POSTED ON DECEMBER 26, 2012:
A Meeting That Matters. Years on the waiting list aren't easy. Not when daily life is so hard.
Thousands of developmentally disabled Oklahomans remain stuck on the waiting list for state assistance, which includes help developing basic living skills and aid with other daily needs.
In the meantime, parents -- often alone -- may be providing a level of care that's tough to maintain without a break at least once in a while.
"Families will do everything they can to hold on to keep it together, to keep their family together until their name gets to the top. They will do everything they can. But it's still not easy," said Wanda Felty, mother of Kayla, a blind 24-year-old woman with severe developmental disabilities.
Felty hosts the Waiting List Meeting, a quarterly gathering held since the late 1990s, "created by families for families," she said. More than a support group, every three months families meet with Oklahoma officials to talk about their struggles.
On Dec. 18, the meeting was held in Tulsa at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Skyline building. Felty said about 40 members of the public attended, as well as notable public officials including Ed Lake, the new head of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, and Jim Nicholson, who heads the OKDHS developmental disabilities services division. Two state legislators, Okla. Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, and Okla. Rep. Ben Sherrer, D-Choteau, also attended, she said.
Officials heard the stories of parents concerned about their children and their families. One woman expressed worry about her disabled daughter nearing the end of high school. She wanted to know if she would be forced to leave her job to begin caring for her daughter full time.
"We hear that story every time we have a Waiting List Meeting," Felty said. She's run the meetings since 2007. While the goal is to offer support for families, it's also a chance to lobby for more state funding.
"I personally invite the legislators because I think they're the ones who actually make the decisions," Felty said.
The need seems to be growing. As of December, about 7,000 Oklahomans are on the list to receive services; of this group, about 3,900 have been on the waiting list four years or more, according to Felty, who gathers data from the state and then shares it with other families. In Tulsa County alone, about 1,100 are on the waiting list, according to Felty.
She said families scored a legislative victory last year with some additional funding to provide services. For families receiving state help, it comes in the form of in-home therapists as well as employment-related programs. Case managers also help parents ensure needs are being met, Felty said.
Overall, the help provided by the state "has proved itself," while families view the process for getting help as a problem, Felty said.
"Once they came off the list, it's almost a godsend, because the family, they find hope again: 'I know I can do my part if I just have a little help with something else,'" Felty said.
Project Schoolhouse Getting Professional Sales Help. Like school districts elsewhere, Tulsa Public Schools hasn't had a lot of success finding buyers for unused school buildings.
As part of the district's Project Schoolhouse initiative, several schools were shuttered as part of a consolidation effort.
District leaders announced plans to sell the properties, but since then have only sold two former school buildings: the former Mayo Demonstration School and the former Fulton Teaching and Learning Academy.
On Dec. 17, the school board voted to hire a professional real estate agency to help sell other surplus properties. Now, CB Richard Ellis/Oklahoma -- the local branch of the commercial real estate giant -- will try to market the district's surplus properties. The real estate firm will be paid up to $25,000.
Including the former Sequoyah Elementary School site -- which was pressed into service this year after fire destroyed the longtime Barnard Elementary School site that housed the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences -- the district has seven properties listed for sale.
Elsewhere, districts and communities have had concerns about vacant buildings falling into disrepair. In some cases, districts have even decided to raze structures rather than pay for the upkeep of vacant buildings.
The two buildings that sold now house educational ventures, but the move to hire CB Richard Ellis/Oklahoma may include stronger efforts to catch the eye of developers in other industries.
Judges: Burden on Hobby Lobby "indirect and attenuated." Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby has framed their conflict with the Affordable Care Act as a struggle for religious liberty. But judges with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 20 denied the company's request for an injunction to halt a mandate requiring the company to pay for morning-after and week-after contraception as part of employee health care plans.
Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby and company owners the Green family, issued a statement: "The Green family is disappointed with this ruling. They simply asked for a temporary halt to the mandate while their appeal goes forward, and now they must seek relief from the United States Supreme Court. The Greens will continue to make their case on appeal that this unconstitutional mandate infringes their right to earn a living while remaining true to their faith."
Hobby Lobby contends that the morning-after and week-after pills are essentially tantamount to abortion. The pill work by "delaying or preventing ovulation, blocking fertilization, or keeping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus," according to the Mayo Clinic.
According to a statement from the fund, judges found that the Green family faced only an "indirect and attenuated" religious burden.
Happy Ending for Jazz Depot, new school.At one point, the Deborah Brown Community School appeared caught in the middle of a power struggle between county authorities and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
But with the Jazz Depot now apparently caught up on past-due payments that had county commissioners considering possible eviction, the school and the nonprofit Jazz Depot have entered into a stable agreement for the remainder of the school year.
The school, for the first time operating a satellite campus at the downtown Jazz Depot this year, will pay $2,500 monthly through June 2013 in an agreement authorized Dec. 17 by county authorities.
Stefan Mecke, an attorney representing the school, said the goal is for the school to remain in place beyond the current contract agreement.
"That is the idea and the hope, that that will conitntue there," Mecke said.
The montly payments cover essential utility costs as well as maintenance, Mecke said. In September, Mecke told commissioners that an initial $12,000 payment covered rent for the first year as part of the agreement allowing the school to move in. Commissioners, uspet about past-due utility payments, also were angry they weren't notified by the Jazz Depot ahead of time about plans for a new tenant in the county-owned building.
Golliver Gone-Gone. The head of the city's information technology department during a false alarm hacking incident has resigned, effective Dec. 31.
Tom Golliver, who earned $138,405 yearly, led the department when the city sent alert notices to people who had submitted information via the city's website, cityoftulsa.org. The website was also down for several weeks.
While administrators in early September initially reported it as a hacking incident, they later acknowledged that the initial scare was actually a routine security test.
Golliver was put on paid leave soon after. Maj. Jonathan Brooks with the Tulsa Police Department is serving as interim director of the city's IT department. A search for a permanent director will begin Jan. 1, with an initial focus on internal candidates before the city considers advertising more widely for the job.
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