NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - The Transcript published its first story about city planner Linda Price on Sept. 29, 1975, shortly after she went to work for the city of Norman.
“I was hired by Mike Frazier, who was the planning director,” Price said.
She interviewed for the job in March and was 8 months pregnant. The city budget wouldn’t include a planner position until the coming fiscal year which started in July. She had her baby about two weeks after the interview and started work in August.
“I was the first woman professional hired into city of Norman staff,” she said. “He took a leap of faith, not only hiring a woman, but hiring one that was very pregnant. It was unheard of.”
While it wasn’t included in the story, the reporter asked what her husband thought of her going to work.
“I didn’t go to school with the expectation of staying home, but of going to work,” she said, taken aback by the question.
It would not be the last, The Norman Transcript (https://bit.ly/1FXXJsi ) reports.
Price had an undergraduate degree in history with minors in geography and political science. She completed her master’s degree in 1975 right before she came to work for the city. That master’s degree was in regional and city planning.
“It taught us to be able to look at the broad prospective of things, encompassing the whole, but also to look at the details that made up the whole,” Price said.
That dual vision has played a prominent role in her career in planning for the city of Norman.
Price was born and raised in Norman. Her father, Dr. Elroy Rice, served as the first chairman of the Environmental Control Advisory board and was a David Ross Boyd professor of botany at OU.
“I think I was naive,” she said. “I don’t think I realized that there weren’t women in professional positions. It never crossed my mind that there was a barrier.”
She soon learned differently.
“There were people in positions of authority in other departments that didn’t like the concept of women as professionals,” she said. “I was told by one person that ‘women ought to be barefoot and pregnant at home and that I’d have to work three times as hard.’ He was not my boss.”
Because Price worked with grants that funded infrastructure projects, she had to coordinate with the public works department.
“They would purposely give me wrong information for the city council,” she said. “Then they would say, ‘that’s not what we told her.’”
To combat this, she began printing out the information and taking it to each of the project directors to initial that the information was accurate. It forced them to stop lying, she said.
They did it to discourage me, but in fact it encouraged me to learn more so that I wouldn’t be dependent on other people for information,” she said.
She went into the field and talked to the people who were doing the construction on projects. Those men were just happy to be asked about their work by a city professional.
“They told me what they were doing and they explained it,” she said. “They enjoyed teaching me. I project managed many construction projects after that over the years.”
Once, she wanted to do a sanitary sewer project and was told it would take a month of man-hours.
Using the required methodology, she worked with a student intern and two Norman residents who volunteered to help.
“We went out into that neighborhood and got all of the information in four hours that they told me was going to take a month of 8-hour days with a whole crew to do,” she said.
That intern, Dale Miller, is now a planner in Wichita, Kansas.
Price’s current title is Revitalization Manager, a position she’s grown into over the years.
“I didn’t always have an office with windows,” she said.
While she’s worked her way up through the ranks, the focus of her job of improving communities has remained the same. Since the beginning, she has worked with the Community Development Block Grant Program - a federal funding program through Housing and Urban Development that assists cities improve low-to-moderate-income neighborhoods. It also provides money to help low- and moderate-income people with services including social service agencies like the after-school program, Meals on Wheels, Bridges, Food and Shelter, and the Center for Children and Families.
“Any nonprofit in town had the ability to apply for and receive funding through that program,” she said. “We had an average of 20 programs a year that received funding up until this year.”
Program changes, and a funding reduction, have eliminated most of that resource recently.
“This fiscal year we’re only funding the CART program for bus passes,” she said. “That is the one program that all of the agencies use. Transportation is one of primary needs of low-income people.”
Infrastructure such as water and sewer lines also can be a major issue in older, low income neighborhoods.
“One of the first goals that we had was to make sure that the water lines were sized for fire protection,” she said. “Now the utilities department deals with that. We replaced a lot of sanitary sewer systems also. Since then, there has been a program developed to do that.”
She also worked on projects to put in sidewalks and to buy land and put in parks in poor neighborhoods in coordination with the parks department.
One of her more crucial projects was working with the fire department to establish the Little Axe Fire Department and community center in 1977.
Another project with a long-term impact on Norman was the purchase of Sooner Theatre for about $50,000 in the late ‘70s.
“It was dilapidated and only had pigeons inside,” she said.
The rehab of the theatre helped spur the revitalization of downtown Norman.
“I was the planner that helped get historic districts in Norman,” she said.
The senior citizens center was another important project. The center was, and still is in the old Carnegie Library.
“When I was growing up that was the Norman Public Library,” she said.
The building has steep steps which was the only access into the building. Price worked with architects who designed an addition that would make it accessible to older people and people with disabilities.
“We not only added the elevator, we added restrooms that were accessible,” she said. “We later added a kitchen facility for congregate meals and a dining facility.”
Part of her job allowed her to work on acquiring and developing parks in older and low-income neighborhoods.
It wasn’t uncommon for her to walk the neighborhoods to get participation in CDBG programs. She would go door-to-door handing out flyers and talking to people. Some of them were older people who told her the history of Norman.
One lady was a quilter with a house full of quilts.
“There were two sisters that lived up on the Southeast corner of Hughbert and Peters, they were spinsters,” she said.
They finally let her into the house, and it had been historically preserved.
She also worked on a census project.
“In the late ‘70s, me being the naive person that I was, the HUD people said the census data was no longer any good and that we had to do our own census,” she said, not knowing that so many officials in other cities had objected to the project and it was scrapped.
She led a crew that walked the streets and even drew a coded map to document the census they took. She still has those maps in her office and can refer to them for historical information.
“I thought we had to have a 100 percent response,” she said, laughing. “The census doesn’t even have that. We kept going back until we had about a 99.5 percent.
“We took all the information to HUD and they said, ‘what is this? I was probably a joke for years. It was an excellent exercise. I learned those neighborhoods.”
In addition to some travel plans and spending more time with her children and grandchildren, she will pursue personal, club and civic pursuits more during her retirement.
“I have been so blessed because in my tenure, not only have I had a role in the planning department, but I’ve been able to work with every other department,” Price said.
Information from: The Norman Transcript, https://www.normantranscript.com
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