Sixty-six percent of Oklahomans who were sent a U.S. Census form in the mail have returned it. Nationally, the rate is at 72 percent.
So we’re a bit behind. Ten years ago, 69 percent of Oklahomans responded to the census. So there is a big chance for Oklahoma to catch up, especially now that the Census Bureau has started going door to door.
On Saturday, some 635,000 census takers began visiting the first of what is an estimated 48 million addresses they will go to by mid-July. There will be 5,000 to 6,000 of those census takers working in Oklahoma, according to officials.
The Census is constitutionally mandated to occur every 10 years. Census data are used to apportion Congressional seats to states, to distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds to tribal, state and local governments each year and to make decisions about what community services to provide.
The 2010 Census is only 10 questions long, one of the shortest in history and even if you pondered every question, shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes — I’m assuming most of us won’t have to think long to count the people living in our home with us.
To check how many people in a specific county in Oklahoma have returned forms the U.S. Census Bureau has a pretty cool map that allows you to drill down to your community.
On the page you can find this little widget to track the census on your webpage.
Now that the door-to-door phase has begun, that number should keep going up. Government officials have vowed to continue counting until everybody is counted.
According to the Census Bureau, workers are hired from the community they serve and all have undergone an FBI background check. They are also trained to leave a residence at any sign of hostility.
Census takers will make up to six attempts to count residents at each address and, if still unsuccessful, may ask a neighbor, building manager or some other person familiar with the residence to obtain basic information about the people living there.
Happy Monday from OPUBCO HQ, where we take a moment to remember those affected by the deadly May 3, 1999, tornado that tore through central Oklahoma 11 years ago today.
Here’s what you might have missed over the weekend:
–Reporters Ron Jackson and Johnny Johnson had a fascinating look at the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a family of three last year near Wilburton:
The Sans Bois Mountain range holds many secrets, from Prohibition-era stills to Indian Territory legends of cave-dwelling outlaws. A recent mystery centers on the dark and bewildering disappearance of a Eufaula couple, who told their minister they were being haunted by demons and spirits.
Nearly seven months have passed since Bobby and Sherilyn Jamison and their 6-year-old daughter, Madyson, vanished from those mountains. Investigators have encountered a maze of possibilities when studying the family’s history, leaving open every scenario from murder to the staging of their own deaths.
–A mountain of fly ash from coal-fired power plants has been building up near the town of Bokoshe, and the residents aren’t happy about it. Watchdog reporter Michael Baker has more here.
–There’s been a lot of talk about militias in the last month or so, so reporter Bryan Dean took a look at the short history of the Oklahoma State Guard.
–House Republicans from Oklahoma have sworn off federal earmark requests this year, but Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is picking up the slack in the other chamber. He’s requested more than $600 million in earmarks for the state, reports Chris Casteel from our Washington bureau.
–Eastern Oklahoma is pockmarked with old mines, and it’s a problem for some residents and drivers. Watchdog reporter Ann Kelley has more on the efforts to stabilize the ground near abandoned mines, and the human toll caused by sink holes.
–Reporters at the Arizona Republic looked at property-tax exemptions in the previously fast-growing city of Phoenix. Their analysis showed hundreds of landlords claiming the tax credits meant for homeowners.
–The Chicago Tribune writes about the range of punishments for drivers who excessively speed. The paper found punishment for those speeders varies widely, depending on which judge the drivers appear before.
Stefan Entchev needn’t have worried.
The Arlington Heights man had been clocked blasting down Interstate Highway 90 at 100 mph. He feared hundreds or thousands of dollars in fines and community service. A conviction also could have jacked up his insurance rates.
But Entchev had the good fortune to admit his guilt to Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel Jordan, who gave him a special probation in 2008 that allowed Entchev to keep the ticket off his record. No conviction. No community service. A $55 fine.
