Judge Rejects Petition To Allow Norman Residents To Vote On TIF
A Cleveland County judge has struck down a petition that would have allowed Norman citizens to vote on whether an economic development program should be rolled back.
“We want to vote on it,” petition supporter Cynthia Rogers said. “We want an opportunity to vote on it.
Norman city councilors voted to roll back the TIF, or tax increment finance district, in November. The program allows up to 60% of city sales tax dollars to be reinvested in the development area near I-35.
Two months after the council vote, a citizen group submitted petition signatures to take the issue to a vote of the people. In 16 days, they had gathered 4,070 signatures, more than the 800 they needed to get the issue on that ballot.
“Many of us thought the change was bad for the city, bad for the budget and bad for democracy because we didn’t get to vote on it,” Rogers said.
Former mayors Lynne Miller, Bob Thompson, Bill Nations and Dick Reynolds sued the petitioners.
They argued the petition circulated and submitted lacked a gist, or summary of the petition.
The petition said “"referendum on the 2019 UNP tax increment finance district project plan amendments.”
An attorney for the former mayors told Judge Jeff Virgin, "It explains nothing" adding "It's not even a full sentence."
An attorney for the petitioners argued it "provided more than sufficient detail."
The judge agreed with the former mayors, striking down the petition.
“(The gist) is really a fundamental part of any referendum, so that when a signer walks up to a clipboard, they know what they are signing on to,” attorney for former mayors Sean Rieger said.
“It's a crime to democracy when citizens have to dot every “I” and cross every “T” to exercise their right to challenge legislation passed by their city government,” Rogers said.
Before the petition, the city had crafted a budget expecting the money that had been staying with the development to return to the city budget.
Once the petition was filed, those funds were frozen, and kept out of the city budget, contributing to a $3.5 million budget hole.
That money now could begin to flow into the city’s general fund, however and appeal is likely.