The fate of what remains of popular Newcastle landmark South Canadian River bridge is still an undecided but “touchy subject,” Newcastle City Manager Nick Nazar said.
City officials have discussed the possibility of turning the bridge into a lookout point but some residents who live near the bridge are wary of tourist traffic, Nazar said.
“We have to be very careful, as preservation efforts take place … not to intrude on the neighboring properties,” Nazar said.
Nazar clarified that many Newcastle residents are passionate about preserving the bridge and turning it back into a landmark.
The nearby residents are only part of the issue with renovating the bridge for tourism.
Story written by Darla Welchel. Edited for and posted to the web by Ryan Croft.
Linda Farnham may be relatively new to the community, but she is not afraid to make her wishes known to the Newcastle City Council - especially when it is about something for which she has a great passion.
Farnham spoke during the Citizen’s Comments portion of Thursday evening’s special council meeting to approve the annual budget. Though her comments had nothing to do with the budget, Farnham was adamant about her “frustrations” and concern over the lack of proper recycle bins and the constant mess surrounding the current recycling location.
“I moved to Newcastle two years ago and was in shock because of the lack of recycle [options] in Newcastle,” she said during the meeting.
Farnham said that she lived in the city for a while before she even found the bins located between the police and fire departments, and that there was no kind of notice about them in the city trash and water bills.
Newcastle officials believe the city might be losing a cumulative $1 million and counting to Norman because of a ZIP code dispute with the post office.
Monday night’s city council meeting will include a vote to form a committee to change that problem, according to the meeting agenda.
The Chamber of Commerce will join City Hall members in recruiting members of the Newcastle community to join the committee, City Manager Nick Nazar said.
Certain homes on the border between Newcastle and Norman are technically Newcastle residences but maintain Norman ZIP codes.
That zip code confusion has cost Newcastle a lot of money over the years, Nazar said.
City sales tax on delivered goods in Oklahoma is determined by the ZIP code of the buyer’s house, according to Oklahoma Tax Commission’s website.
“We do a pretty good job on collecting from the businesses in that area but whenever a business, say, in Norman delivers to [the area in question], we don’t … capture those sales tax dollars,” Nazar said.
Determining exactly how much money is lost on those wayward transactions is difficult because businesses use software programs that automatically report each sale based on the ZIP code, not actual city boundaries, Nazar said.
“Using ZIP codes to determine tax rates is a mistake,” according to tax management website Avalara.com. “ZIP codes lack the accuracy sales tax compliance requires.”
The Zone Improvement Plan, or ZIP code, was established by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in 1963 to make the delivery of mail faster and more efficient, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Postal Museum website.
The postal service constantly changes ZIP code boundaries, making them unstable data sources, according to Avalara.com.
The area in dispute is where Norman’s 73072 ZIP code borders Newcastle’s 73065 ZIP code.
Part of the 73072 originally belonged to Norman but, over time, became Newcastle property.
The issue has been with convincing the USPS to update its zip code to match the change in property ownership, Nazar said.
Lawmakers have unveiled a plan to issue up to $40 million in bonds to pay for the construction of a new building that would house two state agencies.
House and Senate committees passed a bill on Monday that would authorize the bond issue for a new facility to house the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Mental Health and Substance and Abuse Services.
The bill still must be approved by the full House and Senate and signed by the governor before it would take effect.
Both state agencies are currently housed in aging, dilapidated buildings that have been plagued with problems including electrical and plumbing issues and mold.
Midwest City Republican state Rep. Gary Banz says both buildings are on the verge of being condemned.
The Oklahoma House passed legislation supporters say will bring more accountability and transparency to an organization that oversees thousands of high school athletes and participants in other extracurricular activities.
The House voted 59-30 for the Senate-passed bill and sent it to Gov. Mary Fallin to be signed into law.
HB 2730, by Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, targets the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association, which oversees extracurricular activities for public schools for grades seven through 12. The bill says no school can join an athletic association unless it complies with the Open Records and Open Meeting laws. The bill also requires the organization to receive a public performance audit.
