Dozens of federal, state, tribal and local agencies will show off the latest in GIS projects and mapping on Wednesday, March 2, on several floors of the Capitol Rotunda in Oklahoma City. The event will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. All told, more than 50 organizations will be at the Capitol to explain how they use GIS in everything from conservation and education to energy, city planning and public safety.
This will be the 17th GIS Day, which is organized by the Oklahoma Geographic Information Council. For more information on the council, check out their website, where they’ve posted some pictures from GIS Days in prior years.
Update: From Mike Sharp, Oklahoma Geographic Information Coordinator:
One of the key theme’s emerging from our elected officials at the state Capitol this year is focused on a more open and transparent government.
Government at all levels deals with an enormous amount of information, so it follows that making government more open places an emphasis on government making more of its information open and available to its citizens.
For many years, the Oklahoma GIS Community has been a leader in making location-based data available to the citizens of our state.
With over 80 percent of all government data having a location-based component, it is important that we continue to develop the infrastructure to not only deliver but to easily consume this vast amount of information. Through today’s technology, we have many open source and commercial Geographic Information System tools to not only deliver but to bring together a wide variety of information sources and display the result in an easily understandable format that has been in use for centuries … a map.
Whether it is a government official wanting to manage government-owned assets or a private consultant looking for business opportunities in our state, the bringing together of location-based data into a map provides an ideal platform to assist them in their decision-making process.
I’ll have more on this in Sunday’s edition of The Oklahoman, but here’s a sneak peak at the more than $1.2 billion in what’s called revolving funds for Oklahoma state agencies. This is the money from fees or other sources that isn’t strictly part of the annual budget appropriations from the state’s general fund. Estimates for this year’s general revenue shortfall are about $500 million.
There are more than 500 of these revolving funds in state agency accounts. I’ve added some notes to the following tables for a closer look at just a few of the larger balances.
For a larger version of this, go here.
In case you missed it, the story below appeared in Sunday’s Business section. I’ve gotten some good feedback via phone and e-mail from other people in a similar situation, so I created a form* in Google Docs to collect more stories.
If you or someone you know has dealt recently with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission on an appeal for unemployment compensation, please fill out the form here and tell us your story.
By PAUL MONIES
pmonies (at) opubco.com
Two minutes and a computer mix up might have cost Debra Carrick $8,500 in unemployment benefits.
A late appeal after Carrick’s former employer challenged her benefits has turned into a yearlong ordeal for the Oklahoma City resident. But she said the real cost is her confidence in a longtime social safety net and the system used to administer it.
“It’s been over a year and not a penny,” Carrick said. “Lot of heartache. What seems like thousands of hours. Some days I take a break from it, but it’s always one more thing.”
Carrick’s case highlights just one of the nearly 200,000 initial unemployment claims filed in 2010, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. That number has fallen since a 10-year high of 241,000 in 2009, but remains high as the recession continues to take its toll on Oklahomans.
Carrick, 51, has taken her claim through two levels of administrative appeals and into district court in Cleveland County, where the case is pending.
“People have told me, ‘Why don’t you just give it up and put it behind you?’” Carrick said. “But it just makes me mad and want to fight it more.”
Firing facts in dispute
The facts surrounding Carrick’s last day on the job are in dispute, as they are in many appeals for unemployment claims. Carrick worked almost two years as an accounts receivable clerk for Delco Diesel Services in Oklahoma City. She claims she was fired without cause in January 2010 after an argument with her former boss, David Lanham. According to hearing transcripts, Lanham claims Carrick cursed at him and he fired her on the spot.
That incident started Carrick’s yearlong effort to claim unemployment benefits. State officials wouldn’t discuss the specifics of her case because it’s pending in court, but called it an outlier. They said federal and state benchmarks for the system try to make the process as quick as possible to help the unemployed.
“If you’re unemployed this week, that unemployment check is going to do you a lot more good in two weeks than it will in eight weeks,” said Karl Jahnke, director of appeals for the Employment Security Commission. “If you’re eligible, it’s meant to replace some lost wages. Eight weeks from now, you may have missed a car payment.”
