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American Airlines adding 400 jobs in Tulsa

Accentuating its 73-year-old footprint in Tulsa, American Airlines announced Wednesday that it is carving out an even bigger presence, adding 400 jobs to the airline’s maintenance facility.

Additional maintenance work — including scheduled maintenance on the Boeing 787 fleet — necessitated the new positions at Tech Ops Tulsa, which already employs 5,200. Hiring, primarily for Federal Aviation Administration-licensed mechanics, will continue over the next four months, said Erik Olund, managing director of base maintenance for American.

“It’s a huge day for us at the Tulsa base,” he said by phone. “We’re growing the organization considerably, and we haven’t had a hiring announcement like this in over a decade … This kind of paves the future for us to be here for a very long time.”

The bulk of the jobs, he said, are “certainly at the higher end of our pay scales. These are employees that are at the high point of their career. They are six-figure positions.”

The new mechanics will focus on areas that include aircraft overhaul, landing gear overhaul for the Boeing 737 and 777 aircraft and CFM56 engine maintenance and Airbus A321 interior modifications. In late 2019, the base will receive its first 787 aircraft to undergo scheduled maintenance checks.

Additionally, the base will increase its 777 and 787 maintenance work and will make investments into the Landing Gear Shop, enabling greater production.

American’s announcement comes against the backdrop of a recent court decision involving the airline’s federal lawsuit against the Transport Workers Union of America and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, whom American accused of taking part in an illegal work slowdown. A federal judge in Texas issued a permanent injunction earlier this month, ordering the unions to tell workers to take all steps to avoid interfering with American’s operations.

Moreover, the two sides remain in a labor fight. Since the late 2015 merger of American, which had TWU contracts, and US Airways, which had IAM contracts, joint contracts have not been negotiated.

“Any kind of additional work out here is always received well,” Dale Danker, president of TWU Local 514, said by phone. “It helps everybody. It’s like when they say a high tide raises all boats. It will be good for this city, the county and the state.”

Tech Ops Tulsa, also known as Tulsa Maintenance Base, has 22 buildings on the main base, including 3.3 million square feet of hangar and shop space on 330 acres. American performs more maintenance work in-house than any other airline and employs more than 15,000 Tech Ops professionals worldwide.

Referring to the airline’s legacy in Tulsa, Mayor G.T. Bynum said “…this announcement not only reaffirms American’s continuing commitment to Tulsa, but also the great benefit our community receives from investments like this. I’m grateful to the hard-working team at American for their partnership and am excited to see the impact of this work.”

Olund said the base will lean on partners such as OK2Grow, Tulsa Tech and Spartan Aeronautics to help fill the additional jobs.

“The good news for us is when we turn the hiring button on, we seem to get an amazing amount of candidates who are ready to come to work for us,” he said. “We’re super excited. We’re not nervous that we won’t be able to fill these spots. We’re really excited. We have a lot of interest in it already, and we’re on a good path.

“(Wednesday’s) announcement is really about the fact that we are in Tulsa forever. We’re not going anywhere. We’re growing. It’s important for our team and the community to know how important Tulsa is for us, regardless of any of the other stuff that we’ve got going on.”

Open at last: Parks finally open for last holiday weekend of the summer

Labor Day weekend usually isn’t the biggest holiday of the year for lakeside campgrounds and other businesses, but it is this season.

“Yes, everything is open, all the camping areas, both the boat ramps, the swimming area and the shelters, at last,” said Chad McCall, manager at Keystone State Park.

On Memorial Day and Independence Day, almost half of that park was under water, with just the roofs of pavilions showing and park roads that disappeared off the shoreline.

“It’s all pretty well cleaned up now. There is a little brown, but it’s mostly green again. We had some rains recently and that helped,” he said.

The word on northeast Oklahoma’s lakes and parks for the upcoming holiday is that things are mostly good. Most public boat ramps are open, campgrounds are open — even if only partially — and lodges have rooms and cabins available to rent.

“We’ve still got crews out there daily cleaning up debris and campsites,” said Amanda Palmer, recreation section lead for the Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Overall, the lakes look good and this will be our first holiday on the lakes this year when they are getting closer to normal. I’m sure a lot of people will be getting out.”