The OSSAA has been the subject of numerous complaints lodged by coaches and parents.
"When I first started this endeavor two years ago, I was told the OSSAA was hard to crack," Cleveland said. "I found out they are very politically potent. But, the people that support them support the OSSAA, not the current directors."
Cleveland also said that his bill was an important bill for the kids of Oklahoma, as well as coaches.
The bill will become law in November.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Under a settlement with the state ethics commission, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association has agreed to no longer give state lawmakers up to two free passes to playoff games. OSSAA says it was a "longstanding policy" to give the passes to any state senator or representative who requested them. But in a statement Friday, the association says it ran afoul of state ethics rules that require the reporting of any gift worth more than $10.
OSSAA Executive Director Ed Sheakley says the association will also pay a $1,200 fine to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission for not listing the free passes in lobbyist reports. Sheakley says the association gave away the passes so lawmakers could be better informed about OSSAA activities — not to influence any specific legislation.
The co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party says it was constitutionally protected political speech. Oklahoma County prosecutors say it was blackmail.
It will be up to a 12-member jury to decide whether Sooner Tea Party co-founder Al Gerhart committed a crime when he sent an email to a state senator who has said he felt threatened by its tone.
Jury selection begins Monday in Oklahoma County District Court for Gerhart's trial on felony blackmail and computer crimes charges that were filed in April 2013. Gerhart has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry penalties of up to five years in prison.
Gerhart has acknowledged he sent an email to Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City, chairman of the Senate Energy, Telecommunication and Environment Committee, on March 26, 2013, urging him to schedule a hearing on legislation favored by his conservative group.
The email involved a House-passed measure that would have prohibited state organizations from following a United Nations plan to help cities and countries become more environmentally sustainable. Branan refused to give the bill a hearing, saying the legislation was based on a "fringe conspiracy" alleging that the U.N. wanted to use its Agenda 21 plan to encroach on the private property rights of Americans.
Among other things, the email demanded that Branan give the measure a hearing, "or I will make sure you regret not doing it."
"I will make you the laughing stock of the Senate if I don't hear that this bill will be heard and passed," the email said, according to court documents. "We will dig into your past, yoru family, your associates, and once we start on you there will be no end to it."
Gerhart, 55, defended the email after the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation. Gerhart said he had sent similar emails to legislators before and would continue to send emails because he believes they are effective.
"Political advocacy is not blackmail," he said. "We don't want anything from these politicians except they follow the public good."
But an affidavit of probable cause that was filed in the case says the email to Branan "was intended to threaten and intimidate him."
Branan testified at a preliminary hearing in September that he was anxious after reading the email and felt threatened. He is expected to testify again at Gerhart's trial.
"It just kind of got the hair up on the back of my neck," the senator said. "It was not your normal email. He had woven family into the email. My two young children are out of bounds."
Branan said he was not inclined to consider the measure mentioned in the email and felt it was an attempt to force him to do something against his will. The charge alleges the email was intended to compel Branan "to do an act against his will" by threatening to expose information "which would subject such person to the ridicule or contempt of society."
"He was threatening to say or do anything about me or to me," he said. "I definitely felt threatened."
Defense attorneys have argued there was insufficient evidence to support the charges and that the email was merely political speech that was protected by the First Amendment.
But prosecutors argue that the email's threatening tone amounts to blackmail and is "beyond the pale of First Amendment protection."
Agenda 21 was the product of a 1992 U.N. conference in Brazil that aimed to encourage environmentally friendly and sustainable practices around the world. It includes suggestions from the international level down to cities and towns.
Many conservatives have latched onto those local provisions, seeing them as a U.N. attempt to influence American affairs.
Heading in to an election year, Rep. Tom Cole wanted to make sure that it was the important things that got his attention.
That's the work ethic the 10-year Congressman is promoting ahead of his reelection campaign, a message he spread when he toured the area last week.
If reelected, Cole, R-Moore, hopes to return to Washington D.C. to address some of the big issues that Congress has put off in favor of short-term issues, Cole said.
