Happy Monday from OPUBCO HQ, where I’m glad my pick for Best Picture, “The Hurt Locker,” had such a great showing last night at the Academy Awards.
Here’s a few of our stories you might have missed over the weekend:
–Watchdog reporter Ann Kelley had an update on an investigation into a decorated state trooper who has been accused of improperly handling surplus helicopter parts. The trooper, Joe Howard, continues to draw his annual salary of $57,600 on paid leave as the investigation now drags into its 15th month.
–A plan to protest a pending Open Records request by The Oklahoman may have backfired for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, whose members could face an ethics investigation for using state equipment to e-mail and phone the newspaper and the state agency that received the request at their association’s urging. (More background on the newspaper’s request is here.)
The workers were upset because the newspaper requested birth dates, salaries and other basic employment information for all state employees. The request remains unfulfilled. The birth dates of public employees have been deemed public information under a recent opinion by [Attorney General Drew] Edmondson.
Edmondson released the birth dates for his employees to the newspaper last month. Oklahoma City Public Schools this week released birth dates for more than 5,000 district employees in response to an open records request.
–While we’re talking about background checks, Watchdog reporter Sonya Colberg dug into just how much information can be gleaned from the state’s standard background check. Not included in the standard background checks by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation are criminal records from other states, protective orders or civil filings. For a good explanation of what is and isn’t covered, check out the box that ran with the story.
–The debate over what to do with health care reform continues to rage in Washington, but one company based in Tennessee appears to be playing on the fears of customers. Watchdog reporter Vallery Brown has the story in today’s paper about an alleged health insurance scam that has left a trail of unpaid claims across the country, including Oklahoma. (More background on that story here.)
–Courts reporter Nolan Clay had an interesting story on the limits of technology and law enforcement. It turns out a convicted felon who had already served time in federal and state prison for weapons and drug convictions was allowed to wear a GPS ankle bracelet:
Early last year, convicted drug dealer Ricky Fitzgerald Reese was sent to state prison to serve a five-year sentence for selling crack cocaine near an Oklahoma City high school.
He stayed 10 months.
In late November, prison officials put an ankle monitor on him and let him loose. By February, prosecutors allege, he was selling drugs again — even as corrections officials were supposedly monitoring him by global positioning satellites.
Good Monday from OPUBCO HQ, where I’m wondering what to watch on TV now that the Olympics no longer dominate the prime-time slots.
Here’s a look at what you might have missed from our Watchdog team over the weekend:
–Reporter Sonya Colberg took a look at a proposed law to tighten up the educational requirements for drug and alcohol counselors in Oklahoma. It’s a complicated issue, because on one side you’ve got counselors with great life experience who might leave the profession if they have to get master’s degrees. On the other side is the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ effort to increase the professionalization of the counselors in Oklahoma.
–Randy Ellis explored one lawmaker’s efforts to revamp the state’s foster care system. Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell, is looking to Florida as a possible model to privatize Oklahoma’s foster care.
–It’s Oscar week, so I had story explaining how film producers are using the state’s film rebate and a separate tax credit to recoup up to 49 percent of their qualified movie making expenditures in Oklahoma. With the state budget crunch, the tax credit part of that incentive package might hit the cutting room floor.
–Finally, Ellis had interviews with both of the people involved in a dispute in Lindsay involving the mayor.
–Tulsa had some problems with concrete falling off an Interstate 44 bridge last week. The Tulsa World‘s Data Editor Gavin Off asked the state Transportation Department for a database of damage claims against the state. What he found is that it’s fairly easy to file a claim, but a lot harder to actually get the money.
–The Associated Press had a comprehensive story on the latest efforts by state lawmakers to expand exemptions to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, closing off public access to things like public employees’ dates of birth, information from the state’s Film Office and autopsy reports.
–Detroit is losing thousands of people in the wake of the recession, but its new mayor isn’t losing hope. He’s pursuing a new strategy of “smaller is better,” a rarity among mayors who typically tout grand projects. The Wall Street Journal has more on the story:
Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Bing, a Democrat first elected last year to finish the term of disgraced former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, hasn’t touted big development plans or talked of a “renaissance.” Instead, he is trying to prepare residents for a new reality: that Detroit—like the auto industry that propelled it for a century—will have to get smaller before it gets bigger again.
–Oklahoma has its own long-running lawsuit over poultry waste. Today, the Washington Post delved into the larger issues surrounding industrial farming and the most basic of byproducts. Oklahoma gets a mention:
Despite its impact, manure has not been as strictly regulated as more familiar pollution problems, like human sewage, acid rain or industrial waste. The Obama administration has made moves to change that but already has found itself facing off with farm interests, entangled in the contentious politics of poop.
In recent months, Oklahoma has battled poultry companies from Arkansas in court, blaming their birds’ waste for slimy and deadened rivers downstream. In Florida, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed first-of-their-kind limits on pollutants found in manure.
–Finally, The New York Times had its own pollution story in Sunday’s paper. This one looked at the difficulty of establishing jurisdiction in pollution cases involving the Clean Water Act.
