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Tulsa's parks director explains city's move to appraise golf courses with no intent to sell yet

The city of Tulsa has contracted with a private firm to appraise the two courses at Page Belcher Golf Course, 6666 S. Union Ave., but has no intent to sell the properties for commercial development, Parks Director Anna America said Monday.

“My hope would be that somebody would come to us and say, ‘Why, we would love to run a public golf course here, and we’re going to take great care of it, and everyone is going to love it,” America said. “And they would pay the appraised value, and we could take that money and put it somewhere else.”

America said that since becoming parks director last year, she has heard all kinds of suggestions and rumors and direct inquiries about the golf course properties but that the city has no interest in developing the land for commercial purposes.

“But in order to ever have those discussions with people, you’ve got to get the appraisal to know where you’re starting,” she said.

America acknowledged, however, that one proposal presented to the city called for developing the section of the Page Belcher course south of 71st Street to help fund improvements to the golf course property north of 71st Street.

Such development, which she stressed is nothing more than a vague concept at this point, would be “very, very, very tightly scrutinized,” by the mayor, the Park Board and the City Council before it could become a reality.

“I don’t see anybody saying, ‘We’ll just sell you the property and do whatever you want,’ ” America said. “I don’t think that’s something that is going to be on anybody’s agenda ever.”

The city has four 18-hole courses — Olde Page and Stone Creek at Page Belcher and two at Mohawk Park Golf Course, 5223 E. 41st St. North.

The Page Belcher golf course property north of 71st Street comprises all 18 holes of Olde Page and holes 1-10 and 18 of Stone Creek; the property south of 71st Street comprises holes 11 through 17 of Stone Creek.

The future of the city’s four golf courses became a subject of public discussion earlier this summer when golf advocates questioned why the city had not included specific funding for the facilities in its latest capital improvements package.

The proposed $639 million Improve Our Tulsa renewal calls for spending $30 million on parks but makes no specific allocation for the golf courses. Mayor G.T. Bynum initially explained the omission by saying the golf courses had not made the cut.

“Are we going to have kids using unsafe playground equipment or fire trucks that are breaking down so that we can fix up golf courses?” Bynum said to the Tulsa World. “It isn’t as high a priority as those things, and that is why it is not in the program.”

He later said golf advocates had misunderstood the Improve Our Tulsa proposal and that the golf courses could receive some of the funding allocated for parks.

“I think because the golf course folks didn’t see it as a line item, they thought the golf courses were totally excluded, and that is not the case,” Bynum said.

The city’s golf courses have been operated and managed by Billy Casper Golf since 2008. In fiscal year 2017, the golf courses lost approximately $170,000 on revenues of $2.8 million. In 2018, the golf courses lost approximately $252,000 on revenues of nearly $2.6 million.

In the city’s current fiscal year budget — which is separate from the proposed Improve Our Tulsa renewal package — the city is providing the golf courses $167,000 in operational and short-term capital funding.

The city recently increased this fiscal year’s funding for the golf courses, America said, adding $252,000 for four mowers.

With the additional funding, the city has now put twice as much into the courses’ operations budget as it did last fiscal year, America said.

Golf enthusiasts argue that the city has failed to maintain the courses at the same level it does its other public investments, leading inevitably to worse conditions and fewer golfers. City officials say they have done the best they can under the constraints of the city’s budget and note that the Tulsa area has an abundance of public golf courses that likely contributes to the decline in rounds played at the city’s courses.

America joined City Councilor Jeannie Cue last month at a public meeting at which they encouraged golf enthusiasts to consider creating a private golfing committee to help advocate for and raise money on behalf of the city’s golf courses.

America said Monday that the proposal is still a good one, noting that a private group advocating for the city’s golf courses would be helpful regardless of who’s operating them.

“Any time you’ve got members of the public who are engaged and are willing to give time and energy toward helping solve a problem, man, let’s take advantage of that,” she said.

