HEALTH

Commissioners hand redistricting off to partisan staff at Okla Legislature

OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) voted Monday to hand over responsibility for redistricting the county to the staff of the Republican-held Oklahoma Legislature. 

Currently, Oklahoma County has three districts, each represented by a county commissioner elected from the voters in that district.

In other matters, the Board voted to amend several contracts with private attorneys to represent their interests in several matters of litigation, as well as approving controversial school resource officers at several local schools.

Government according to columnist Marty Peercy

Partisan Redistricting

In a scene reminiscent of much of the last two years of action at the BoCC, partisanship won the day on Monday in discussions of redistricting.

District 2 Commissioner Kevin Calvey proposed a resolution to allow the redistricting of the Oklahoma County Commissioner Districts to be completed by the staff of the Oklahoma State House of Representatives and/or the staff of the Oklahoma State Senate.

Calvey’s assertion was that the state has the software and experience for this task, and that it would save county resources.

District 3 Commissioner Carrie Blumert, one of only two Democrats among the county’s elected officials, raised concerns. The other Democrat is DA David Prater.

Blumert asked first if this resolution had been looked at by the District Attorney’s office as to form and legality. Calvey claimed he did not know. 

Calvey’s Chief Deputy addressed the question saying that all counties except for Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties have traditionally relied on this method for redistricting. Calvey followed up by saying that if it was illegal, the County would still be in keeping with other counties.

Blumert also asked if the item had been before the Policy and Governance Committee, a board made of each Commissioner’s Chief Deputy. Traditionally, that committee discusses and researches any major policy decision.

Blumert’s counterparts, Calvey and District 2 Commissioner Maughan, each said that this was not a policy decision. Blumert countered that the decision will affect governance in Oklahoma County for the next ten years. Maughan responded that it was the same every ten years since statehood.

Blumert’s Chief Deputy, Joe Blough, added to the conversation that the BoCC previously established a fair way to do redistricting. Furthermore, he said, the County has the software technology and, in fact, the most experienced person in the area regarding redistricting.

In response to Blumert’s protest, Calvey simply moved the item. 

Blumert then attempted to amend the resolution. She asked to include that all meetings and records of staff performing the task of redistricting be subject to the Open Records and Open Meetings Act. She furthermore asked for unincorporated road miles to be divided equally, and to make school districts whole within county districts.

Calvey moved to table Blumert’s amendments. Blumert asked, “All of them?” Calvey affirmed and said they were moot and added an extra layer of bureaucracy, though he did not explain how letting an out-of-county government body do the work of the county would eliminate any bureaucracy.

Blumert’s amendments were tabled by a vote of 2-1. Subsequently, the two Republicans on the Board voted to put redistricting of the county into the hands of a body with a Republican supermajority, in spite of the protests of their only Democrat counterpart.

Blumert objects

Blumert released a statement shortly after Monday’s meeting.

“I have a lot of concerns about this decision,” Blumert’s statement read, in part. “…the legislature and their staff are not subject to the Open Meetings Act or the Open Records Act. County government is subject to those laws.” 

“If a county committee conducted this process, every discussion, document, and record about these boundaries would be open to the public, wrote Blumert. “Moving this process to the legislature eliminates public participation. Once again, Oklahoma County residents have been stripped of their voice.”

Whatever form the redistricting takes, it will be up for a vote of the BoCC by year’s end.

Pending litigation

The County is the subject of a number of pending cases of litigation. In the interest of responding to that, the BoCC on Monday amended several contracts for private counsel.

The first amended contract was with the firm Pierce, Couch, Hendrickson, Baysinger, and Green L.L.P. This contract extends until the end of this fiscal year, June 30, 2021. The firm represented the BoCC in the case styled Pendleton vs. Board of County Commissioners, et al. The BoCC recently settled the suit out of court for $1.25 million. The contract for the year of service by counsel is in the amount of $215,000. Free Press has previously reported on this litigation

The second amendment was for a contract with the same firm, for representation in the case styled Chrisman vs. BoCC in the amount of $150,000. Free Press first reported this case in 2020.

The case arises from the death of Charlton Chrisman while in the custody of the Oklahoma County Detention Center on April 19, 2017. In the intervening years, the plaintiff in the case, Chrisman’s mother, through attorneys, has argued for discovery about funding and staffing levels at the Jail under Sheriff Whetsel, including information about a lawsuit involving the former medical care provider in the Jail.

The third contract was for the same firm’s representation in the case styled Willis vs. BoCC et al in the amount of $175,000. 

The petition in this case alleges that Michael Willis, who was arrested on August 18, 2017, was severely beaten by jail staff after his intake. The petition further alleges that Willis was left face down and bloodied on the floor of his cell where he was found dead from his injuries several hours later.

Sheriff Requests

Along with the heads of most other County departments, Sheriff Tommie Johnson, III brought a list of contract renewals for the Board’s approval. Among them were several requests for School Resource Officers (SROs) to be placed at area schools.

Summit Middle School, Eastern County Technology Center, Oklahoma Christian School, Inc., and Christ the King all had Memorandum of Understanding agreements with the BoCC on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office approved by the Board today.

While SROs have become a controversial topic among criminal legal system reform advocates, all three County Commissioners voted to approve each MOU.

Recess

As private counsel was not available for consultation during the Executive Session at Monday’s meeting, the Board chose not to adjourn, but instead to recess the BoCC meeting for two days.

The Board of County Commissioners continues their meeting on Wednesday, June 9, at 9:00 a.m.


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Last Updated June 7, 2021, 1:16 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor

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