- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Muskogee Phoenix, Aug. 24, 2014

Military-style vehicle sends bad message

There should be only one thing more important to Muskogee city councilors than the safety of our police officers and first-responders - the safety of our citizens.

But councilors should consider seriously all the consequences before agreeing to any budget request - even a request that appears to improve the safety of our police officers.

One such request by the Muskogee Police Department was withdrawn from the Muskogee Finance Committee agenda.

The MPD was requesting the approval to buy a LENCO BearCat Armored SWAT Truck at the cost of nearly $250,000.

Police Chief Rex Eskridge withdrew the request but told committee members he might bring the request before them at a future date.

We hope councilors are ready to ask tough questions when/if the request is renewed.

We have serious concerns about the purchase and eventual deployment of an armored vehicle of this nature.

It is scary to think of the scenario when the MPD Special Operations Team would need to advance on a confrontation in a heavily armed vehicle.

It is frightening to think that kind of military-style assault would be necessary in our city.

It is scary to believe cities the size of Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans and St. Louis would need this style vehicle. But gang warfare seems plausible in those cities.

There was a debate right after the Arrowhead Mall shooting as to whether Muskogee actually had a gang problem.

Some said we do not have a gang problem - we have a family problem.

Purchasing this vehicle would seem to indicate we have a problem - a very dangerous problem.

Muskogee leaders are critical when our city is portrayed as “killing fields” or that we are in the middle of “a bloody summer.”

Those leaders are critical of this newspaper for the message that is sent by our reporting of Muskogee’s deadly violence.

They say that kind of reporting hurts our city’s image and curtails economic development.

But do we really want to send a signal that we live in a city where violence is so prevalent that the police department needs this type of vehicle?

We owe it to any first responders to do everything we can to ensure their safe return to their families every day.

Two hundred fifty thousand dollars is a small price to pay for their safety. The money is not the issue here.

There must be a way to ensure the safety of our officers that does not convey the message that we are no better than major cities with gangs and drug cartels and nearly daily deadly violence.


The Oklahoman, Aug. 25, 2014

Oklahoma lawmakers put on notice by state Ethics Commission

THE state Ethics Commission recently announced a settlement agreement with Rep. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa. Scott agreed to pay a $3,000 civil penalty and make restitution in the amount of $8,273 after the commission found he had used campaign funds for personal use. The commission’s actions could have many state lawmakers looking over their shoulders, because Scott is hardly the only legislator suspected of such abuses.

The Ethics Commission found Scott used campaign funds to buy plane tickets for his children to join him at a legislative conference. In short, he turned a business trip into a family vacation, which is no crime, but then took things one step further by using campaign funds to cover the cost of his children’s travel.

Scott also used campaign funds to pay for maintenance of his personal vehicle, to pay for dry cleaning and to pay for new clothes. He used campaign funds to buy a cell phone. That last item is allowed - but only if the phone is used solely for campaign purposes. The settlement agreement notes the phone was the only phone Scott owned, meaning he was using it for personal use too. Likely as not, the phone was used primarily for personal use, yet it was funded by campaign donations.

Finally, the commission found Scott used campaign funds “to pay for expenses for which he had already received per diem reimbursements from the State of Oklahoma for travel and lodging during legislative session.”

Scott isn’t the first lawmaker caught misusing campaign funds. One of the most notable cases occurred in 2006, when then-Rep. Dennis Adkins, R-Tulsa, was caught using campaign contributions to pay rent to himself for a condominium he had bought in Oklahoma City. Adkins had borrowed $109,000 from a bank to buy the condo. He then leased it to himself and made those payments with per diem money and campaign funds. When that arrangement came to light in September 2006, Adkins had reported spending about $7,000 a month in campaign and office expenses - even though he was re-elected without opposition that year.

Even at the Legislature, Adkins’ actions were unusual. On the other hand, Scott’s actions may not be. Many other lawmakers are routinely alleged to have engaged in similar activity, effectively treating campaign donations as a source of personal income to cover routine expenses ranging from meals to clothes to vehicles.

In the settlement agreement with Scott, the Ethics Commission notes that a “but for” test is used to determine if a campaign expenditure is legitimate. If an expense would not be incurred “but for” the fact that an individual serves in public office, it is considered a valid use of campaign funds. But if the purchase would have occurred regardless of an individual being an elected official, it’s not. Reportedly, a number of lawmakers may be toeing that line. There’s reason to think Scott won’t be the only lawmaker whose campaign spending is scrutinized by the Ethics Commission.

Politicians who solicit donations for campaigns, but then use the money for personal benefit, undermine public confidence in the integrity of elected officials. The Ethics Commission deserves praise for cracking down on those who would game the system, even for relatively minor monetary gain.


Tulsa World, Aug. 25, 2014

Tulsa courted by two retail suitors

Tulsa ought to feel like the most popular girl in the senior class. Not one but two suitors are courting the city for incentives to help them build outlet malls, one in west Tulsa and the other in east Tulsa.

The fact that outside investors are finding Tulsa attractive indicates that interested parties have confidence that the city offers a promising retail environment. If the malls are built, that retail growth in turn will give Tulsa a broader tax base, raising property values. That’s good news for school districts. Increased sales taxes are a pressing concern for local governments.

Incentives in the form of a Tax Increment Finance District - TIF - usually represent a win-win for developments and for the city.

Tulsa’s five TIF districts - The Brady Village District; the Technology District, home to City Hall; the North Peoria District; the Blue Dome District, and the Tulsa Hills District - are going concerns that have helped the city grow.

Tulsa Hills, at U.S. 75 and 71st Street, has invigorated the area and attracted out-of-town shoppers. And, now more commercial development is coming in at 81st Street, just south of the existing mall. The potential outlet is one mile north of Tulsa Hills, at the corner of U.S. 75 and 61st Street. All this development would solidify that corridor as a shopping mecca.

The city’s made no decisions on the incentives. Only one of potential outlet mall developers actually has made application. The proposals will need close consideration, but it’s nice to be wanted, to be seen as a city that has retail promise.

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