The past two Norman city council meetings have sparked an intense discussion about everything from abortion to what direction council members are facing when community members address them.
For the uninitiated, more than two weeks ago, a Norman resident discussed his views on abortion during the miscellaneous comments portion of the city council meeting.
This portion of the meeting is set aside for residents to address the city council on whatever topic they have in mind.
Sometimes people discuss business the council discussed during the meeting, other times people bring specific grievances they have, and sometimes people play music.
During this resident’s comments, two city council members, Kate Bierman of Ward 1 and Alex Scott of Ward 8, turned in their chairs to face away from the speaker in silent protest. That started a firestorm of comments on the Facebook ward pages and in the community about whether Bierman and Scott were justified in their actions.
This past city council meeting, on Tuesday, Bierman and Scott, along with Ward 5 representative Sereta Wilson, held up signs during the comment portion of the meeting that presented state statistics on things like the number of children in the foster care system.
Unsurprisingly, abortion is a controversial topic. People feel very strongly about it, regardless of which side of the issue they fall on. It’s been a national topic of debate for decades.
Abortion policy is set at the national and — to an extent — at the state level. It’s not something city government can do anything about. There are plenty of other issues the city council and city staff have substantive control over.
However, as we editorialized in the past, we support the miscellaneous comments section of the meeting, unrestricted on topic. Restricting speech is never the answer.
Democracy is messy, and such a policy can lead to some uncomfortable or just irrelevant discussions, but that doesn’t mean the council should impose topic restrictions.
Some residents are angry regarding the council members’ actions.
If you feel that way, the most effective way to express that opinion is at the ballot box. Every two years, residents have an opportunity to elect representatives.
If Wilson, Scott and Bierman’s constituents disagree with their actions during meetings, they can vote for their opponents. If they support the actions, those constituents can choose to re-elect them.
At its core, this debate is about how we interact with each other, particularly when we have strongly held opposing views.
No one’s opinion about abortion will be changed at a city council meeting. But the drama that ensues, inflamed by social media, does not add value to these discussions.
Some people have asked why The Transcript didn’t cover these two interactions (news editor Mack Burke reported on the first in his March 1 city council recap, and we discussed it in an editorial last week), enough that the editorial board thought it was important to comment. City council members represent the people in their wards. Those people, those voters, hold them accountable.
It’s not The Transcript’s job to police the direction of city council members’ chairs during council meetings — the newsroom’s job is to report on decisions they make that impact our daily lives, decisions about things like zoning restrictions, quality-of-life initiatives and infrastructure work. Something we’ve done for decades and will continue to do.
There’s not a lot of value in highlighting this kind of drama. Our focus as a community should be on how we move forward, whether we approve three major infrastructure initiatives on the ballot in April and on the things that bring us together as a community.