Oklahoma County is being honored for its work retooling the former General Motors assembly plant.
District 3 County Commissioner Ray Vaughn got word recently that the county had been chosen the Phoenix Award winner from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6. The awards are given around the country for brownfield development.
The state Department of Environmental Quality nominated the local project, which over five years transformed the former GM plant into an engine repair and maintenance facility for the U.S. Department of Defense.
The local project will be honored at a banquet next week in Atlanta, where it’ll be in the running for the grand prize or people’s choice awards. Kudos.
We’ve previously praised SHINE (Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere), a program launched by Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan that sentences low-level offenders to remove graffiti, haul away trash and clear brush in blighted areas.
The program saves the county money by easing crowding at the county jail and providing free labor for jobs that otherwise would be done by county work crews.
State lawmakers apparently see the value of the program, because they’ve approved a new law extending the program to deadbeat parents. Under House Bill 2166, courts can require individuals who owe child support to work two eight-hour days per week in programs like SHINE.
“Working two days a week picking up litter or painting over graffiti might just provide the motivation some of these nonpaying parents need,” Maughan said. We certainly hope so. If not, at least the community will be cleaner as a result.
Come Tuesday, the Oklahoma City Council will have two new faces around the horseshoe. We welcome John A. Pettis Jr. and James Greiner to what is a usually harmonious but occasionally cacophonous process of governing a growing, increasingly diversified city.
Pettis and Greiner ousted incumbents to claim seats for Ward 7 and Ward 1. Gone are veteran councilmen Skip Kelly and Gary Marrs. Kelly’s personal problems no doubt played a role in his defeat. Allegations of driving under the influence have dogged him; even had he won, Kelly might have had to leave office if a pending court ruling goes against him.
In Ward 1, the situation was different. Marrs is an outstanding councilman but was outworked by Greiner. At 32, the challenger has boundless enthusiasm for retail politics — knocking on doors, connecting with voters, projecting a positive attitude. This boundless enthusiasm will serve him well on the council and in representing the sprawling northwest Oklahoma City ward for the princely sum of $12,000 a year.
Overall it wasn’t a bad day for incumbents here and in other parts of the state. Two Oklahoma City Council incumbents didn’t draw opponents and automatically got another four-year term. Tuesday’s results set the stage for an interesting mayoral race next year if incumbent Mick Cornett seeks another term and faces council maverick Ed Shadid, who appears set to make a run.
Tuesday’s results are no indicator for what could happen in 2014. Shadid’s appeal in Ward 2 is unlikely to translate to a citywide mandate. Then again, anyone who counted out Pettis and Greiner because they faced “popular” incumbents now knows that holding an office isn’t a ticket to keeping it.
Voters in northwest Oklahoma City’s Ward 1 have the chance to send an excellent public servant back to the city council by re-electing Gary Marrs on Tuesday. Marrs, 66, is in a runoff with James Greiner, 31. Those two emerged from a three-person race in the March 5 primary.
Marrs has given a lot to the community during his nine years on the council, and before that during his 30-year career with the Oklahoma City Fire Department, which included a stint as chief. Greiner is a fine, energetic young man whose willingness to serve in a time-consuming, low-paying job speaks well of his character.
Like the best members of the council, Marrs works not only for his ward but for the whole city. He’s mindful of infrastructure challenges in his sprawling ward but is eager to help MAPS 3 blossom and for the city to continue economic development efforts that help it grow. He’s earned another term.
Ward 7 incumbent Skip Kelly, 63, also faces a runoff. His opponent is John A. Pettis Jr., 30, in the northeast-side ward.
Turnout for the primary was extremely light. Council members are critical in deciding the city’s course. These seats are important. Voters in Ward 1 and Ward 7 should treat them as such on Tuesday by going to the polls.
Ten public bodies in Oklahoma were applauded this week for the transparency of their websites.
A national nonprofit called Sunshine Review included the 10 in doling out its fourth annual Sunny Awards, which honor government entities “that make transparency a priority.” The Sunshine Review looked at more than 1,000 government websites and graded them against a 10-point checklist. In all, 247 received an award.
Those in Oklahoma were: the cities of Broken Arrow, Enid, Owasso, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Norman; Oklahoma, Tulsa and Wagoner counties, and Edmond Public Schools.
