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AM NewsBrief: June 20, 2024

This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Wednesday, June 20th, 2024.

Plate Pay meeting

The executive director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority met with tribal leaders this week to discuss the plate pay system.

Only three tribal nations have vehicle tag compacts with the state. So, the plate pay system is an important piece to collecting tolls from motorists. OTA Executive Director Joe Echelle says that’s why he is specifically bringing it up with tribal nation leaders with the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma, who met this week in Miami .
Echelle says whether you have an Oklahoma or tribal license plate

“We try to look you up through any systems that we have, find out who the registered owner and their address is, and mail them an invoice. That's all we're trying to do,” Echelle said.

Of course, anyone - tribal citizens included - can also buy a PikePass to make PlatePay unnecessary.

OKC Zoom updates

Big changes are coming to the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden. The zoo released a new master plan for updating and expanding habitats and public spaces.

One priority is transforming reptile and amphibian habitats into an indoor-outdoor preserve. Construction projects are set to take place over the next ten years.

The plan is expected to cost about $115 to $230 million dollars, and will be funded through private and public sources.

Misspent tax dollars

At least a half dozen small towns across Oklahoma rampantly misspent what little tax money they have so far this year. State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd says the problem is systemic and multifaceted but avoidable.Still, the damage is done.

This is about money misappropriated or misspent by local towns across Oklahoma. That’s about $2.1 million dollars Byrd’s office has accounted for this year that has just poofed into the pockets of city managers, board members, clerks and independent contractors.

Byrd says problems are consistently related to poor leadership in tiny towns across the state, like Braman, Wynnewood and Pauls Valley, but also some county-level governments.

"I think this is a systemic issue across Oklahoma," Byrd said. "I think board members come and go, it's very hard to get board members to even serve. I know a lot of municipalities aren't operating with all board positions filled."

And that, Byrd said, leads to a lack of knowledgeable management and eventual lack of oversight and misspending.

ODMHSA settlement

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond agreed to a proposed settlement Monday in a federal lawsuit against the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

The agreement is meant to improve the Department’s delivery of court-ordered mental health treatment to county jail inmates.

Four inmates found incompetent to stand trial alleged in a suit against the Department of Mental Health in 2023 that they were forced to wait to receive timely, court-ordered mental health treatment while their cases were stayed. Now, Drummond, who represents the Department, says they and other inmates will receive " long-delayed justice."

The proposed agreement would require the Department, among other things, to develop and implement a screening program to expedite the placement of inmates into appropriate care and impose deadlines for delivering treatment that are associated with fines if they are not met.
The federal court must approve the agreements’ details, and the Oklahoma Legislature will also have to approve it once it’s finalized.

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