In the unemployment compensation world, the technical term for a worker who has lost his or her job is a “separation.” The employee must file a claim for unemployment either online or by telephone. If they have worked long enough and earned a minimum amount to qualify, they are mailed a notice of eligibility. Employers then have 10 working days to challenge the circumstances of the separation.
Separations are grouped into either voluntary quits or misconduct. If they can show an employee quit in some way, employers win appeals more than 80 percent of the time. But the standard for misconduct in unemployment claims cases is higher for employers. Claimants win those misconduct cases more than 60 percent of the time, according to Employment Security Commission data.
Until the recession hit, Jahnke said more than 98 percent of the appeals filed were cleared within 45 days.
“We haven’t been able to do that since 2009,” Jahnke said. “We just got run over, and we’ve been playing catch up ever since.”
Last year, Jahnke’s division heard almost 20,000 appeals, double the number it heard in 2008. The appeals division has gone from nine full-time hearing officers in 2008 to 14 in 2010. Jahnke said an ideal staffing number for the division would be 18 hearing officers.
The administrative hearing process is a little less formal than a courtroom, Jahnke said. Hearing officers, who average about 1,000 cases a year, oftentimes have to be both hand-holder and explainer for those unfamiliar with the system.
“We try to maintain basic due process and fairness so that it runs quickly and there’s not many technical trip-ups,” Jahnke said. “It’s kind of like a little court. It is a formal proceeding. We talk to each other nicely. But this is not ‘Judge Judy.’ There’s no yelling allowed.
“There’s also simply pride involved. We as a society are kind of contentious: ‘You’re not going to tell me I’m wrong.’ People will stand on principle, too: ‘You’re telling me I can’t fire that person?’ ‘No, I’m only saying we can’t deny them benefits.’”
For Carrick, a single mother who used to run several aviation-related small businesses, filing a claim was a last resort.
“My first thought was, ‘There’s no way I’m going to file for unemployment, that’s for losers. I’m just going to get me a job,’” Carrick said. “But then I saw (national) unemployment at 10 percent and I said, ‘It probably wouldn’t hurt to go down there, even if I only use it for a couple of weeks.’ Couple of weeks. That sounds funny now.”
Carrick, who had never filed for unemployment benefits before, said the system is daunting for first-timers. Long wait times on the telephone and problems with the online system compounded her frustration. The web-based system requires Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browsers and won’t process claims filed through other browsers such as Mozilla’s Firefox or Apple’s Safari.
John Carpenter, a spokesman for the agency, said it is upgrading its online claim system to reflect the range of browser options.
The Employment Security Commission’s call center handled more than 849,000 calls in 2010. The average wait time for an initial claim was a little more than 2 minutes. But the average wait time for follow-up calls fluctuated each month from a low of 19 minutes to a high of 47 minutes.
Carrick’s initial unemployment claim was denied because Delco Diesel provided a notarized statement by an employee who said he witnessed the confrontation between Carrick and Lanham. The claims analyst said that was enough to establish misconduct.
Carrick, however, said she had never before been written up or disciplined at her job. She also said the statement was notarized by Lanham’s daughter. It’s not illegal for family members to notarize documents, but the secretary of state’s office advises against it if the documents become part of a court case. The Delco Diesel employee who witnessed the confrontation, Dwight Daniel, told The Oklahoman he stands behind his statement, but declined further comment.
Both employers and claimants have 10 days to file an appeal if they aren’t happy with the claims analyst’s decision. Carrick filed her appeal via e-mail at 12:02 a.m. March 2, 2010, two minutes after the deadline.
Carrick said a range of issues kept her from filing the appeal until the last minute. With no income, she tried to get law students at the University of Oklahoma’s law clinic to take her case. They referred her to Legal Aid, which took the case but dropped it days later because of a heavy case volume. Carrick said she also encountered delays when filing for food stamps and in arranging financial aid to take business and computer classes at Oklahoma City Community College.
To Carrick, those two minutes have loomed large in the past year. If the appeals hearing officer wasn’t so strict about that deadline, Carrick said she could have better challenged Delco Diesel’s account of the day of her firing. Carrick appealed the hearing officer’s decision to the Board of Review, a separate panel made up of three people appointed by the governor.