–Thousands of barrels of oil continue to leak out into the Gulf of Mexico from the deadly fire and sinking of a drilling rig almost two weeks ago. The oil and gas blog Drilling Ahead has a lengthy look at the technical side of what happened:
It’s a good thing that the Deepwater Horizon didn’t settle right on top of the well. At least there’s room for the remotely operated vehicles to maneuver. Also, there’s still a lot of riser still floating in the water column. So there’s some element of integrity going down to the blowout preventer.
It’s absolutely imperative to shut off that oil flow. We just have to hope and pray that the BP and Transocean people can get the blowout preventer shut off. Or that there’s enough integrity to the risers somehow to get in there and control the leaks, perhaps with some sort of plug. One other idea is to lower a large “hood” over the leak and capture the oil so it can be pumped up to a storage tanker ship.
Meanwhile, the relief well has to go down — carefully and safely. This Macondo well is history. Seal it. Mark it. Give it back to the sea. Move on. Don’t tempt fate on this one. And wow… for a relatively modest-sized deep-water discovery, this thing sure has turned into the well from hell.
–The New York Times examines the status of the charter school movement, and finds that some of the latest research on their effectiveness has caused some rifts among education reformers:
What most experts can agree on is that charter school quality varies widely, and that it is often associated with the rigor of authorities that grant charters. New York, where oversight is strong, is known for higher performing schools. Ohio, Arizona and Texas, where accountability is minimal, showed up in Ms. Raymond’s study with many poorly performing schools.
The founder of the one of the charter schools mentioned in the story, the Harlem Children’s Zone, was in Oklahoma last week.
A fellow reporter once told me when looking for a story I needed to find its heartbeat.
I thought I understood the concept of finding a face to show my readers, presenting someone or something that could stand as the life blood of a particular story.
But frequently, if not always, there are times when journalists learn details or encounter a set of circumstances that just won’t make it into the paper or on the website. And sometimes, the face and the heartbeat aren’t the same thing.
Last week, for example, I met with individuals who had insight into a story I was working on about a little girl who was killed in 2008. Most of them wouldn’t speak to me on the record, but their stories contributed to my understanding of the situation surrounding baby Davi-Angela Harber’s death.
One long conversation with a family member of Davi-Angela’s was particualrly striking. She was hard, when most people pushing 90 have softended somewhat. Her eyes pounced from moving car to walking pedestrian on the street, not paranoid, but keenly aware of everything around her.
She told me she looks sideways at the grade school kids that walk down her cul-de-sac. She said she always “packs protection.” In fact, as she sat next to me, she reached up to her chest and pressed around the outlines of where she was hiding a knife in her brazier.
This relative was one of many who saw but never reported Davi-Angela’s abuse. She thought holding a knife to Davi-Angela’s abuser’s neck would correct the problem.
Davi-Angel’s mother, DeAngela Barger, is currently jailed on a fist degree murder charge in connection with her daughter’s death. Regardless of her guilt, Oklahoma has laws on the book for reporting child abuse: If you see it, you’re supposed to call and report it.
In police reports and in conversations with me, several family members admitted they never called the police when they saw her kicked, punched and waylaid.
Davi-Angela was the face to my story, but this fact was the heart beat. One can only wonder how things might have changes if someone had spoken up for this little girl.
Any tips for us? Suggestions? Observations?
–Water rights are always a contentious topic in Oklahoma, although it’s not all about selling excess water to other states. Watchdog reporter John Estus takes a look at a surprising controversy over an Oklahoma City water trust’s plans to buy water from Sardis Lake in southeast Oklahoma.
–Oklahoma hasn’t been hit as hard by the fallout from the mortgage market, but people have been affected here in the state. Watchdog reporter Vallery Brown talks to a local minister, who took out an adjustable-rate mortgage but soon ran into problems.
–It’s been a tumultuous year at mega-charity Feed the Children, what with infighting among board members and the founders. But that hasn’t dented the charity’s fund raising efforts. Reporter Nolan Clay has the latest filing Feed the Children made with the Internal Revenue Service that showed contributions of almost $1.2 billion last year.
–Deadly tornadoes struck several other states over the weekend, but not Oklahoma. Still, columnist Bryan Painter takes a look at the numbers of tornadoes in Oklahoma since 1950. What he found might surprise you.
