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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

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Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman. June 16, 2019.

— Allbaugh served state well

After 3½ years as director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Joe Allbaugh has decided he's had enough and is resigning. The governor will be hard-pressed to find a more passionate advocate for his employees, the taxpayers and those who are locked up.

Allbaugh, 66, brought a straight-shooting approach to the job, and didn't mind if his brusque style ruffled feathers. "We are so antiquated from top to bottom, it is embarrassing," he said shortly after he was appointed in January 2016.

He promised that lawmakers, at a minimum, would hear from him "about the issues confronting the Department of Corrections — the good, the bad and the ugly," and he followed through.

Not long into his tenure, he angered several lawmakers when he asked his board for permission to close prison work centers in 15 Oklahoma communities. The centers provided cheap inmate labor to those municipalities, but cost the DOC $17.6 million per year.

Under Allbaugh, the DOC moved the 1,300 work center inmates to the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite, and inmates at Granite were relocated to the North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre.

Allbaugh worked to place inmates with similar classifications at the same prisons, instead of mixing medium-security inmates with minimum-security offenders. Noting that 94% of those in prison will return to society someday, he attempted to remove prisoner beds from spaces intended for education, work programs and re-entry programs.

His budget requests in recent years have exceeded $1.5 billion — roughly three times more than the Legislature wound up appropriating. Most of what he asked for, $813 million, was to build two medium-security prisons, which he said were needed because the inmate population continues to climb and current facilities are inadequate.

Allbaugh has proposed closing the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester (except for the wing that holds death row prisoners) and moving its inmates elsewhere. He has pushed for pay raises for correctional officers, who are badly outnumbered by inmates, and for all DOC employees. He has advocated for the state Pardon and Parole Board to approve more parole requests each month, and for reforms that do more than "nibble at the edges" and help drive down the inmate population. If significant steps aren't taken, Allbaugh has said, Oklahoma runs the risk of having the federal government take over the prison system.

In offering his resignation, Allbaugh may have been one step ahead of the posse. The Legislature this year approved a bill, sought by new Gov. Kevin Stitt, to give the governor authority to hire the directors of five major agencies, including the DOC. Earlier this month, Stitt replaced the head of the Department of Human Services.

Regardless of the reason for leaving, Allbaugh is to be commended for his efforts and for his forthrightness. "We have a footprint in 67 facilities around the state," he said early on. "We get no efficiencies in the system. It's just absolutely asinine." State government could use more straight talk like that.

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Muskogee Phoenix. June 16, 2019.

— Website fulfills promise

Oklahomans appear to have a new tool at their fingertips that will help them keep tabs on their state's finances in real time and track revenue and expenditures down to the dollar.

That tool, Oklahoma Checkbook, was recently rolled out by Gov. Kevin Stitt in fulfillment of a campaign promise to provide more transparency when it comes to government spending. Transparency is key to good governance, and that is particularly true when it comes to a government's finances.

A quick tour through the pages of the new website — powered by cloud-based OpenGov — revealed myriad details about where Oklahoma gets its money, where it's going, and who's spending it. The data is up to date and can be filtered and visualized in myriad ways.

Oklahoma Checkbook gives users the ability to retrieve a broad financial summary of the state's finances and dig deep for detailed expenditures. Details of each expense are available down to the transaction level, making it quite possible to find that proverbial needle in a haystack.

In addition to the data, Oklahoma Checkbook provides information many taxpayers who decide to explore this valuable resource will find useful. There is a pre-recorded introduction by the governor for some tutorials about the site, its contents, and how to use what has been made available to taxpayers.

This project, which can be found at checkbook.ok.gov, is a shining example of government transparency — something we should expect from every person who is paid from taxpayer funds. Stitt and State Treasurer Randy McDaniel, the governor's partner in this project, deserve credit for their leadership and setting a standard for government accountability.

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Tulsa World. June 18, 2019.

— Firefighters and civilians act quickly to save man submerged into creek wreckage

We shouldn't throw the word around lightly, but the actions of Colby Young, Sam Blackburn and a group of Tulsa firefighters last week were nothing short of heroic.

Young and Blackburn jumped into a creek Thursday morning to help an unconscious dump truck driver who had just crashed off the 5800 block of East 91st Street.

They found the driver unresponsive and his head underwater inside the partially submerged truck. They estimate he had been submerged for three or four minutes before they reached him.

They managed to pull the man's head out of the water, but his torso was trapped.

The water surrounding them was covered in oil and diesel fuel. There's no telling what could have happened, but they stayed by the man's side until the firefighters arrived.

The man wasn't breathing, and appeared dead, but he finally took a shallow breath and slowly started to recover. After firefighters arrived, he started to regain consciousness and was able to wiggle free from the steering column and the gear shifter that were holding him down.

The firefighters train for emergencies and, to a certain extent, expect them. They are heroes in waiting, and they always have our admiration.

But the two civilians — strangers to one another and the truck driver — couldn't possibly have known what lay down the road on their way to work that morning. They saw an emergency and quickly went to help.

There are plenty of stories in the daily newspaper about people behaving badly: There's no shortage of selfishness and cowardice in this world. But in their selfless, brave efforts last week, Young and Blackburn remind us of the altruistic abilities of the species and give us hope for mankind.

Associated Press

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Oklahoma State University

Through leadership and service, OSU is preparing students for a bright future and building a brighter world for all. Read more ›

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