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Residents call for order at city meetings

Marc Thompson speaks during an Oct. 25 Midwest City City Council meeting. Thompson and several residents condemned Coucilwoman Sara Bana for her connection to activists. Photo by Jeff Harrison

Councilwoman criticized for involvement with activist group

By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon

Several Midwest City residents expressed dismay about actions at a previous city council meeting and a council member they believe was largely responsible for it.

Ward 5 Councilwoman Sara Bana and a group of fellow activists at a Sept. 27 meeting pushed the council to sever ties with the Oklahoma County Jail and the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council. The council voted not to renew a contract with CJAC at the end of the contentious meeting that lasted more than 5 ½ hours.

The group of residents said they were upset about the lack of decorum during the previous meeting and efforts by nonresidents to impact city business. They believe Bana overstepped her bounds as a city official by leading a protest outside city hall before the meeting and working with the activist group called People’s Council for Justice Reform.

Six residents aired their grievances at the Oct. 25 city council meeting, during the public comments portion of the agenda. At that time, the council invites the public to address the council on any matters, but councilmembers are prohibited from responding.

Bana later told the Beacon during a phone interview that she values freedom of speech and believes feedback from residents is a sign of a healthy democracy.

“I want to let residents know that I love each and every one of them as human beings and Americans,” she said. “I appreciate their investment in our democracy and engagement with our local government which ultimately belongs to the people. I respect their perceptions, experiences, and their voices. I intend to be their public servant and to serve all people with empathy, equity, and compassion.”

Marc Thompson, a citizen, commended the city council and staff for their handling of what he considered an “attack” on the municipal government, while condemning Bana for her involvement with the activists.

“[Bana] intentionally led a small invasion of activists and malcontents who held this council literally in captivity for 5 ½ hours,” Thompson said. “It was a horrible thing to witness. It was completely unnecessary and very unfortunate.”

Ted Nugent, a resident, and business owner, said Bana and activists turned the meeting into a “clown show” with unfounded accusations of political wrongdoing and an agenda to shutdown CJAC and the county jail.

“Many people that I’ve talked to were appalled at the circus,” he said.

Brittany Hussein, a resident, said she was disappointed in the number of “recruited speakers” who addressed the council at the Sept. 27 meeting. Hussein was the only Midwest City resident to speak about the CJAC item at the meeting.

“I would have much rather seen people from your wards here to support your ideas and opinions,” she said. “I’d much rather have seen that than people from other cities who really made a scene out of our council meeting.”

Suzi Byrne, wife of councilman Pat Byrne and a longtime resident, said the previous meeting was not a proper representation of the city or its values.

“I felt like we were being bullied and belittled,” she said. “There was no decorum. People were yelling things out. They were rude and disrespectful to the council and city staff. And to all of us. And I for one, don’t like it and am not going to stand for it.”

Bana believed some of the criticism went too far, but said she has thick skin.

“I do acknowledge however that there were biases, discrimination and sexism in some of the comments that were shared,” she said. “Nonetheless, people have a right to those opinions, and it is my job to hear those and listen to those and to be respectful.”

Bana said she would like to see the council have clearer guidelines on procedures and policies. The city council uses Robert’s Rules of Order, a guide to parliamentary procedures. Bana believes the interpretation of the procedures are often decided by the mayor.

“My experience tells me that the mayor kind of does what he wants at this point, and that’s where we’re at,” Bana said.

She said that was highlighted during the Sept. 27 meeting when the council abruptly ended the public comment period about an item related to the county jail. Chris Johnston, a member of the People’s Council for Justice Reform, pointed to the number of deaths at the jail as well as failed inspections and investigations, before suggesting impropriety among the council.

“I don’t care who’s donated your campaigns. I don’t care who you’re friends with,” Johnston said.

Ward 4 Councilman Sean Reed immediately shouted, “That’s offensive” and Ward 1 Councilwoman Susan Eads demanded to end discussion.

“I move to close discussion right now. Right now,” Eads said.

The motion to end public discussion passed 6-1. Bana cast the lone nay vote on the motion to close discussion, calling it a violation of free speech.

A video clip of the interaction was shared on Reddit and The Young Turks YouTube channel, which resulted in numerous threatening phone calls and emails to City Hall and city leaders and staff, according to city officials.

Bana said the emotional response amplified the issue.

“I think for our city and for the sake of democracy, I think it would’ve been better to allow the gentleman to finish his thoughts,” she said. “And no one needed to respond to that and no one needed to shut him down. There was no hate speech. They didn’t need to validate it or call it false. I think it was that back and forth that put us on that national spectrum.”

Bana agrees that the Sept. 27 meeting was a departure from the norm but did not think it was over the line.

“I don’t even believe our meeting on Sept. 27 was that bad,” she said. “I’ve been to many meetings where things got a lot worse. And a lot of things were said.”

Mayor Matt Dukes said the city leaders are currently evaluating policies and procedures for city council meetings. He expects to present any changes before the end of the year.

 

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