Some northeast Oklahoma lakes remained somewhat elevated this week as flow has been held back to accommodate the salvage of barges that hit the Webbers Falls Lock and Dam during the height of the May-June floods. Lake Tenkiller remains about 10 feet above normal, which means part of Lake Tenkiller State Park is off-limits, but only a small part.

“It’s enough to keep us from being completely operational at Cherokee and Tenkiller State Park, but at Cherokee I think it’s just one boat ramp that’s closed,” said Greg Snider, Oklahoma State Parks northeast region manager.

“Basically, we’re excited to have a holiday weekend where everything is pretty much good. We have some isolated areas that are quasi-operational so we’re not 100 percent, but we’re close,” he said.

Examples are the riverside campground below Pensacola Dam and some of the camping areas at Cherokee State Park.

“Some of that was so heavily damaged because it was under water for so long that we have it open for tent camping at those RV sites, but electricity won’t be available,” he said.

Assessments for some repairs still are underway and probably won’t be completed until winter, he said.

“Everything does look good for the holiday and we are spreading the word we also have some availability at lodges,” said Keli Clark, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation. At Fort Gibson Lake, The Lodge at Sequoyah State Park still has rooms available for the holiday weekend, as does the lodge at Roman Nose State Park northwest of Oklahoma City.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is keeping an updated, running list of campgrounds that are open or closed, Palmer said. The online campground reservation system is “about 50/50” whether it is operating for any particular campground, she said.

The Corps is honoring reservations where possible and in other places the spaces are first-come, first-served, she said.

While most camping areas and boat ramps are open, some campgrounds, courtesy docks and park roads might not be available again until next spring, she said.

“We’re are still out there fighting through debris and assessing damage in some areas,” she said.

Debris removal and cleanup and making campgrounds usable is just the first stage of repair and recovery, Palmer said. Eroded areas that were under water for weeks and some restroom facilities may have to be demolished and replaced. Some courtesy docks are damaged or have walkways that are “twisted and mangled,” she said. “The damage is pretty bad in some places,” she said.

Palmer added a caution related to the lake waters. With the flooding and heavy currents the topography of the lakes has changed and there may be shallows where once the water was deep, or vice-versa. Debris also may have been deposited in some areas.

She advised that boaters and swimmers proceed with caution, be sure to wear life preservers, and pay attention to signs or caution tape warning of dangerous areas.

“We always just want everyone to go home safe,” she said.

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Signature collection on permitless carry referendum goes to the wire

OKLAHOMA CITY – A leader of a referendum drive to nullify permitless carry said signatures were being counted through Wednesday night.

Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, on Wednesday said he is optimistic but could not say with confidence those seeking to nullify House Bill 2597 had obtained the 59,320 signatures to get the issue on a ballot in 2020.

Lowe thanked those who gathered signatures and supported the effort.

The measure, called permitless carry and constitutional carry, allows individuals to carry a weapon without a permit or training.

It was passed last legislative session. It was the first bill signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt and takes effect Nov. 1.

A challenge to the proposed referendum was filed Monday with the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Lowe is expected to hold a news conference at 2 p.m. Thursday in Oklahoma City to announce the signature count.

Supporters have until 5 p.m. Thursday to turn in the signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office.

Lowe and two other proponents are working with Moms Demand Action, which advocates for common sense gun laws.

Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, said his organization will be scrutinizing the signatures to ensure they are registered voters in the state.

His organization and others filed the protest with the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Ken Levit of Tulsa spent the weekend gathering signatures. Levit, executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, did so on his personal time.

“I am like so many other people,” said Levit, 53. “I am upset about that law, and I am upset about the tragedies that are occurring regularly. I thought it was a lot better use of my day than anything else I thought I could be doing.”

So he found himself at 31st Street and Riverside Drive. He got on social media to let people know where he was and what he was doing.

Supporters brought him cold water, chocolate chip cookies and coffee.

He said about half the people he encountered wanted the law repealed, while the other half supported it. He thinks he was able to obtain about 200 signatures.

“It was a very empowering experience,” Levit said about his first time gathering signatures. “It is kind of like a feeling you get when you vote. You feel you are doing something important, and you are going to have an impact.”