“Considering this and the huge obstacles and impediments that came my way the entire last week of February 2010, I believe I have shown good cause for being two minutes tardy in responding to the false and defamatory allegations of Delco Diesel Services Inc., and that I was indeed laid off,” Carrick wrote in her appeal to the Board of Review in April.
The Board of Review affirmed the hearing officer’s decision in May. Acting as her own attorney, Carrick then took her case to Cleveland County District Court. After several more months, District Judge Tom A. Lucas ruled against the Employment Security Commission and the Board of Review.
According to a transcript of the ruling, Lucas said the Board of Review took a “knee-jerk” look at Carrick’s appeal that was filed two minutes late. He said even the legal system has some leeway.
“You know, we have lawyers down here at 5 (p.m.) knocking on the door, getting the clerk to let them in,” Lucas said. “If the clerk lets them in, they get it filed; and if the clerk doesn’t let them in, they don’t get it filed, and that counts. So I don’t know.”
The Employment Security Commission’s attorney, Teresa Keller, appealed the judge’s ruling, which was limited to the timeliness issue. It was not on the facts of Carrick’s firing. The next district court hearing is set for March.
For Delco Diesel’s part, Lanham would only say: “I believe OESC is a very competent group and I think they made the right decision.” He referred other questions to his attorney, Greg James.
James said Carrick’s appeals at the administrative level and in district court have been consistently late. He said Carrick had gone through what he called “on-the-spot” counseling for her behavior previously at Delco Diesel.
“It rose that day with the insubordination in the customer areas to a firing offense,” James said. “She’s got quite a mouth on her. I’ll just leave it at that. She was well-aware of the standards expected of her in the workplace.”
Carrick countered James’ assertion that she was disciplined: “If there are disciplinary records, I want to see them. It absolutely never happened.”
Meanwhile, Carrick said her yearlong experience with the Employment Security Commission makes it hard to believe she’s fighting for just $8,500 in unemployment compensation.
“I wonder how many taxpayer dollars are being spent to fight this case?” Carrick asked.
*Hat tip to ProPublica for the idea.
The U.S. Census Bureau last week released the first batch of Oklahoma data from the 2010 Census. Here’s a list of what we covered in print and online:
- Oklahoma Census: State Hispanic population grows 85 percent since 2000
- Population growth in suburbs, declines in rural areas will have political ramifications
- New metro boom towns include Piedmont, Blanchard
We’ve added those stories to our existing Census continuing coverage page on NewsOK, too.
If you get a chance, check out the map I created using census data at the tract level for central Oklahoma. I pulled out eight central Oklahoma counties and plotted the growth for each census tract over the last decade. In this map, the size of the bubble shows how many people each tract added, with the smallest bubble representing a population decrease: (Adobe Flash required)
I also made another version, above, that shows the same information, but this time uses shaded census tracts instead of bubbles. I think the bubble map is easier to figure out, but if you think differently, let me know in the comments below.
In both of these maps, I went with the raw population change by census tract. I could have gone with percent change over the last decade, but there were some sparsely populated tracts that added (or lost) a handful of people, so that threw off the ranges of percent change. I went with the actual population change to get a better idea of just which census tracts these new residents were going to (or leaving).
I’m a big fan of Geocommons, the service I used to make those maps. One of the conditions of using their free (for now) service is that you have to make your data available to the public. Since all of this data originally came from the U.S. Census Bureau, you can search for “Oklahoma” in Geocommons and make your own maps based on the data and GIS files I uploaded to the site.
To get started, read this helpful user guide on the Geocommons site.
Finally, a big thanks goes out to Investigative Reporters & Editors and USA Today, who provided some of the population comparisons to the 2000 Census in the data I used. For more on what other papers are doing with their census data, check out Anthony DeBarros’ blog.
The state’s new data site is here, and from my initial test drive, it’s pretty good.
The data portal is something that I called for in a post last year, so it’s nice to see it come to fruition. With the launch, Oklahoma joins dozens of other states and countries with a central data archive.
The site was made possible by legislation that came out of the 2010 Legislature. Senate Bill 1759, by Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, and Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, set up the framework and requirements for the data site.
Oklahoma’s site uses the Socrata data engine, which allows for customizable data visualizations, maps and data downloads.
