- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Lawton Constitution, Aug. 21, 2016

Surplus parks issue rates forward-thinking solution

More research should be compiled before the Lawton City Council makes its final decision on reducing the number of parks. There are many unanswered questions, including in some cases actual ownership and deed restrictions.

The Parks and Recreation Department wants to reduce the number of parks from 81, and that seems reasonable. It’s time to do it right and move on. There is no doubt that some of the parks could be sold. Others are little used and some are tucked away and along drainage ditches and not easily accessible. One near Garden Village is an example. For those reasons, little investment has been made in some parks, but mowing is a constant summertime challenge.

Years ago, during the City Manager Bob Metzinger era, then Parks and Recreation Director Bob Thompson tried to get neighborhood groups to adopt and take care of the parks. It was a good idea. Well-kept private and city property in all neighborhoods helps raise property values.

In this litigious society, however, volunteers working on city property present a challenge, especially if one should get bitten by a snake or be injured while mowing or cleaning up. Who pays for the emergency health care services?

Council members note that volunteer efforts are good. The reality is an enthusiastic group does a great job for a while, but then tires of the work. Volunteers are not replaced and ultimately the city ends up taking over again. Paying contractors may be the best answer to the mowing challenge. Would athletic booster clubs be interested and use the funds for uniforms, participation fees, etc?

The city attorney discovered that land owned by the city could be sold, while parcels with deed restrictions would have to be returned owners. Meanwhile, on 16 of 23 parks, no deed has been found. Does that mean it remains private property? Are property taxes then owed?

Councilman Bob Morford told members that, despite the deed restrictions, he doesn’t want land of little value returned to him and bets other developers don’t either. Seems like the law is clear, however.

It gets more complicated. In settling a suit a few years ago, Councilman Jay Burk pointed out, the city agreed to “begin work on accessibility problems on public facilities, including parks.” The investment needed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act for 81 parks should be enough incentive to pare down the number of parks to those people regularly use.

The issue of disposing of surplus, little-used parks - like drainage, drought, street maintenance, trash collection and other issues - seems to be recycled through a new council every couple of years. Let’s hope staff and council can resolve it for the long term for the citizens.


The Journal Record, Aug. 22, 2016

Helping, not hurting, the most vulnerable

There is a tree planting planned at the Labor Commission offices, a memorial to Mark Costello, who was the commission’s leader until he was killed by his son one year ago.

Christian Costello was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. On Aug. 10, a second hearing was ordered to determine whether Christian Costello was competent to stand trial. He was found incompetent at the first hearing. He told the court he was not sorry he killed his father, that he was a hit man named Golden Eye, that Hillary Clinton was the devil and that he had sold his soul to her.

Mark Costello’s widow, Cathy Costello, has been a tireless advocate for mental health since she witnessed the parking lot stabbing. Two months after her husband’s death she asked lawmakers to support assisted outpatient treatment, to make easier the hospitalization of patients who failed to follow an approved treatment plan.

That led to House Bill 1697, which gave the courts latitude to order a sort of involuntary outpatient commitment, a bit like a probationary arrangement in the criminal court system that allows the person social freedom while keeping an official eye on his adherence to an approved treatment plan. It passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. Gov. Fallin on April 26 signed it into law.

It was a great step forward in addressing Oklahoma’s mental health crisis. Unfortunately, the same Legislature took an even greater step backward before adjourning in May. As Christian Costello was explaining to Judge Roy Elliott that he wanted to plead guilty and be sent to a jail in Minnesota where he knew a doctor who had made him a Freemason, lawmakers were putting finishing touches on a budget that allocated just $7 million to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, less than one-fourth the amount requested.

Oklahoma was 46th among states in per capita spending on mental health before legislators decimated the department’s budget.

Saturday marked the 30th anniversary of the Edmond Post Office mass shooting. Nov. 16 will mark the seventh anniversary of the day Dr. Stephen Wolf stabbed to death his 9-year-old son, Tommy, claiming the boy was possessed by the devil. Now, a tree to memorialize Mark Costello on the first anniversary of his death.

We hope to one day celebrate the anniversary of a law, and a budget, that helped the state’s most vulnerable instead of hurting them.


The Oklahoman, Aug. 22, 2016

Oklahoma voter ID opponents ignore reality in challenge

An effort to have Oklahoma’s voter ID law struck down has failed, but the legal challenge still provided public benefit: It highlighted the ridiculousness of some voter ID opposition.

Based on the arguments made in this case, to believe that Oklahoma’s voter ID law prevents legal voters from casting a ballot one must ignore reality, grasp at straws and suspend disbelief.

Consider the most inflammatory argument offered by those challenging Oklahoma’s law - that the law targets black voters. The plaintiff’s brief notes many states’ voter ID laws were enacted after Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president in 2008.

“Voter ID laws make certain that there will never again be an election of a Black man or women to the high office of President,” the brief declares. “State Voter ID laws can rightly be referred to as the anti-Obama Voting laws.”

First, that argument implies no black candidate will ever earn the support of white voters, which is bogus. But just as importantly, black voter participation has often increased in states that implemented voter ID laws. Georgia’s voter ID requirement took effect in the 2008 election. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found participation among black voters increased 44 percent from the pre-voter ID election of 2006 to the post-voter ID election of 2010.

The Census reports that black voter participation in the 2012 elections was higher than white voter rates in several states with voter ID laws, including Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, Indiana and Virginia.

Then there’s the plaintiff’s argument that Oklahoma’s voter ID law “excludes those persons who, for religious reasons, do not allow any photograph to be taken of them,” citing Amish communities near Chouteau.

That’s certainly an example of grasping at straws. As the site amishamerica.com notes, “Only a small number of Amish cast ballots in presidential elections, perhaps 10 to 15 percent.” That low participation rate is tied to Amish religious beliefs.

Nonetheless, the argument still doesn’t hold up, because a person can vote in Oklahoma even without photo identification.

The website of the Oklahoma Election Board notes, “You may show the free Voter Identification Card issued by the County Election Board as proof of identity even though it does not include a photograph,” the site states (emphasis added). Failing that, a voter can sign an affidavit and vote anyway.

In other words, even for the share of Oklahoma Amish who may choose to vote, the state provides a way to legally do so without violating religious beliefs.

(It’s worth noting those challenging Oklahoma’s voter ID law wanted the Mayes County Election Board secretary called as a witness to testify that Amish people exist in Oklahoma, and answer questions regarding a Wikipedia publication about the Amish. Because, let’s face it, nothing screams “serious legal argument” better than a cross-examination based on a Wikipedia entry.)

The plaintiffs also cite a 2006 national survey and extrapolate its conclusions to argue that 566,712 qualified Oklahoma voters lack valid identification, calling that a “conservative estimate.”

Yet that equates to nearly one in five Oklahomans age 18 and older, based on census data. Readers should ask themselves, do they think one in five of their adult acquaintances has no form of valid ID? The size of the estimate immediately undermines its credibility.

We could cite other examples, but you get the idea. If these are the best arguments opponents have against this law, then imagine how weak their remaining rationalizations must be.

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