–Education reporter Megan Rolland describes the run-down conditions at an Oklahoma City alternative school:
The Oklahoma City school for pregnant teenagers and other at-risk youths lacks heat in some classrooms, has a computer lab infested with termites and a roof that leaks in the rain.
Emerson Alternative School, which offers day care for the girls’ babies and also serves at-risk young men, was built in 1894 and will be one of the district’s last schools to be renovated under the MAPS for Kids program.
–Those vanity tags do have limits on them, even if you are paying the state for the privilege of personalizing your license plates. Nolan Clay has more on a few that slipped by at the Oklahoma Tax Commission, as well as some examples of vanity tags rejected by the agency.
–Arizona’s new law on illegal immigration made most of the news over the weekend, but a reporter from the Des Moines Register takes a look at Oklahoma’s recent immigration law, House Bill 1804.
–As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, the New York Times has a story about how some of the service members are treated when they return stateside and are assigned to Warrior Transition Units:
But interviews with more than a dozen soldiers and health care professionals from Fort Carson’s transition unit, along with reports from other posts, suggest that the units are far from being restful sanctuaries. For many soldiers, they have become warehouses of despair, where damaged men and women are kept out of sight, fed a diet of powerful prescription pills and treated harshly by noncommissioned officers. Because of their wounds, soldiers in Warrior Transition Units are particularly vulnerable to depression and addiction, but many soldiers from Fort Carson’s unit say their treatment there has made their suffering worse.
–Finally, rats are a fact of life in urban areas like New York City. But the city’s residents in one of its more ritzy neighborhoods are complaining about a new infestation of the rodents. I don’t know what’s more interesting about this story: that the super-rich aren’t immune to urban problems, or the fact that New York City has a Rat Information Portal.
It’s hard to pinpoint the single cause of any rat infestation. Experts say rats, like humans, want to be near food sources and won’t move out of their homes if they don’t have to.
The effects of large explosions night after night on rats aren’t well documented, says Bobby Corrigan, a rodent expert who consults for the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“The public has the perception that if there’s construction, there’s going to be rats,” he says. “There’s never any scientific evidence to show those two things are correlated.”
A Seminole County trial was interrupted Tuesday when a courtroom deputy observed a man in the gallery videotaping proceedings with a tiny camera hidden inside a device that looked like a pen. The judge excused the jury for lunch and then called the man to the front of the courtroom and ask what he was up to. The man, who identified himself as David King of Ada, said he had bought the hidden camera in China and had decided on his own that it would be intesting to videotape the trial of his friend, Stephanie Sills. Special Judge Gayla Arnold did not appear to be amused. Arnold said it was against court rules to record court proceedings without first obtaining permission. She confiscated the camera for the duration of the trial and said if anyone else videotaped proceedings without prior permission, she would consider the person to be in contempt. In this day and age, when cameras can be found in cell phones and numerous other devices, their use in inappropriate places could increasingly become an issue.
Reporters get all manner of bizarre tips from the public. Such a tip led to last week’s story on a crucifix some said showed a large penis on Jesus. The story has since gone international, having been picked up by blogs and news sites worldwide. It has received tens of thousands of hits on NewsOK.
And it all started with a phone call. That’s somewhat remarkable considering all the dead ends we typically run into when we get calls from the public that seem as outrageous as this call about Jesus’s genitals.
Many of the strangest calls I’ve taken as a reporter came years ago when I worked the Saturday police beat. Something about Saturdays just seemed to ignite strangeness in people.
One of my regular Saturday callers often phoned asking what I could do to stop a group of men (whom she called “beefcakes”) from stealing a bird feeder from her back yard garden. Supposedly, this theft was occurring hourly. Another regular caller was convinced that a local funeral home had kidnapped her family, tapped her phones, stolen her identity and then sold that identity to the National Security Agency, which was trying to repossess her home and have her “locked up” for “knowing too much” (I later traced her phone number to a public housing unit, but that’s neither here nor there).
