment sections at annual budget meetings, but let’s keep this energy the rest of the year, and let’s continue to create ways to draw more people into this process.
While it didn’t pass Tuesday night, and while $1 million seems a large ask to start off, I do applaud the imaginative and inclusive thinking behind Elizabeth Foreman’s participatory budgeting amendment. I hope the council continues to sit with this idea and works out how to pilot a smaller participatory program in the future.
As Norman residents become more invested in having their voices heard at budget meetings, offering a participatory budgeting process that allows them to put their ideas into action and live out the “budgeting as a reflection of our morals” concept provides residents with a more inclusive, accessible and democratic way to contribute to their city’s decisions. It gives participants to think about their budget, their needs and their morals well before June or before one marathon meeting.
There are, of course, not-as-applause-worthy aspects of Tuesday’s budget meeting. But today, in the tired aftermath of another 3 a.m. meeting, let’s think about the potential ahead of us. Let’s continue to commit to a future where we imagine better for all of us.