Congratulations to the winners, and here’s hoping they have more company from Oklahoma next year.
Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz has a sore knee that only a big paycheck can cure.
Glanz is suing Walmart for as much as $74,999 as the result of a fall he took in a store in Tulsa in October 2011. Settlement talks with Walmart weren’t successful, according to Glanz’s attorney. So now it’s on to court.
Glanz says he has had the knee operated on twice and “it’s still not right.” The lawsuit says he has suffered damages including bodily injuries, mental pain and suffering and loss of income, past and future. Yet county records show Glanz hasn’t missed out on any salary since getting hurt.
His attorney says the loss of income language was included in the lawsuit to preserve Glanz’s right to make that claim, and if the claim isn’t supported, they won’t pursue it. That’s awfully good of them.
Complaints by lawmakers about release of water from Canton Lake remind us of disgruntled heirs carping over an aging parent spending their inheritance.
Oklahoma City is exercising its legal right to take water from Canton to replenish local lakes drawn down by lack of rain. This is a bridge too far for Canton Lake and northwest Oklahoma partisans — just as the city’s use of southeast Oklahoma water has been.
“Where is their water conservation plan?” asked state Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher. He blamed the Canton transfer on a planning failure. Actually, it’s a routine move to rebuild levels at Lake Hefner after months of below-normal rainfall. Oklahoma City waited to make the change until Hefner got quite low and even delayed the transfer until a recent rain made the North Canadian riverbed more suitable for a transfer. That in itself is a conservation plan.
Conflicts over water between urban and nonurban areas are age-old, but the law is clearly on Oklahoma City’s side. Just as it’s everyone’s right to spend money instead of saving it for another’s inheritance, the city is doing what’s in the best interest of the people who pay local water bills and who must adopt their own conservation plans to save money and to obey rationing restrictions whenever they’re imposed.
Meantime, billions of gallons of water have been flowing into the Red River because the state lacks the political will to turn this wasted treasure into cash by selling the water to urban areas in North Texas.
Given the many instances of state and local officials ignoring or trying to work around Oklahoma’s open record and open meeting laws, we braced for the worst when the Sunshine Review posted its website transparency report card this week. But the news was actually pretty good.
Oklahoma received a grade of B-minus, not bad considering no state graded better than a B-plus. Sunshine Review looked at government websites for states and their largest counties, cities and school districts, and measured available content against a checklist of information it believes all governments should provide.
Oklahoma received Bs for state and county websites, a C for city sites, and a D-plus for school districts. That last grade is disappointing but not unusual — Sunshine Review said only 20 percent of school district websites nationwide warranted at least a B.
A state audit of the Emergency Medical Services Authority should grab the attention of EMSA’s oversight board — and indeed of taxpayers who help fund the ambulance service.
The report this week confirmed what had been reported in media accounts — namely, that CEO Steve Williamson and others at EMSA have spent lavishly through the years on travel, accommodations and in other areas. The audit report labeled the spending not as illegal but as inappropriate.
The audit, which was requested by the EMSA board, looked at agency spending from January 2009 to June 2012. During that time, Williamson was reimbursed for more than $400,000 in expenses; more than half of those involved no board oversight. Among the reimbursements: $669 for room service and a $415 spa bill. What sort of work on behalf of EMSA merits such extravagance?
State Auditor Gary Jones said the board has “unintentionally fostered a culture of acquiescence in which officers and employees are permitted to establish inappropriate patterns of expenditure behavior and fail to disclose potential conflicts of interest, unbeknown to members of the board.”
Simply put: The board was asleep at the switch. This has to change.
As the saying goes, timing has a lot to do with the success of a rain dance. That’s especially true of tax proposals.
Oklahoma County officials had planned to submit a $350 million jail proposal this spring, but decided to delay that action. Officials worried that placing the issue on the ballot at the same time as school board elections could hurt turnout for either the tax question or the board races.
Regardless of timing, the half-cent sales tax increase is likely to face resistance from voters. And regardless of timing, the current jail will remain inadequate.
Although officials have addressed most jail critiques raised by the federal Justice Department in 2007, the remaining problems require major structural changes. If the facility isn’t replaced, it may be just a matter of time before the federal government takes it over.