She stressed that the city’s decision to get golf course appraisals is just one part of a long-term process to evaluate the city’s options and that no decisions on the future of the courses would be made until there has been extensive public engagement.

The bottom line, she said, is to determine what the city of Tulsa wants and then “just be straightforward and say this is what it is going to take to do that and own that and come up with a plan behind that.”

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Constitution Day is Tuesday. Here's how local teachers will address it

Although Constitution Day is observed on Tuesday, the signing of the U.S. Constitution gets little attention in many classrooms on the day of the federal holiday.

Schools that receive federal funding have been required to teach, in some way, about the Constitution on Sept. 17 every year since around 2004. But less than a month into the school year, that date isn’t the most convenient for teachers.

The district curriculum team at Tulsa Public Schools provides educators with suggested resources for teaching about what role the seminal document played in the creation of the U.S. government, said Danielle Neves, the district’s deputy chief of academics. These include primary source documents, videos and lesson activities.

Neves said teachers are encouraged to engage their students in reflection and discussion about the voices included in the Constitution, those that were omitted and how slavery was protected by it.

Teachers decide which lessons they want to use in their classrooms on Sept. 17 and draw connections to their grade’s social studies content. Students learn about the branches of government in the fourth grade, for example, while kindergartners study national symbols.

The problem is that students typically don’t begin learning about social studies until later in the school year. Third-graders study the geography of Oklahoma in September. Seventh-graders study European geography.

“For many teachers, less attention is drawn to Constitution Day because there is not a direct connection to their first unit of study, causing teachers to pause for a lesson that is not integrated into their current unit,” Neves said.

At the Union Public Schools Eighth Grade Center, students learn about U.S. history in chronological order. This week they’re learning about the French and Indian War, which occurred from 1754 to 1763.

The Constitution wasn’t signed until more than two decades after that war ended. Students aren’t ready to take a deep dive into the creation of a supreme law in America and why the Bill of Rights was needed, said Shelley Zevnik-Breece, a history teacher at the Union Eighth Grade Center.

“You cannot do the Constitution justice in a day,” Zevnik-Breece said. “So we recognize (Constitution Day) as a holiday. We talk to the kids about it, and then we let them know where we are in our curriculum and that we’re going to get to the point where we study the Constitution. They will learn why. They will learn how. They’ll learn the problems that were associated with getting it ratified and then the problems with it that we addressed with the Bill of Rights.”

Federal holidays with higher renown receive more attention at Jenks Public Schools, but the district still gives plenty of recognition to Constitution Day, said Rose Pixley, director of teaching and learning. Relevant programming is written into the curriculum, and lesson supports are provided to teachers.

“There’s not a large school-wide assembly because we usually reserve pooling that class time for Veteran’s Day and to celebrate Freedom Week,” Pixley said. “But teachers are recognizing and celebrating and having a program about the Constitution on this day.”

Classroom activities range from reading through pocket-size booklets of the Constitution to analyzing the Preamble as it relates to modern society. Pixley said the discussions range in sophistication depending on grade level.

“The goal for the teachers is that it’s very celebratory in nature, that it is grade-level appropriate and that it’s aligned through our Oklahoma academic standards for social studies,” she said.

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Energy Transfer to acquire Tulsa-based SemGroup for $5.1 billion

Dallas-based Energy Transfer LP plans to acquire the Tulsa-headquartered midstream company SemGroup for about $5.1 billion, assuming debt and other liabilities, it announced Monday.

Energy Transfer’s offer was simply too attractive to pass up, SemGroup CEO Carlin Conner said.

“It’s a compelling premium for our shareholders,” he said by phone. “It really does lock in a tremendous amount of value for our shareholder. … It’s one of the most significant premiums to be seen in the energy space on an M&A (mergers and acquisitions) basis. …

“We felt like we needed to execute on the offer. Our other options just did not measure up to that.”

Both SemGroup and Energy Transfer will continue to operate separately until the transaction’s close, SemGroup spokesman Tom Droege said.