And then there’s The Growler, who earned his nickname because of the unmistakable growl in his voice. The Growler did not restrict his calls to Saturdays. For a couple years, it seemed he called at least one reporter a day with some sort of complaint or conspiracy theory. The Growler would always call sometime between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., meaning he’d never actually speak to the reporter because they weren’t at work yet. Instead, The Growler left long, meandering messages that were often cut off by our voicemail system because they lasted too long. No matter; the Growler would simply redial and finish ranting. Years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to start my day with three or four voicemails from The Growler. He was usually hacked off about something he’d just read in the paper that a government official had done or said. For whatever reason, The Growler hasn’t called in years. I do miss him, even though I’ve never actually spoken to the man.
My colleagues have all encountered countless daffy tipsters like these. My point is we get a lot of crazies calling up here. Just the nature of the business. So when I got a call last week from a woman claiming there was a large, erect penis on Jesus on a crucifix in a local Catholic church, you’ll understand why I didn’t take it seriously at first. Then other folks started calling, and a picture of the piece in question appeared in my e-mail. We knew then we had a story.
Just proves that sometimes picking up the phone is all it takes to find a story. Never know who – or what – awaits on the other end of the line.
If you’re not crazy and have a tip, call me at (405) 475-3481.
It must be Monday if the weekend rain has stopped. Here’s what you might have missed over the weekend from our Watchdog team and others here at The Oklahoman:
–Watchdog reporter Randy Ellis has a comprehensive look at the inspection records and star ratings of a privately run day care in Oklahoma City that has gotten in trouble lately over lax supervision.
- Academy rating stays unfazed after Oklahoma City child care center’s violations
- Oklahoma City day care center has reported issues to DHS
In related DHS stories, the Tulsa World has the latest on a private group’s lawsuit over the state’s foster care system, as well as how much money DHS has spent defending itself using outside attorneys. Meanwhile, a similar fight is brewing in Massachusetts over that state’s foster care system.
–Watchdog reporter Ann Kelley has been on the case of the Liberian girls who were adopted by a Fairview couple from the beginning. Kelley talked to Liberian officials who have been concerned enough about several U.S. adoption cases, including the Oklahoma one, to temporarily halt adoptions from the African nation.
–Our Washington bureau reporter Chris Casteel followed a recent Congressional hearing that looked at how much data schools and other educational institutions are collecting on schoolchildren.
–In related education news, reporter Megan Rolland looks back at the fight over House Bill 1017 back in 1990. The parallels to today are striking: Tea Party protests, taxes and educational funding efforts (like the battle over this year’s State Question 744).
–Meanwhile, Capitol reporter Michael McNutt has the latest on the infighting among the loose coalition of Tea Party interests in the state.
–The tragic mine accident in West Virginia has gotten a lot of attention in the last couple of weeks. On Sunday, the Washington Post took a look at the “revolving door” of lobbyists and industry regulators in the mining industry:
More than 200 former congressional staff members, federal regulators and lawmakers are employed by the mining industry as lobbyists, consultants or senior executives, including dozens who work for coal companies with the worst safety records in the nation, a Washington Post analysis shows.
The revolving door has also brought industry officials into government as policy aides in Congress or officials of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which enforces safety standards.
The movement between industry and government allows both to benefit from crucial expertise, but mining safety experts say it often has led to a regulatory system tilted toward coal company interests. That, they say, has put miners at risk and left behind a flawed enforcement system that probably contributed to this month’s Massey Energy mine explosion in West Virginia.
–The Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges Friday against the investment bank Goldman Sachs over some questionable mortgage trades. New York Times reporter Louise Story follows up her previous reporting on the issue with a look at how much top Goldman executives were following those trades at one of their units.
–California nonprofit news outlet CaliforniaWatch reported how that state’s nursing homes have been reaping millions in subsidies, even as they cut staff.
