POSTED ON JULY 3, 2013:
No fine is just fine. Hobby Lobby celebrated a legal victory on June 28 that at least helps the Oklahoma-based company avoid potentially millions in fines. Citing religious beliefs, company owners vowed to not follow new federal health care mandates related to having morning-after pills covered by insurance plans for employees.
"Hobby Lobby and the Green family faced the terrible choice of violating their faith or paying massive fines starting this Monday morning," said Kyle Duncan, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Hobby Lobby, in a June 28 statement. "We are delighted that both the 10th Circuit and the district court have spared them from this unjust burden on their religious freedom."
The case remains pending, however, with no final ruling yet.
Computer problems. It's been several months since the city's information technology leaders mistook a routine test with the work of hackers. That debacle led to the city's website being shut down completely and warning letters sent to anyone who might have provided personal information online -- and, when it was revealed to have been a false alarm, it wasn't long before the city began a new search for a top IT official.
That search continues, but a report commissioned in the wake of that incident has been released.
Unsurprisingly, the firm Public Consulting Group described a very flawed organization in a report dated June 26.
For example, while noting that the IT department's spending has increased over the last eight years, "there has been no clearly defined IT vision or strategy for the City's IT investments leading to a lack of focus and accountability," the report noted. It goes on to say that the city's spending on IT infrastructure is still below that of similarly-sized cities, "meaning IT is spending more but not necessarily investing well in the City's future."
The report also described poor staff development leading to poor morale.
Perhaps most alarmingly, "many of the City's core, mission critical applications are dependent on aging technologies, which increases the probability of failure and the cost of support."
The report offered a host of recommendations, including more closely aligning IT department decisions with larger city goals.
Special designation. Residents in southwest Tulsa say it would be nice for roads and other infrastructure to be in place before new development starts -- or at least upgraded at the same time new buildings go up.
But their small-area plan can't do much to enforce such a requirement, Steve Sherman, a city planner, told a group of about 15 residents at a June 26 meeting at Zarrow Regional Library.
Doing road and other infrastructure upgrades at the same time as major developments is known by planners as "concurrency," Sherman told the group, noting that, "historically, this is not common in Tulsa."
He told the group that enforcing such a requirement would take a city ordinance, though the plan being put together for the West Highlands/Tulsa Hills neighborhood could at least make such a recommendation in hopes it would guide future development.
Some residents also talked about their desire to create a "special" district designation for the neighborhood, perhaps replacing existing zoning.
More meetings are scheduled as city planners and residents continue to work together after a draft plan presented by the city was overwhelmingly rejected by people who live in the area.
Mobile grocery rolling into place. A new way for people living in north and west Tulsa to find fresh produce and other grocery staples is set to roll into those neighborhoods soon.
A mobile grocery store run by a nonprofit group was unveiled to residents for the first time June 27 at the northeast campus of Tulsa Community College.
The store, really a specially outfitted trailer, will carry "fresh produce, milk, eggs, cheese, bread meets, staple goods, a few toiletry items," said Katie Plohocky, president of the Healthy Community Store Initiative. "What we won't be carrying is potato chops, candy, junk food."
With financial seed money from the Helmerich Foundation and the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the effort will begin in earnest later this month. Plans call for the truck to have six regular locations where it will travel and set up shop.
"We see it to continue indefinitely until we put ourself out of business," Plohocky said, describing how she thinks strong sales would be a signal to a bricks-and-mortar grocery to move in and offer goods in areas that currently lack easy access to grocery stores.
Home Ice. On June 20, the Central Hockey League -- the very league where our own Tulsa Oilers play -- was sold. The 20-year-old league went to a collection of team owners known as Central Partners, LLC, and Rodney Steven II, a co-owner of the Wichita Thunder, is serving as acting chair.
But last week, he did something else. He bought the Tulsa Oilers.
Rob Loeber, media relations director for the Oilers, said the sale of the team is unrelated to the sale of the league.
COACH BRUCE RAMSEY
"It's two separate deals. The only way the two sales are related is our new owner, Rodney Steven, is one of the owners that now have ownership of the league. He and his brother run Stevens Brothers Sports Management, and now they have ownership of both the Wichita Thunder and Tulsa Oilers.
Recently, a basketball team sold and ended up becoming the Oklahoma City Thunder. With new owners of the Oilers, one wonders if the team will still call Tulsa home.
Asked straight up if the Oilers were moving, Loeber flatly and without hesitation said, "No." He continued: "The reason he bought the team and what was attractive to him was what he have in place already. We'll still play at BOK, he loves the staff we have in place, although we're probably going to be hiring more staff. He thinks we can be successful here and put a competitive team on the ice. We are firmly committed to staying in Tulsa."
One of those commitments is to beef up the size of the Oilers' organization's personnel, which has, heretofore, had a certain shoestring characteristic to it.
"I think our front office staff is probably going to dou