For example, this morning I downloaded the state’s 4th Quarter payroll. I wanted to take a look at overtime payments, so after downloading a type of file called a .csv (for comma-separated value), I was able to import the data into Microsoft Access. That task took fewer than 10 minutes.
The 28.5 MB payroll file has more than 266,000 records from the 4th quarter. You could also import the information to the new versions of Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, which allow for up to 1 million records (the older versions of Excel limit you to 65,000 records in a worksheet).
Just browsing the data sets on the site works well, too. Here’s a Google Map of fire stations in Oklahoma:
I’ll have more on the site in future posts, but it’s looking good so far. Take the site for a spin yourself and let me know what you think in the comments section below.
- A call for data.ok.gov
- Open data legislation fails in the Oklahoma House
- Government 2.0 conference in OKC
Once again, tax credits will be a major focus for the 2011 Oklahoma Legislature.
In her State of the State speech, Gov. Mary Fallin said: ” … Our course of action will be simple: only tax credits that create jobs will stay. For instance, my budget begins the process of restoring the Aerospace Engineer Tax Credit, which brings good, high tech jobs to Oklahoma. But those tax credits that do not create jobs must be eliminated.”
Rep. David Dank, chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation subcommittee, held his first committee meeting Monday evening. It was delayed several hours by a contentious meeting in the House to go over new rules.
“This is a very complex area,” Dank said of tax credits. “We’ve been working on it a long time and we’ll probably be working on it for a long time to come.”
Dank had one of the state’s foremost experts on tax credits, Mark Harter, give a presentation to lawmakers setting up the landscape of tax credits. Harter is assistant chief counsel for the House. Here’s a copy of Harter’s presentation:
Dank said a recent opinion by former Attorney General Drew Edmondson’s office would help shape the subcommittee’s work on tax credits this session. The opinion called into question the constitutionality of several existing tax credits and set up a framework for evaluation. Since only the courts can strike down existing statutes as unconstitutional, the AG opinion is nonbinding.
Basically, the AG opinion sets up a three-part test for the constitutionality of tax credits or other incentives: They must have a public purpose; the state should get something in return for giving up expected revenue; and incentives must have “adequate controls and safeguards.”
Several members of the committee had questions for Harter about the possibility of filing a lawsuit that would force the state Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of certain tax credits. Harter said it was doubtful the subcommittee could bring an action in court, but individual lawmakers might be able to band together to bring suit in either district court or before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, asked Harter if lawmakers could bring what’s called a “qui tam” lawsuit (a type of whistleblower lawsuit) and recapture revenue from tax credit claimants that has been lost over the years. Harter said he’d have to review the law in that area. Even so, former lawmakers who passed the laws setting up various tax credits would not have any personal liability in such a lawsuit, Harter said.
Lawmakers and panels studying tax credits have always grappled with a lack of information about their true costs. That’s partly due to the confidential nature of tax filings, which ties the hands of the Tax Commission. Tony Mastin, director of the Tax Commission, said his agency is not really set up to evaluate tax incentives passed by the Legislature.
“The commission has always taken the position that it’s there to enforce the statutes,” Mastin told committee members. “They are presumed to be constitutional.”
Mastin said asking the Tax Commission to pick and choose which tax credits are constitutional “would put us in an awful position. We have a very large tax code to administer. We are set up to administer and collect taxes, not administer economic development programs. That would put extra stress on our agency.”
A few lawmakers said the process for evaluating tax incentives should be a task for the state’s Commerce Department.
Dank warned committee members to be wary of lobbyists touting their favored tax credits.
“I think it’s a runaway train,” Dank said. “I think there are good things that happen, but there’s a lot of brilliant lawyers in downtown offices coming up with these credits. There’s going to be a lot of lobbying. Every tax credit is going to be good in the eyes of those presenting them, but we’ve got to remember the taxpayers.”
Dank has several bills dealing with tax credits this session, including HB 1284 and HB 1285. The first opens up certain information about credits claimed against the insurance premium tax that’s administered by the Insurance Department. HB 1285 sets up a so-called “Blue Ribbon” task force to study tax credits. (The state’s Incentive Review Committee has been studying such incentives for the last several years.)
- Oklahoma tax credits face scrutiny amid budget crunch
- Oklahoma Quality Jobs incentive program pays out $54m during budget crunch