- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tulsa World, May 16, 2016

Holding budget hostage over cheap prison labor a stupid idea

As the deadline nears to finish the state budget and with the state struggling with a $1.3 billion budget hole, a group of legislators put their heads together and came up with an idea: Let’s hold the budget hostage.

Why? Because of a plan to save money by closing some prison work centers across the state and consolidating the inmates into a leased prison in Sayre. And that, the legislators say, would take away the cheap labor that their towns receive from the prisoners at the work centers. And they won’t hear of that.

The Board of Corrections’ consolidation plan would close 15 work centers and move the 1,200 offenders to the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite. About that many higher-risk prisoner from the reformatory would then be moved to a leased facility in Sayre.

It’s not the ideal way to deal with the state’s consistent habit of underfunding and overfilling prisons, but it’s better than most.

The idea to hold the budget hostage is outrageously irresponsible. This stunt reeks. It is politics at its worst.

The state prison system is at 122 percent of capacity. The employees are overworked and underpaid. The prisons are crowded and dangerous for employees, prisoners and the public.

And legislators from western Oklahoma are willing to wreck the budget process just to get the roadside trash picked up on the cheap. It costs the state $17.6 million a year to provide labor to only a few communities across the state. The rest of the state is subsidizing small town janitorial service.

Guess what, guys? Times are tough all over.

Here’s a suggestion for the legislators. After the session adjourns, grab a paint brush and head on down to City Hall. They could use some free labor down there.

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The Journal Record, May 16, 2016

OKC becoming an easy sale

A lot of very fit people visited Oklahoma City over the last few weeks.

The NBC and Esquire Network show American Ninja Warrior built a gleaming obstacle course at the state Capitol, and about 125 athletes took their chances hopping from step to step, swinging on iron rings, scaling a 14-foot wall and, often, falling several feet into shallow pools.

Kristen Stabile, a co-executive producer of the show said the contestants, almost all of whom are from out of state, brought an average of about 10 family and friends. They filled hotel rooms, ordered meals and took positive tales of adventure back to their hometowns, including a scramble inside the Capitol to escape severe weather. What could be more Oklahoma than that?

The visit means that on one of the summer’s most popular unscripted shows, Oklahoma City will be featured alongside Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Philadelphia, providing a positive image boost to the masses even after the end of NBA Playoffs.

It’s one more leap forward for Oklahoma City. Bringing in biceps doesn’t do much to transform the community, of course. But the visit shows that entertainment giants now recognize the progress in the community.

Like an athlete trying a new regimen, things changed quickly around here after the passage of the original MAPS sales tax. And people built on that foundation of success. We learned new skills, such as managing development effectively and getting the best team by convincing private entities to contribute to the growth.

As Sue Hollenbeck from the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau pointed out, it didn’t cost the city anything but a few meals when wooing the producers, though the production company will get tax credits. It’s another sign that Oklahoma City’s reputation draws people to town.

But, as Mayor Mick Cornett noted at his development roundtable last week, some things haven’t been easy over the last year as low commodity prices hurt the energy industry, which had spent so long sharing its profits with the community.

Look around, however. Morale remains high. New projects continue in the Wheeler District, west of downtown, on NW 23rd Street and along the Kilpatrick Turnpike.

Competitors on American Ninja Warrior have a reputation of cheering each other on, even as they face their own difficulties and strive for the same prize. Maintaining that kind of team spirit will help this city continue to get stronger and fitter.

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The Oklahoman, May 13, 2016

Open government wins with Oklahoma high court’s ruling

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the argument that a videotape showing a University of Oklahoma football player punching a coed was not a public record and thus shouldn’t be made available. Score one small victory for open government.

The case dates to the summer of 2014, when OU’s Joe Mixon got into an altercation in a Norman restaurant. The skirmish was captured on the restaurant’s surveillance system. Mixon reached a plea deal and was given a one-year deferred sentence; he also was suspended from the team for the 2014 season.

The state’s Open Records Act says facts concerning an arrest must be made public upon request, and that copies should be allowed, too. Norman’s city attorney, the police department and the district attorney refused to make available copies of the videotape. The city argued that what was being sought by media organizations “does not depict an arrest or the cause of the arrest.” Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman agreed.

Along the way, authorities allowed Sooners coach Bob Stoops, athletic director Joe Castiglione and OU President David Boren to view the video, and they let a group of media members view it and then report to their readers/viewers what they had seen.

The Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters fought the judge’s decision, and won a round in court in February of this year when the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reversed Balkman’s 2015 dismissal of the lawsuit. Although the court agreed with the judge’s decision that the section of law dealing with arrest records didn’t apply, because Mixon had turned himself in and wasn’t arrested, it noted that during a hearing,

Balkman had requested that the video be played in open court and had made a journal entry in which he called the video “part of the Court record.” Thus, the appeals court said, the surveillance video was accessible to the OAB or anyone else who might want it.

The court ordered the case back to the lower court, where Balkman refused to make the video public. He said the line from his journal entry was “incorrect” and that the video wasn’t part of the court record.

In its 6-3 ruling Wednesday, the state Supreme Court overturned the judge’s ruling that the video wasn’t part of the court record. His viewing it during a court hearing, the justices essentially said, made it an open record.

The OAB immediately fired off a letter to the Cleveland County court clerk, requesting a copy of the videotape. How that ends up is anyone’s guess.

Some would argue, what’s the point of pursuing this nearly two years after the incident? The answer is that this isn’t about trying to shame Mixon or the university or the judge. It’s about diligently guarding the notion that open, unfettered government and access to records is central to our way of life. It’s an ongoing pursuit - last fall, the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity gave Oklahoma an F grade for government openness - that The Oklahoman and other media outlets take seriously, and the public should too.

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