In a joint project with our counterparts at the Tulsa World, we wrapped up a two-day series today on care homes for the mentally disabled.
You can check out the World‘s version of the series here.
Meanwhile, courts reporter Nolan Clay had an exclusive story Sunday on the possibility that pharmacy shooting defendant Jerome Ersland might have planted evidence at his store:
The discovery of the shell casing brings back up a key dispute in the case: Did the robbers shoot at the pharmacist? The casing could not have come from Ersland’s two guns.
Ersland told police he fired in self-defense because both robbers shot at him. He contends one bullet hit his wrist, breaking his watch. He said he shot Parker again because Parker was getting up after suffering a head wound.
Prosecutors contend Ersland was the only one who fired any shots. Prosecutors also say only one robber, Jevontai Ingram, was armed but Ingram did not shoot. Ingram’s gun was never recovered.
–Toyota’s recall woes have been big news for several weeks now, and the company’s CEO is due to appear before a Congressional committee later this week. The Detroit News has a look at what might be revealed, including internal company memos touting its success with regulators on a prior recall.
–Another recession story came via the New York Times on Sunday. But this one had a twist: a look at the plight of the long-term unemployed across the country.
It’s cold and windy this morning outside OPUBCO HQ, but at least the sun is shining. Here’s what you might have missed over the weekend:
–Watchdog reporter Randy Ellis got a tip recently that illegal immigrants were working on Vance Air Force Base in Enid. He checked it out, and it turned into an interesting story about who is allowed on base in the post-9/11 era. You can read more here.
–In case you needed more evidence of just how serious the state budget crisis is, Sonya Colberg took a look at how cuts are affecting mental health treatment centers.
–The Dallas Morning News took a look at the murky accusations between competing Amazon fishing tour operators, including one based in the Dallas area. Allegations of sex tourism and underage Brazilian girls taken on the fishing trips are still being investigated by authorities, but is it nothing more than bad blood between the tour operators? Far down in the story is a reference to our own governor, whose trial-lawyer friend arranged a 2007 trip with one of the operators, Wet-A-Line. It should be noted that nothing has tied Gov. Henry’s trip to any of the accusations that the Dallas paper raised:
According to e-mails provided to The News by a third party, Marsteller has maintained a steady and zealous campaign with U.S. authorities, peppering them with information on Wet-A-Line. Some people have been surprised to learn that their names have turned up in Marsteller’s correspondence, such as the governor of Oklahoma.
A Marsteller e-mail to an agent for Immigration and Customs Enforcement noted that Gov. Brad Henry and his party of 22 had been Wet-A-Line clients in Brazil.
Henry took a trip in September 2007 with aides, friends and lawyers. Paul Sund, the governor’s spokesman, said a friend of the governor arranged the trip.
No one has said that the governor or anyone in his entourage engaged in illicit activities on this trip.
State police investigators made advance inquiries with Brazilian authorities and the U.S. Embassy about Wet-A-Line, Sund said. “Nobody raised a red flag or said, ‘Watch out, this guy may be under investigation,’ ” Sund said.
Only after their trip, Sund said, did the governor’s office learn of Marsteller’s accusations against Wet-A-Line. “It was a big shock to us,” he said.
–After a year of stories looking into alleged cheating on Georgia’s standardized tests by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, state officials have admitted that there is a problem. An analysis of erasure marks on test booklets could point to systematic cheating in almost one-fifth of the state’s school districts.
–A federal database that is supposed to track the disciplinary records of hundreds of thousands of health care workers is incomplete. Hospitals were expected to start using the database in March, but the missing information may hinder the efforts to perform thorough background checks. The revelations come from a joint investigation by ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times.
Happy Monday to you from OPUBCO HQ, where we can barely see out of the windows because of the snow.
We’re debuting a weekly feature today on the Watchdog blog, our Weekend Rewind. Each Monday, we’ll bring you the highlights and links you might have missed over the weekend, as well as a few links to other investigations and stories that caught our eyes.
–Watchdog reporter Sonya Colberg has an interesting feature on a man in southern Oklahoma who takes care of the lions at the G.W. Exotic Animal Park. Check out the nDepth feature here.
–Vallery Brown has a look at the money-making possibilities of housing federal immigration inmates at the Oklahoma County Jail.
–Our Capitol Bureau detailed the number of lawmakers turned lobbyists at the statehouse, as well as calls for a waiting period to be instituted.
–The science is unsettled, but Oklahoma health officials are keeping an eye the research behind the chemical BPA in everything from soup cans to plastic bottles.
–The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the risks and rewards of investing in the life insurance policies of other people. (In a related note, officials at Oklahoma State University recently sued an insurance company for its claims about OSU Athletics’ “Gift of a Lifetime” program.)
–The New York Times detailed the bizarre story of a West Texas prosecutor who filed criminal charges against a nurse for blowing the whistle on a local doctor to the state medical board.
–If you’re curious about crime statistics, the NYT also has a story about new research into claims that some NYPD officials were “juicing” the stats to make crime incidents appear less severe than they were.
If you see anything that we missed that you think was noteworthy, send us a link and let us know.
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–Database Editor Paul Monies