POSTED ON JULY 24, 2013:
The City's News
Impressed by the crowd.
Tulsa city councilors described a larger-than-expected crowd at a July 16 public meeting to present proposed city infrastructure projects.
"To me, the overwhelming takeaway from the meeting was the number of people that got up and spoke positively of the package as a whole," said Councilor Skip Steele in a July 18 council committee meeting.
Councilors described how citizens filled to capacity the auditorium at Hardesty Regional Library.
While Steele and other councilors noted how few criticized the proposed projects, which have a combined price tag of more than $900 million, Steele noted that much of the city has not yet been heard from. Out of five such meetings, the July 16 meeting was presented by councilors who represent areas of south Tulsa.
"It seems like every segment of the city, you have different concerns or different focuses," Steele said.
Councilor G.T. Bynum contrasted the response to how the public reacted in meetings for last year's failed Vision2 tax extension proposal, or even the initial public response to the city's Fix Our Streets initiative 2008.
G. T. BYNUM
"Those were not the type of positive responses that we had" at the most recent meeting, Bynum said.
The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 30, set to begin at 6pm at Martin Regional Library, 2601 S. Garnett Road.
Councilors will decide later this summer what to put on an expected November ballot proposal to extend existing portions of sales tax that will help fund these projects. General obligations bonds would also be issued.
The newest initials in Tulsa IT.
It made the city a bit of a laughingstock. But the false-alarm hacking scare that for a few weeks last year shut down Tulsa's official city website has since sparked meaningful change, according to T.L. Cox, the newly named director of the city's information technology department.
"The incident in September was, for us, a learning opportunity," said Cox, an internal hire moving into the role from the city's Management Review Office. "In the months since that incident, we've established an information technology security board that meets regularly to identify risk, to review policies and procedures related to hardening of our systems."
The person in charge of the city's IT department at the time of the incident last year, Tom Golliver, ultimately resigned. The perceived hacking threat actually was a routine security test of the city's system.
Cox said that along with the security board, "we've created incident response teams that are responsible for the ongoing identification, investigation and resolution of security incidents."
He spoke as interim head of the IT department, before Mayor Dewey Bartlett announced last week that Cox will take over the job permanently.
But Cox already was prepared to describe some of the challenges facing the department in the future, many of which were noted in a detailed consultant's report commissioned after the false-alarm mishap.
The report noted that while the department's spending has gone up since eight years ago, staffing levels were below what might be expected.
"The underlying point of that analysis is that when you have older hardware, when you have older software, when you have duplication in the systems that you're providing ... all of those things together require more staff to maintain," Cox said. "So the staffing numbers themselves, I believe, are a reflection of the lack of investment, not only in new and consolidated hardware, but also the ongoing lack of investment in training for IT staff," Cox said, adding, "because of budget constraints, the city just hasn't been able to do that."
High on the list of needed upgrades in Cox's estimation are a new police records and court management system, as well as a finance-related "enterprise resource planning" system.
Behind the scenes, there has been some additional turnover and new faces in the IT department. Cox said in mid-July that the city has made 13 hires so far this year. The total IT staff numbers 141 employees, he said.
The department ultimately has responsibility for roughly 4,000 computers, tablets and devices, as it serves city departments -- referred to as customers by Cox -- with wide-ranging needs. To improve, the department has developed a strategic plan, Cox said.
"The direction we want the department to move in basically should be the direction that our customer departments are moving in," Cox said.
True store savings.
Oklahoma-based retailer Hobby Lobby continues to challenge federal law requiring companies providing employee health coverage to pay for morning-after pills -- and the chain will at least temporarily avoid costly federal penalties.
A federal court on July 19 granted the company a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of the section of the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to pay for the drugs.
"This is a major victory for not only Hobby Lobby, but the religious liberty of all for-profit businesses," Kyle Duncan, an attorney for Hobby Lobby, said in a statement. Duncan serves as general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is helping with the case.
The owners of Hobby Lobby, the Green family, have cited their religious beliefs in arguing that they should not have to pay for morning-after pills or week-after pills, forms of contraception that are readily available but remain controversial.
Morning-after pills work by "delaying or preventing ovulation, blocking fertilization, or keeping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus," according to the Mayor Clinic. In their statement, the Becket group described the recent legal ruling as a victory against the "abortion-drug" mandate.
Blue plate special.
Oklahoma City leaders in December purchased license plate readers for police, a technology that has recently come under scrutiny by civil liberty advocates.
In Tulsa, police have also looked at the technology but no purchase has been made, according to Leland Ashley, a TPD spokesman. It allows police on patrol to quickly scan license plates of nearby vehicles to check for "hits" associated with criminal