Happy Monday from OPUBCO HQ, where we had some great stories in the paper and online this past weekend. Here’s what you might have missed if you were out doing yard work like everyone else in my neighborhood:
–Watchdog reporter Ann Kelley and photographer Jim Beckel were in the right place at the right time on Friday. They were in Fairview getting an exclusive interview with the adoptive parents of the Liberian girls when the state sent a social worker to pick up the girls. That story appeared in Saturday’s paper. Then on Sunday, Kelley had the main story, a long-sought-after interview with the parents. (Read previous stories on this issue at our DHS coverage page.)
–State Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, continues to dodge questions about his campaign finance reports. We had a follow-up story on Sunday about Terrill’s amended reports with the state Ethics Commission. He did not list almost $13,000 in campaign contributions last year until reporters with the Oklahoman asked him about discrepancies between his reports and the reports of several political action committees. Terrill, who was fairly open about the discrepancies a few weeks ago, has declined to answer follow-up questions from the paper. (Take a look at Terrill’s latest Ethics Commission amended report and copies of canceled checks here.)
–Most Oklahoma Catholics know the story of Okarche’s Father Stanley Rother, who was murdered in Guatemala’s bloody civil war almost 30 years ago. Even if you’ve heard the story before, it’s worth checking out reporter Ron Jackson’s Story of the Ages, a multimedia package about Father Rother.
Within a month, Rother reluctantly fled for his life after being told he was on a government hit list. Finally, after months of agonizing, Rother concluded his place was among the people of Santiago Atitlan.
“I said, ‘Why do you want to go back?’” recalled Tom Rother, Stanley’s brother and the youngest of five children. “I said, ‘They’re waiting on you, and they’re gonna kill you.’ He said, ‘Well, a shepherd cannot run from his flock.’
–Watchdog reporter Randy Ellis details the difficulty some surviving spouses of disabled veterans are facing when it comes to benefits.
–Education reporter Megan Rolland had a story today comparing the budget woes–and plans–of the Oklahoma City and Tulsa school districts.
–Metro reporter John A. Williams had an interesting story about how Census officials are reaching out to the gay and lesbian community.
–Nonprofit journalism group ProPublica had a very detailed look at a secretive hedge fund that played a key role in delaying the fallout from the current financial crisis.
From what we’ve learned, there was nothing illegal in what Magnetar did; it was playing by the rules in place at the time. And the hedge fund didn’t cause the housing bubble or the financial crisis. But the Magnetar Trade does illustrate the perverse incentives and reckless behavior that characterized the last days of the boom.
I got a little late start for this week’s Weekend Rewind, but here’s what you might have missed over the Easter weekend:
–A joint investigation by The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World found the state has been making millions each year from the sale of personal information to insurance companies, employment screening services and data resellers. (For continuing coverage of this issue, click here.)
–A jury in SE Oklahoma ruled against chicken company Tyson Foods Inc. in the first of several lawsuits in McCurtain County that allege Tyson treated chicken growers unfairly. Watchdog reporter Randy Ellis has the story here.
–Young mayors have attracted attention–and notoriety–in several cities, such as Stillwater and Muskogee. Watchdog reporter Michael Baker has a preview of Mayor John Tyler Hammon’s reelection race in Muskogee. One of his opponents in the cousin of U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
–The Honolulu Advertiser has a comprehensive look at nursing homes in Hawaii.
–In a victory of sorts for transparency in South Carolina, several cities are now putting court information online. The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier has more information here.
–I’m a big fan of the Web site Snopes, which debunks all kinds of myths and misperceptions, including those annoying chain e-mails you get from relatives. The New York Times has a look at the people behind the Web site.
In a given week, Snopes tries to set the record straight on everything from political smears to old wives’ tales. No, Kenya did not erect a sign welcoming people to the “birthplace of Barack Obama.” No, Wal-Mart did not authorize illegal immigration raids at its stores. No, the Olive Garden restaurant chain did not hand out $500 gift cards to online fans.
On a related note, columnist Bryan Painter took on e-mail scams over the weekend, too.
Happy Monday from OPUBCO HQ, where we’re supposed to get temperatures into the the 70s today. Could spring finally be here?