"Now through the election, there won't be a government shutdown, there won't be a standoff," Cole said. "The downside is that we're postponing dealing with the big problems."
Cole referred to overspending as substantial, despite spending being at its lowest level since the second Bush administration. Cole also targeted increased use of entitlement programs, particularly Medicare.
"One of the things people my age need to realize is that we can't keep spending the way we have in the past," Cole said, stating that the burden of paying for increased medical costs falls increasingly to the young.
Cole championed his ability to put together bi-partisan support for issues he felt Republicans and Democrats in Congress could agree on. One of the few Republicans in the House to vote in favor of Hurricane Sandy relief in 2012, Cole also cited a bill he wrote that was signed in to law by President Barack Obama several weeks ago.
The bill, supported by Okla. Sen. Tom Coburn, eliminates $36 million in federal funding for political national conventions, instead diverting that money into funding for pediatric disease research.
While Cole predicts enough victories for the Republican party in this year's election to retain the House and take control of the Senate, it's that ability for Republicans to "accept reality" and work with Obama and Democrat leaders where they can to accomplish as much as they can that will best aid the nation's recovery from economic recession.
"[Obama] is the President. Some folks may not like that, but he won the popular vote," Cole said.
Storm surveyors with the National Weather Service (NWS) have rated a tornado that struck the northeast Oklahoma community of Quapaw an EF2 on the enhanced Fujita scale.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin Monday toured tornado-ravaged Quapaw, telling residents the state has issued an emergency declaration to kick-start cleanup and rebuilding efforts.
"We can begin the process of rebuilding in Quapaw," she said.
On man, 68-year-old John L. Brown, of Baxter Springs, Kan., died when a concrete wall fell on his car, and six others were reportedly taken to hospitals with injuries. Fallin said the tornado that struck around 5:30 p.m. Sunday also destroyed Quapaw's fire station and at least five businesses and other structures.
Quapaw Police Chief Gary Graham said about 60 structures sustained some damage. Authorities said the tornado that hit Quapaw, a town of about 900 residents, was a "bit of a strange anomaly" with the governor noting that tornado warnings had been not been issued at the time.
After hitting Quapaw, the twister continued north into Kansas and struck Baxter Springs, about 5 miles away. Cherokee County, Kan., emergency manager Jason Allison said 60 to 70 homes and 20 to 25 businesses were destroyed. No deaths were reported in Baxter Springs.
Bill Davis, a meteorologist in Springfield, Mo., said tornado sirens didn't sound in Baxter Springs until right before the twister hit the town because of how quickly it formed.
"That's what happened in Quapaw, too," Davis said. "It's that worst-case scenario where a tornado forms right in a populated area. It was within a minute of the warning."
"That thing formed so rapidly," Davis said. "We looked at one scan when that thing started, and it already had gone through Quapaw."
John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw Tribe, said about 200 people had gone to a shelter there because they were aware of the forecast, even though the more serious tornado warning had not been issued.
"We get used to knowing what it looks like when it gets scary," Berrey said. "Unfortunately we are pretty used to this kind of weather."
Sharon "Dixie" Benfield, 55, was on the phone with her mother Sunday night when the wall caved in.
"I was in a state of shock," she said. She was not injured.
Bill and Nancy Weddel were running to get to the safety of the bathroom when the tornado hit, sending glass and other debris flying.
"It was like it was coming after us — everything was exploding," Nancy Weddel, 63, said.
Her 58-year-old husband said their plans will depend on what the insurance company covers.
"We are all OK. Shook up, but OK," Nancy Weddel said. "It could have been worse. God just had his hand over us. He is what took care of us."
Under Fallin's executive order, state agencies can make emergency purchases and acquisitions to deliver materials and supplies to needed jurisdictions. The declaration also marks a first step toward seeking federal assistance.
The National Weather Service in Tulsa says on its Twitter account Monday morning that a survey crew is on its way to Quapaw to assess the damage intensity, path and more.
