Ward 1 council candidate wants to bring back business, safety and housing

Jan. 22—Austin Ball decided to run for City Council because he saw a community slipping into crime, homelessness and economic divestment.

Ball hopes voters will trust him to protect Ward 1 neighborhoods from further deterioration. His opponent, incumbent Brandi Studley, recently announced she will move from Norman by the end of January.

Studley's name, however, will appear on the ballot and voters could still elect her.

Council elections take place every two years, with odd-number ward elections during odd years and even-number wards during even years.

Ball said he has watched businesses like the Super Saver grocery store leave behind empty buildings and large parking lots as homelessness and crime move in.

"My wife doesn't feel safe anymore going to the 7-11," he told The Transcript. "I live right across the street from the kids' school. They get to go to school with their cousins and my in-laws live right down the road.

"I love this neighborhood, but what has happened to it in just the last two years has completely broken my heart."

Ball said he felt called to run as a necessity after seeing his ward decline and after he said he did not feel heard by his council member.

"I think we need a change," he said.

Change doesn't mean that Ball won't support initiatives the incumbent has championed like affordable housing and resources for the homeless.

He called the impact of unsheltered camps "a crisis" that he understands because he has a family member who is homeless.

"We've done everything we can," he said. "If a person is willing to give up their family, their kids, their identities, you know you've reached a point where there's nothing any of us can do."

Ball said the family member an example of the reality that some do not want help but will use the system of emergency resources to stay on drugs "and do what they want to do."

"We keep providing a hot meal and a roof on a cold night but kick them out in the morning ... we don't hold them accountable and make them want to succeed," he said. "We just give them the tools to stay complacent and stay in the hole that they're in."

While Ball said he supports the emergency warming shelter, certain resources like job and financial counseling, or mental health counseling, should be a requirement.

"I think we should do everything we can," he said. "In an emergency situation we need to get people inside but we don't need to let them become complacent."

Ball supports affordable housing and noted the months-long waiting list for housing assistance has the city being "way behind where we need to be."

"There definitely needs to be temporary housing, but what we don't need to do is allow tent cities like the one behind Food & Shelter," he said.

Food & Shelter is a nonprofit organization that offers case management for housing with onsite housing units and food assistance at 2001 Reed Avenue.

Homelessness has also created public safety concerns and deters potential business development, he said.

A local business owner told him unsheltered people used the building's window unit to get on the roof next door where the owner of that building found evidence of a fire. After the owner removed a sleeping bag under the unit, the glass was broken the following day.

It's not the only negative story Ball's heard.

"We have to look out for our neighbors," he said. "We want businesses to come here but when we bring them here to show it, there's three homeless guys and a broken window. Nobody wants to open a business in an area like that."

Protecting the neighborhood from vandalism and crime also means trusting police to help when they can.

"We have to stop thinking police are the bad guys," he said. "They're there 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 made efforts in that direction when he invited residents to attend the East Norman Community Safety and Awareness event Jan. 10 to prevent crime. The Norman Police Department shared tips to increase safety and how residents can assist in the investigations of crime.

Crime prevention is a subject inline with Ball's education. He obtained a Bachelor of 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 he was injured in 2012.

He is a fully disabled veteran, but his day job as a stay-at-home dad is one he loves.

"Being in the military I missed so many birthdays and holidays," he said. "This is amazing because it gives me a chance to actually be involved in my kids' lives more and be here."

Mindy Wood covers City and County government news and notable lawsuits for The Transcript. Reach her at mwood@normantranscript.com or 405-416-4420.