Austin Ball decided to run for City Council because he saw the community descend into crime, homelessness, and economic disinvestment.
Ball wants voters to believe he will protect the Ward 1 community from further deterioration. His opponent, current Brandi Studley, recently announced she would be leaving Norman by the end of January.
However, Studley’s name will appear on the ballot, and voters can still choose her.
Council elections are held every two years, with odd-numbered constituencies elected in odd-numbered years and even-numbered constituencies elected in even-numbered years.
Ball said he has seen businesses like Super Saver grocery stores leave empty buildings and large parking lots as homelessness and criminal activity influx.
“My wife no longer feels unsafe going to a 7-Eleven,” he told The Transcript. “I live across the street from my kids’ school. They can go to school with their cousins and my in-laws live nearby.
“I love this community, but what happened in the last two years breaks my heart.”
Ball said he felt compelled to run after seeing his district decline and he said his council members hadn’t heard him.
“I think we need to change,” he said.
The change doesn’t mean Ball won’t support initiatives championed by the current president, such as affordable housing and resources for the homeless.
He calls the impact of the shelterless camps a “crisis,” which he understands because he has a homeless family member.
“We’ve done everything we can,” he said. “If a person is willing to give up their family, their children, their identity, you know you’ve reached a point where none of us can do anything.”
Ball said the family member is an example of the reality that some people don’t want help but will use the emergency resource system to continue using drugs “and do what they want.”
“We’ve been providing hot meals and roofs on cold nights but kicking them out in the morning … we don’t hold them accountable or make them want to succeed,” he said. “We’re just giving them the tools to stay complacent and stay where they are.”
While Ball said he supports emergency shelters, certain resources, such as job and financial counseling, or mental health counseling, should be required.
“I think we should do what we can,” he said. “In an emergency, we need to let people in, but we don’t need to make them complacent.”
Ball supports affordable housing, noting that the months-long waiting list for housing assistance has left the city “well behind where we need to be.”
“Certainly there is a need for temporary housing, but what we don’t need to do is allow tent cities like behind Food & Shelter,” he said.
Food & Shelter is a not-for-profit organization that provides an on-site housing unit and housing case management for food assistance at 2001 Reed Avenue.
Homelessness also creates public safety concerns and hinders potential business development, he said.
A local business owner told him that displaced people had used the window units of the building to climb onto the roof of an adjoining building, where the owners of that building had found evidence of the fire. The glass shattered the next day after the homeowner removed the sleeping bag under the unit.
That wasn’t the only negative story Ball heard.
“We have to take care of our neighbors,” he said. “We want businesses to come here, but when we brought them here to show, there were three homeless people and a broken window. Nobody wants to do business in an area like this.”
Protecting communities from vandalism and crime also means trusting the police to help when they can.
“We have to stop thinking that the police are the bad guys,” he said. “They’re here to help us, but they have to know what’s going on. We have to report it, but we have to watch out for each other.”
Ball pushed in that direction when he invited residents to participate in an East Norman community safety and awareness event on Jan. 1. 10 Crime prevention. The Norman Police Department shares tips to improve safety and how residents can help investigate crimes.
Crime prevention is a discipline that fits with Ball’s educational background. He received a BA in Sociology and Criminology from the University of Oklahoma in 2006. He also served in the U.S. Marine Corps and Oklahoma Army National Guard before being injured in 2012.
He’s a fully disabled veteran, but he loves the day job of a stay-at-home dad.
“In the military I missed a lot of birthdays and holidays,” he said. “It’s been great because it’s given me the opportunity to really be more involved in my kids’ lives and stay here.”