- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tulsa World. Jan. 6, 2017.

We are of two minds concerning the announcement that no further charges would be filed against former Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz.

Like many people, we would like to put this scandal behind us and allow the sheriff’s office to move ahead. But we also want to feel that all the questions about the Glanz administration have been answered in a fashion that would prevent similar situations from developing again, and that all the details have been wrapped up completely.

We can’t say we’re at that point.

The way that Okmulgee County District Attorney Rob Barris announced his decision to close the case reflects that he knew it was a decision that wouldn’t satisfy everyone.

Barris, who was appointed by the court to conduct the investigation, made his announcement that “no further action is required … and the matter is closed” on Dec. 30, the Friday before New Year’s Eve - a classic Friday afternoon dump.

That’s an old and sometimes successful political trick. If you have controversial news, release it on a day when no one is paying much attention, such as a holiday.

Barris said his choice was based on a report by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which has been completed for months, and the work of the grand jury, which led to the resignation of Glanz.

We have no reason to doubt the thoroughness of the OSBI report, and we admire the efforts of the grand jury, which returned two misdemeanor indictments against Glanz and issued a scathing eight-allegation accusation and recommended his removal from office; but we wish we could feel that all the Ts had been crossed and all the Is dotted in following up on the findings of those efforts.

Glanz pleaded guilty to willful violation of the law for driving a county-owned vehicle despite taking a stipend to use personal transportation. He pleaded no contest for failing to turn over the 2009 internal report involving then-Reserve Deputy Robert Bates despite lawful requests. It was Bates’ fatal shooting of Eric Harris in 2015 that started the unraveling of the Glanz administration.

The Glanz cronies are out of the sheriff’s office. A new sheriff has started the process of reforming the agency.

All of that is for the good. Barris’ announcement essentially means the Glanz scandal is now in the history books. We hope it’s a history that will never be repeated.

___

The Enid News & Eagle. Jan. 8, 2017.

Thumbs up to Oklahoma for receiving an extension through June 6 to meet requirements of the federal REAL ID Act.

The state was facing a Jan. 30 deadline that would have made it more difficult for people to gain access to Oklahoma’s military installations, including Vance Air Force Base, and other federal buildings.

However, this is only a temporary fix because legislation must be approved this session to make this permanent.

Now it’s up to the Legislature and governor now to solve this issue for Oklahoma.

Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 to make driver’s licenses harder to forge.

Signed into law by President George W. Bush, the REAL ID law seeks to fortify state procedures to confirm people’s identities and to ensure terrorists cannot manufacture bogus but realistic-looking driver’s licenses.

Another thumbs up goes to former Assistant District Attorney Jason Seigars swearing to uphold the Constitution and laws of Oklahoma as special district judge.

Seigars replaces retired Judge Norman Grey, who left the bench this past summer for retirement.

Seigars was selected by the five district judges of the Northwest Administrative Court District.

Seigars will hear small claims cases, divorces and protective orders, initially.

Because he last served in the district attorney’s office, a conflict of interest will exist for several months for criminal cases. Seigars is not subject to term limits in his position.

Congratulations!

Last, but not least, thumbs up to Park Avenue Thrift for being honored with the Business in the Arts Award at the 41st annual Governor’s Arts Awards with a ceremony and reception at the state Capitol.

The award recognizes individuals, businesses and corporations that exhibit outstanding support for the arts.

Paula Nightengale, co-director of Park Avenue, said several Enid organizations and residents came to the ceremony supporting Park Avenue.

“It was really gratifying to have people realize what we’re doing,” she said. “We did not even know we were being nominated. We learned a friend of ours wrote up the nomination and conferred with others in Enid.”

This honor is well-deserved.

___

The Oklahoman. Jan. 9, 2017.

Given the state’s $868 million shortfall, it’s appropriate lawmakers are holding budget hearings well in advance of the February session. House Speaker Charles McCall’s decision to hold hearings in the House chamber so all members can attend is also prudent.

The first such hearing, focused on the Department of Education, indicated lawmakers are asking good questions, but also highlighted the need for refining the process.

Agency officials asked for a $221 million increase, plus another $282 million increase for teacher pay raises - a net increase of $503 million. Yet as Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City, noted, the department’s leadership offered “no real solutions for streamlining our education system to make it more efficient and to target student needs,” and the proposed funding increases came “without accountability for how those dollars are spent related to education results.”

In a tough budget year, lawmakers should demand greater focus on cost savings and genuine benefit from expenditures. That’s especially true of Oklahoma’s top-heavy school system and 500-plus districts. One review of U.S. Census Bureau data for the 2011-2012 school year found Oklahoma ranked sixth-highest in the percentage of funds spent on district administration. Calvey noted that more than 50 percent of Oklahoma school employees are not full-time classroom teachers. Clearly, streamlining is both possible and needed.

Lawmakers also had reason for skepticism about the agency’s overall budget request. Of the $221 million for items other than teacher pay raises, only $56.7 million was directly tied to student enrollment growth and $39.2 million tied to increased teachers’ health insurance costs. More than half the budget increase request was based on wishes as much as needs.

For example, agency officials requested $15 million for a pilot program. This isn’t the year for multi-million dollar experiments. Similarly, officials want textbook funding increased more than 100 percent compared with two years ago, yet the student population has not doubled.

Also sought is additional money to rework the state data system. Calvey noted the proposed system would cost more than three times what the original system did, and said there is no need for an expensive overhaul when that money could be better used elsewhere.

Other lawmakers raised valid questions regarding the teacher pay request. Rep. Michael Rogers, a Broken Arrow Republican who is also a former school principal, noted Oklahoma provides a generous benefits package to teachers that can offset some of the pay differential with other states. Others pointed out that most states are struggling with teacher shortages.

One flaw of the hearing is that lawmakers had no opportunity for follow-up questions. That flexibility should be provided in the future.

Bureaucrats seldom volunteer to embrace efficiency and often resort to doomsday rhetoric when changes to the status quo are proposed. The problems noted with the Department of Education’s budget request won’t be unique among state agencies.

To truly maximize efficiencies and taxpayer benefit, lawmakers must be prepared to constantly challenge agency heads and bore down into budget requests. Doing so can make the difference between managing a budget crisis or allowing it to spiral out of control.

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