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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

August 7, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Muskogee Phoenix. Aug. 4, 2018.

— Honor their memory

Seaman First Class Eugene Wicker finally made it home Saturday.

Wicker was among 429 who died aboard the USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

He was on duty in the radio room when torpedoes capsized the Oklahoma.

His body was recovered but not identified. More than seven decades passed before DNA testing was used to identify his remains.

Wicker was laid to rest Saturday with military honors at the Fort Gibson National Cemetery — just down the road from his native Coweta.

Wicker gave the ultimate sacrifice in service of his country.

That makes him an American hero.

He was willing to risk — and ultimately give — his life defending this nation’s ideals.

His sacrifice was one of too many that December day and the many days that followed when the United States entered World War II.

Wicker’s funeral is a reminder of the thousands of military service members who have died or were willing to die in the name of their country.

We as a nation can’t possibly show enough gratitude to surviving family members and loved ones of our fallen service members.

We can’t do enough for those who have served our country and return home.

It should give us pause. We should focus on the inner strength of those who defend our country.

It takes a special person to give that much.

We should strive to embrace each other and help each other because that’s how our nation survived bad times such as WWII.

Working on becoming a better person and a better nation is a proper way to honor the sacrifice of those like Seaman First Class Eugene Wicker.

___

Tulsa World. Aug. 6, 2018.

— SQ 801 is a modest improvement for school finance, but brings no new money to public schools

State Question 801 would give local school districts a little more flexibility in how they can use local property taxes, and, as such, it’s a modest improvement in school finance.

But the overall effect will be small. No one should consider SQ 801 to be a significant step forward for funding public education.

On Friday, Gov. Mary Fallin took steps to put the proposed change to the state Constitution before voters in November. The Legislature had previously approved the proposal.

Under current law, five mills of local property taxes — that’s five tenths of a cent per dollar of property value every year — are dedicated to a building fund. The proposal would allow schools to use the money more broadly, for operational costs including teacher pay or textbooks.

Here’s the critical thing: The proposed change doesn’t add a single dollar to the total amount school districts have to spend on education. It simply allows them to move around the money they already have a little more freely.

And it doesn’t relieve school districts of any of their costs. If their buildings need repairs, they still have to pay for them.

For a few districts whose buildings are in good shape, the proposed change might be a little bit of an advantage, but it certainly isn’t a solution to the long-term funding needs of schools overall.

Some — including Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum — have suggested a far more significant move: Allowing cities to raise taxes and dedicate the funding to school improvements without the money being counted against state aid funding. The Legislature did nothing with that idea this year.

If passed, SQ 801 would have a marginal positive effect, but no one should mistake it for a solution.

___

The Oklahoman. Aug. 7, 2018.

— More hype than substance in Oklahoma Veteran Affairs audit

There has been a drumbeat this year for more auditing of state agencies to ensure taxpayers’ dollars aren’t squandered. A recent audit of the Oklahoma Department of Veteran Affairs undermines that idea. Rather than a fact-based report focused on finances and legal compliance, the audit reads like a collection of anonymous comments gleaned from social media and admits some reported material is based on nothing more than “rumors.”

One wonders: What exactly are policymakers supposed to do with this?

The report, prepared by the office of the state auditor, covers July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017, and immediately concedes the audit was not “conducted in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards” and therefore does “not express an opinion on the account balances or financial statements of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs .”

Instead, the report focuses on the subjective comments of a sliver of anonymous employees made in surveys. The report claims a “culture of fear and intimidation” exists at the agency and employees “actively fear for their jobs and report experiencing dictatorial and aggressive leadership.” If so, one would think successful wrongful termination lawsuits would be plentiful. None is cited.

The audit claims agency employees believe “funds are being removed from veteran care” to improperly expand the central administrative office. If so, one would expect financial records to reflect that, but the report doesn’t cite conclusive data verifying this contention.

The audit cites “concerns that the level of care” provided to veterans “is declining,” but those complaints are tied in part to changes such as outsourcing laboratory services and even standardization of menus. Standardization and outsourcing are routinely used in private business to lower expenses without harming service quality. Is it really bad that a government agency might follow the private sector’s lead on efficiency? On these points, the audit mostly indicates some government employees are resistant to change.

Moreover, the audit concedes “the veterans centers are licensed as long-term care facilities” and “these changes do not appear to violate applicable regulations.” That the veterans’ centers are heavily regulated and have no compliance problems undermines claims that service has declined to unacceptable levels.

The audit relies heavily on hearsay, even when independent verification appears easy to obtain. For example, the report notes a section of the center in Talihina, in southeastern Oklahoma, was closed due to mold in a ventilation system that “according to staff members” also feeds other parts of the building still in use. A simple review of facility blueprints should indicate whether this claim is true, but there’s no reference to such independent verification.

A one-sentence summary of the audit might read as follows: Some ODVA employees don’t like their bosses. That may or may not indicate serious administrative problems — although the audit concedes “some of these allegations could be an issue of perception.” But without detailed, factual information that undergirds employees’ subjective feelings, the report essentially amounts to a “dog bites mailman” story with little actionable material for policymakers.

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