- Associated Press - Thursday, October 15, 2020

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - A group of citizens in Norman who launched a petition drive seeking to oust a City Council member did not have the number of signatures needed to force a recall election, the city clerk acknowledged in a legal filing.

Ward 3 Councilor Alison Petrone filed a lawsuit on Sept. 22 against City Clerk Brenda Hall after she certified 2,580 of the 3,444 signatures submitted by the group “Unite Norman,” just seven more than required.

Petrone’s attorney challenged the credibility of the group’s signatures, alleging the petition forms were invalid because it lacked verification documents required by law. Attorney Joel L. Wohlgemuth, who managed a separate verification process, found “additional signatures to be ineligible in an amount sufficient to render the Recall Petition invalid as a matter of law.”

Hall, who was in charge of verifying and counting the signatures, admitted to the allegations in the city’s response to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cleveland County District Court. Assistant City Attorney Rick Knighton added that Hall and legal staff confirmed eight were duplicates.

Unite Norman co-founder Russell Smith contended their calculation was “false.”

“According to our count, there are at least 100 more signatures that should be counted as valid in the Petrone recall,” Smith noted in a statement. “We are filing suit and will be pursuing a just ruling in the Petrone recall so that the will of every vote counts. This is far from over.”

Unite Norman’s attorney filed a motion earlier Tuesday to intervene in the case, which has been assigned to District Judge Thad Balkman. A hearing has not been set.

The move comes after Unite Norman launched a signature drive in July to oust Mayor Breea Clark and half of the City Council. But city officials determined that the group fell short in gathering enough signatures to force the recall of Clark and two other council members.

They were upset about the council’s decision to reallocate $865,000, or about 3.6%, of the police department’s annual budget.

Many residents in the state’s third-largest city were also upset with Clark’s decision to impose a requirement that people wear masks in public following a surge in COVID-19 cases.

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