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Oklahoma County Jail A Step Closer To Plan, New Preservation Guidelines, Changes At Chesapeake

Guards make their rounds on the eighth floor of the Oklahoma County Jail in Oklahoma City.
Brent Fuchs
The Journal Record
Guards make their rounds on the eighth floor of the Oklahoma County Jail in Oklahoma City.

For the past few months a committee has been looking at how to pay for a new Oklahoma County Jail, and made its recommendation on Tuesday.

The facility is only about 25 years old, but it’s had construction problems, mold, sewage in the cells – to the point where the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in and said the inmates faced violations of their constitutional rights.

“The county was able to fix many of the issues, but most people think the rest of them just can't be done without going into a new facility,” said Adam Brooks, the managing editor at The Journal Record. “So there'd be a penny sales tax for five years to build the facility, and then a half-cent ongoing sales tax to fund ongoing operations, which was something that was not included originally.”

The Journal Record’s Brian Brus reports it’s taken awhile for Oklahoma County Commissioners to agree on how to fix the problem:

Last year, for example, Commissioner Ray Vaughn said he felt confident that an arrangement could be made with the feds that would avoid building a new center. But [Oklahoma County Sheriff John] Whetsel presented an analysis of that option to committee members Tuesday, concluding that starting over with a new building would be less expensive than remodeling. It will require 40 to 60 acres for construction with room for further expansion someday, he said. Sites were not discussed. The special committee, which included Treasurer Forrest “Butch” Freeman, Deputy Commissioner Rick Buchanan, Deputy Commissioner Joe Blough and County Engineer Stacey Trumbo, did not disagree with Whetsel’s assertion that a significant policy shift must be a component in operating the new jail economically.

“Roy Wililams, who's the president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, said, ‘Yes, we need to do this facility, but we also need to look at criminal justice reform. ‘,” Brooks said. “Things like alternate sentencing, drug courts, they might be able to save money if we just don't lock so many people up.”

Read more of The Journal Record’s coverage of the Oklahoma County Jail

Oklahoma City's Union Bus Station
Credit Allison Meier / Flickr
Oklahoma City's Union Bus Station

Streamlining City Planning

Since 2011, Oklahoma City’s Planning Department has been revising the guidelines for preservation in areas like Bricktown, Stockyards City, and downtown.

Last week a judge ruled developers could proceed with the demolition of the Union Bus Station, and that process throughout the month of June shed light on inconsistencies regarding how Oklahoma City’s different neighborhood associations and districts handle historic preservation.

“They all have different rules, and none of them are really specific about what factors will be considered,” Brooks said. “When someone wants to demolish a building, if you want to save it, what evidence do you need to present? So they want clarity.”

Oklahoma City Planner Lisa Chronister told The Journal Record’s Molly Fleming the Urban Development Committee of the Oklahoma City Planning Commission heard the amended guidelines in July, and the next step is for commission approval, followed by a hearing before the City Council. She hopes they can be effective by November.

The changes would also create an Economic Review Board. If a district’s development committee did not want to approve demolition, it could ask the board to consider the project. The board would be made of three industry members, such as real estate brokers, architects or engineers. They would be picked by the city manager for each case. The board would make a recommendation to the district committee, and then the case would return to that group for a decision. . . . The changes state that historic significance can be supported with research, investigations, and historical or architectural surveys; information from newspapers or libraries that may include photographs or Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, or historic city directories; documentation verifying that the structure is listed in the National Register of Historic Places or has an official determination of eligibility from the National Park Service for the National Register.


The corporate campus of Chesapeake Energy in Oklahoma City.
Credit Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma
StateImpact Oklahoma
The corporate campus of Chesapeake Energy in Oklahoma City.

Chesapeake Changes

On Tuesday, Chesapeake Energy Corporation announced major financial changes that would eliminate their common stock dividends starting in the third quarter. The move is expected to save roughly $240 million, which Chesapeake would put toward drilling operations in 2016.

“The company's been trying to eliminate debt and grow,” Brooks said. “They also announced that they finalized the sale of $90 million of assets in western Oklahoma.”

Oppenheimer & Co. Senior Oil and Gas Analyst Fadel Gheit told The Journal Record’s Sarah Terry-Cobo it’s a step in the right direction:

The company should’ve ditched the dividend three years ago, which could have reduced spending by $750 million, Gheit said. Chesapeake isn’t the first oil company to get rid of dividends, and it won’t be the last, he said. “If oil prices don’t recover, there will be more unpleasant decisions that management has to make, in general in the industry,” Gheit said.

The stock market disagreed, and Chesapeake’s share prices have been dropping since Tuesday’s announcement, hitting a five-year low.

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

The Journal Record is a multi-faceted media company specializing in business, legislative and legal news. Print and online content is available via subscription.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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