Here’s what you might have missed over the weekend from our team and elsewhere:
–Watchdog reporter Michael Baker covered the plea arrangement of a state trooper accused of kicking a handcuffed female suspect who allegedly spit on his pants. Barry Jacob Rowland, 33, pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor assault and battery charge. He also agreed to give up his law enforcement certification.
Special District Judge Cynthia Pickering sentenced Rowland to one year of unsupervised probation, a fine and court costs of $796 and required him to resign from the highway patrol and CLEET by Thursday. Rowland has been a trooper since May 2006 and on paid leave since the incident.
After the hearing, [Okmulgee County District Attorney] Giulioli praised highway patrol trooper Ronnie Sites, for reporting the incident.
“It took a tremendous amount of courage for him to report this incident,” Giulioli said. “Had he not done so, I don’t think it would ever had been brought to light.”
–In other law enforcement news, Randy Ellis has a story today about alleged sexual harassment by the police chief in Fairview:
Less than two months after reaching a $40,000 settlement in a federal sexual harassment lawsuit against him, Fairview Police Chief Robert Banks is under investigation for alleged improper conduct in a class he was teaching for the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET).
–The Oklahoma Public Employees Association has gotten a sweetheart deal under state law to get access to the home addresses of more than 40,000 state employees so they can send out recruitment mailings. The lawmaker who secured that favor, Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, was later named OPEA’s “Legislator of the Year” for 2009.
–Speaking of Rep. Terrill, he’s returning at least $5,000 in campaign contributions for his 2010 re-election campaign after it was discovered he has not yet set up a campaign committee for 2010 at the state Ethics Commission.
–Federal health care reform has been signed into law, but that hasn’t stopped the debate. Chris Casteel in our Washington bureau looked into how the bill might affect Oklahoma’s Medicaid program.
There are nearly 600,000 Oklahomans on Medicare, the government insurance program for seniors. So, if Medicaid expands to cover more than 1 million people and Medicare enrollment stays near the current level, about half of the people in the state will be in one of the two programs.
The [Oklahoma] health care authority is estimating that the Medicaid expansion under the new law will reduce the rate of uninsured people in the state from about 17 percent to around 11 percent. The law’s subsidies to individuals and small businesses to buy private insurance are expected to reduce that rate further.
At one time or another in the last fiscal year, the Oklahoma Medicaid program, SoonerCare, had 825,000 participants. This month, there are about 680,000 Oklahomans on Medicaid and an estimated 51,000 children whose parents have no other insurance who could be, but aren’t, enrolled.
When the new eligibility guidelines begin in January 2014, there will be 265,000 newly qualified Oklahomans, according to the health care authority.
–Political pundits are wondering how Tea Party backers will use their newfound power to influence this year’s midterm elections. The New York Times talked to some of the Tea Party organizers about their motivations:
The fact that many of them joined the Tea Party after losing their jobs raises questions of whether the movement can survive an improvement in the economy, with people trading protest signs for paychecks.
But for now, some are even putting their savings into work that they argue is more important than a job — planning candidate forums and get-out-the-vote operations, researching arguments about the constitutional limits on Congress and using Facebook to attract recruits.
“Even if I wanted to stop, I just can’t,” said Diana Reimer, 67, who has become a star of the effort by FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group, to fight the health care overhaul. “I’m on a mission, and time is not on my side.”
–The Wall Street Journal has a heart-wrenching story about the fallout from a mass-shooting at an immigrant center in Binghamton, N.Y. At issue is how much the victims and victims’ families should be compensated.
The process of distributing funds in Binghamton began when the local social-services director asked area charities, social service groups and lawyers to form a committee to oversee the task.
Among the questions they considered:
Who deserves more money: Survivors traumatized by the event, or the orphans of two slain parents?
How should they value the wounds suffered by a man who tried in vain to protect his wife by wrapping his arms around her?
Should a family with 11 children receive more than one where the breadwinner lost his job?
And what about the relatives of the dead? Should they be consulted, or would their woeful accounts inappropriately sway the committee?