Our Interview with Mayor Breea Clark, Norman, OK

The Mayors Innovation Projects provides opportunities to learn from and connect with other mayors across the country. Read on to hear how one of our mayors – Breea Clark, Norman, OK – is managing in this time of crisis, and what learning lessons she would offer to other mayors.

Mayor Breea Clark of Norman, OK

 Where are you looking for information, and what key resources have you identified in helping you make quick decisions?

For information, I follow local, national, and global news as well as guidance from medical organizations like the World Health Organization and the CDC. I have also reached out to our four Sister Cities in France, Italy, Japan and Mexico to see what they are experiencing, what policies they have put in place, and what challenges/successes they have seen from those policies.

To make local decisions quickly, I rely heavily on our medical professionals as they can speak directly to what our population is experiencing. I am also in a group message with mayors from other cities in the OKC metropolitan area, so we can all quickly ask and see who is doing is what.

Fortunately, since the coronavirus reached our community later than other parts of the nation, we were able to incorporate the experiences of other parts of the nation as we prepared for the spread of the virus and also now as we prepare our phased return to normal life. The US Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Mayors Innovation Project have also provided amazing lists of policy resources.

What have been your greatest challenges, and how have you solved (or are attempting to solve) them?

Public health and safety will always be my number one priority, but my greatest challenge is balancing protecting residents with supporting our economy. Around the world, cities are all taking a major financial hit that we will be recovering from for years to come. However, Oklahoma cities are unfortunately unique in that our state is the only state in our nation that forces cities to rely on sales tax revenue to support their general funds in the major way that we do.

We have to find a way to get our business moving while keeping the virus from spreading. We are encouraging our businesses to get innovative in how they make sales and deliver services, but we are also looking at our phased approach to “re-booting” Norman. We will continue to look at what other cities are doing, but we also have to look inward and consider the input of both our residents and businesses to see where the specific needs are in our community.

Are there any important lessons on cooperation, whether with private partners or other governments in the region/state, that you’ve learned?

Norman has led the way in the state of Oklahoma in active steps taken to containing this virus. We were the first to declare a state of emergency and the first to issue a Stay at Home order. Some have said that our actions helped force our state to take action. A collaborative approach would have been preferred, however. When dealing with an issue that centers around public health and safety, issuing the same policies at the same time as region or state would have helped immensely in terms of helping residents understand what is going on as well as creating buy-in to the need and importance of such measures.

My greatest lesson about cooperation from this pandemic situation has been to be willing and open to collaborate and work with with partners, but sometimes you just have to go first.

What do you see as the biggest long-term impacts coming out of this for your city?

The biggest long-term impact will be the economic issues. Many small businesses have closed, and it will very hard for them to re-open. In terms of our city’s budget and general fund, the loss of sales tax revenue generally will be hard to recover from in itself, but we also lost revenue from three major events that regularly occur in April that had to be canceled. There’s just no way to make up for those losses.

What is one innovative thing happening in your city that you hope continues after the pandemic has passed?

We have tried to create innovative opportunities to keep residents connected and for businesses to operate and stay afloat, and most of that has centered around moving to the digital world. Once this is all over, I am hoping we keep some of these practices in place alongside our regular in person interactions. This will allow our residents who regularly stay at home (either from choice or necessity) to stay better connected even after things return to normal, and it will also help our businesses be more competitive in an increasingly digital world.