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Tulsa City Council delays vote to consider changes to proposed police oversight program

Correction: This story originally misstated the constitutional amendment referenced by Councilor Connie Dodson related to officers' rights. The story has been corrected.

After months of discussions regarding Mayor G.T. Bynum’s proposed police oversight and community engagement program, city councilors Wednesday voted to give themselves more time to craft a final ordinance.

The proposed ordinance creating the Office of the Independent Monitor is now set for a Sept. 11 vote.

The OIM would have three primary responsibilities: to follow up on citizen complaints about police and review Tulsa Police Department Internal Affairs’ investigations of use-of-force incidents; review best practices for police and make policy recommendations; and conduct community outreach.

The decision to postpone the vote came after councilors presented a series of proposed changes to the ordinance at a committee meeting earlier in the day.

The proposed modifications are intended to ensure diversity on the Citizens Oversight Board and to more clearly articulate the city’s regulations prohibiting the release of confidential information.

Councilors also briefly discussed a letter from the Greater Tulsa Area African American Affairs Commission to the mayor recommending significant changes to the OIM.

The group — which was established by the city of Tulsa — calls for the city to expand the OIM’s powers to allow it to investigate all citizen complaints regarding the Police Department; to conduct independent investigations and monitor ongoing investigations of potential officer misconduct; and to recommend discipline for officers found to have violated police policies.

The proposed ordinance as currently written does not give the OIM any investigative powers, nor would it be empowered to recommend discipline — a fact reiterated by Bynum on Wednesday.

“The OIM does not investigate anything,” the mayor told councilors during their committee meeting. “The OIM monitors investigations that are already being done by Internal Affairs.”

The African Affairs Commission also recommends that the person chosen to lead the OIM be an African American with criminal justice experience.

Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, the city’s only black councilor, presented the African Affairs Commission letter to her fellow councilors Wednesday, as well as a letter of support for the OIM from the Greater Tulsa Area Hispanic Affairs Commission.

She said after the meeting that although she would like to see an African American lead the OIM, it would not be a deciding factor in whether or not she supports the final OIM ordinance. Hall-Harper did express strong support for expanding the OIM’s powers.

“We need to have that expanded power in order to be effective,” she said. “And that this is not just be a rubber stamp of the process of what the IA investigations are.”

As currently proposed, the OIM would have 10 days after the completion of an Internal Affairs investigation to complete its review. The OIM would have access to all information gathered as part of an IA investigation, but only after the IA investigation is completed.

Councilor Connie Dodson said she was concerned that the ordinance as written would not do enough to ensure that confidential information gathered in police IA investigations is not leaked to the public.

“We are dealing with officers that are giving compelled testimony — sometimes against their will — and giving up their Fifth Amendment rights,” Dodson said. “This is a serious concern for me.”

City Attorney David O’Meilia told councilors that IA investigations are not subject to state’s Open Records Act, and that the city’s Ethics Code prohibits city employees from leaking confidential information.

To address Dodson’s concern, language was added to the proposed ordinance specifying the punishments a person would face if he or she released confidential materials.

The final significant proposed amendment to the OIM ordinance would increase the number of Citizens Oversight Board members from 11 to 16. The additional members would be drawn from the city’s commissions on human rights, the status of women, Indian affairs, Hispanic affairs, and African American affairs.

Councilor Lori Dector Wright noted that the existing ordinance does not have strong language stating the Citizens Oversight Board “shall” reflect diversity.

The additional members, she said, “does guarantee some diversity at the table.”

During Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, several members of the public expressed concern that the OIM proposal had been watered down since it was first announced in January. Of particular concern was that the independent monitor would only have the authority to review Internal Affairs investigations after they are completed.

“It doesn’t help trust,” said Gregory Robinson II. “Because it is happening after the fact.”

Bynum, who did not attend Wednesday night’s council meeting, told the Tulsa World that the proposed ordinance represents the city’s best effort under existing circumstances.

“It was the determination of our Legal Department that participation of the OIM in Internal Affairs investigations would represent a change in working conditions for Police Department employees and would need to be negotiated through our collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police,” the mayor said. “The proposal we submitted to the council was our best effort to develop a program that could operate within the existing confines of our contract.”