The director of the Storm Prediction Center, Russell Schneider, says the threat for intense storms will continue across the Gulf Coast on Tuesday and through the Carolinas on Wednesday, with strong tornadoes possible each afternoon and evening.
A team from the NWS office in Tulsa issued the rating Monday after surveying damage from the tornado that struck around 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
No other details about the tornado assessment have been released.
The tornado traveled from Quapaw to Baxter Springs, Kan.
A team from the NWS’ Springfield, Mo., office issued an EF2 rating for the Kansas portion of the tornado on Monday as well.
One person, identified as a Baxter Springs man, was killed in Quapaw. More than 30 people were injured.
Long-running tension among Oklahoma's three branches of government boiled over last week with Gov. Mary Fallin accusing the state Supreme Court of overstepping its bounds in a death penalty case and some Republican lawmakers so upset by the court that they called for the impeachment of justices.
The latest tumult arose after the high court's decision to briefly delay the pending execution of two death row inmates, though the rift between the Supreme Court on one side and the Republican governor and legislature on the other has been growing for some time.
"It's a government of divided power, and of course powerful people tend to covet still more power," said Randall Coyne, a University of Oklahoma law professor who specializes in capital punishment and constitutional law.
A major role of the Supreme Court is to determine the constitutionality of laws approved by the Legislature, and since Republicans took control of the statehouse in the late 2000s, legislators have passed numerous laws later shot down by the court as unconstitutional. Just last year the court ruled a plan to cut the income tax and repair the state Capitol was an unconstitutional example of logrolling, or having more than one topic in a bill, and also shot down a sweeping civil justice reform measure that prompted Fallin to call the Legislature into a special session.
Despite the rancor, when the Republican-controlled House had an opportunity Thursday to give the Legislature more power in the selection of judges, the attempt was shot down by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
Rep. Aaron Stiles, R-Norman, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, attributed the bill's defeat to a blistering lobbying effort by the powerful bar association, but said he and many other legislators still have serious concerns about what they perceive as the lack of a check on judicial power.
"If we don't have that check over the judicial branch of government, we have a Supreme Court that makes those types of idiotic rulings," said Stiles, referring to the Supreme Court's decision Tuesday to grant a stay of execution, an exceedingly rare move by the court that handles civil matters, and not criminal cases. "We want an independent judiciary, but we also want checks and balances over the judiciary, and right now we have none.
"They are a complete oligarchy."
But Coyne, the law professor, dismissed as "absurd" the talk of impeaching justices, which hasn't happened in Oklahoma since a court scandal in the 1960s.
"I think the call for impeachment was absolutely ludicrous and blatantly politically motivated," Coyne said.
Although Republicans control both the Legislature and governor's office, many Oklahoma judges, including eight of the nine Supreme Court justices, were appointed by Democrats.
Rep. Mike Christian, a retired state trooper and a supporter of the death penalty who drafted articles of impeachment in the House, denied that he was motivated by politics.
"The articles of impeachment were not a threat designed to elicit a positive response, but rather written and filed to outline specific charges of willful neglect of duty and incompetence," said Christian, R-Oklahoma City.
Christian went on to say he didn't care how the two men were executed, whether by lethal injection "or being fed to the lions."
House Speaker Jeff Hickman said in a statement that impeachment allegations are very serious and "not to be taken lightly," but he did entirely not rule out the possibility of considering the resolution.
"We will review Representative Christian's House resolution and determine if there is merit moving forward with such action," said Hickman, R-Fairview.
The Supreme Court seemed to de-escalate the tension when it ultimately dissolved its stay of execution and said the inmates were not entitled to know the source of the drugs that would be used to execute them. The decision paved the way for both men to be executed on Tuesday, setting up the possibility of the state's first double-execution since two convicted killers were electrocuted in 1937.
"It's become heated, and hopefully reason will prevail and tempers will die down before a constitutional crisis is precipitated with this really nonsensical behavior," Coyne said.
-THE ASSOCIATED PRESS