SemGroup will maintain all its current charitable commitments, including a $5 million pledge to the Gathering Place, Conner said.

The merger agreement stipulates that Energy Transfer will maintain a presence in Tulsa for at least two years.

“We’ll just have to wait and see what that really means,” Conner said. “From an employee point of view, there’s not a lot we can say about what we think is going to be the ultimate set-up.

“But our employees have done a fantastic job of building this business. That has created this value for our shareholders. This company has been built on really good core values around being safe, being efficient and executing.”

The merger reflects on the Tulsa area’s success in cultivating energy sector companies, said Tulsa Regional Chamber CEO Mike Neal.

“For more than a century, Tulsa has offered a strong foundation for the growth of energy companies,” Neal said in a statement. “This sector continues to drive our region’s thriving economy, which we forecast will grow faster than both the Oklahoma and U.S. economies this year.

“SemGroup has capitalized on these strengths as a major player in the North American energy industry and is one of the Tulsa region’s outstanding corporate citizens. … We look forward to working with both SemGroup and Energy Transfer LP to support them during this transition.”

Details of the deal

Unanimously OK’d by the boards of both companies, the deal’s terms mandate that SemGroup shareholders will receive $6.80 per share in cash and 0.7275 of an ET common unit for each SemGroup share, or roughly 40% cash and 60% equity. The equity consideration received is expected to be treated as a tax-free transaction.

The transaction values SemGroup at $17 per share and represents a 65% premium to SemGroup’s closing share price of $10.28 on Sept. 13 and an 87% premium to SemGroup’s 20-day volume weighted average price as of the same date. Upon closing, SemGroup shareholders are expected to own about 2.2% of ET’s outstanding common units.

Energy Transfer LP owns and operates one of the largest and most diversified portfolios of energy assets in the United States, with a strategic footprint in all of the major domestic production basins.

“The combined entity’s size, scale and financial profile will ensure that SemGroup’s assets, including our Gulf Coast terminal, mid-continent footprint and our Canadian joint venture SemCAMS Midstream, benefit from significant growth well into the future,” Conner said in a statement. “We look forward to leveraging the increased pipeline connectivity and expanded terminalling infrastructure that the combined entity provides.”

The transaction is expected to close by late 2019 or early 2020, subject to regulatory approvals, SemGroup shareholder approval and other customary closing conditions.

SemGroup LP was formed in 2000 by Tom Kivisto, Gregory Wallace and Kevin Foxx. The privately held firm grew exponentially over its first seven years, but margin calls on oil futures trading sapped its cash flow and forced it into Chapter 11 bankruptcy by the summer of 2008.

SemGroup emerged out of Chapter 11 in late 2009 as a publicly traded firm with a new corporate structure. It now employs about 175 in Tulsa and a total of 875 in the United States and Canada.

Energy Transfer LP is a reincarnation of Energy Transfer Equity, which tried to take over Tulsa-based Williams Cos. before a merger was called off in 2016.

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Tulsa Police Sgt. Jennifer Murphy talks about the Tulsa Police new reading program and school supply handout at the Darlington Apartments.

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Trump: It looks like Iran hit Saudis, no military option yet

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Monday it “looks” like Iran was behind the explosive attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities. But he stressed that military retaliation was not yet on the table in response to the strike against a key U.S. Mideast ally.

Oil prices soared worldwide amid the damage in Saudi Arabia and fresh Middle East war concerns. But Trump put the brakes on any talk of quick military action — earlier he had said the U.S. was “locked and loaded” — and he said the oil impact would not be significant on the U.S., which is a net energy exporter.

The Saudi government called the attack an “unprecedented act of aggression and sabotage” but stopped short of directly pinning blame on Iran.

Iran denied involvement.

Trump, who has repeatedly stressed avoiding new Middle East wars, seemed intent on preserving room to maneuver in a crisis that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had immediately called Iran’s fault. Pompeo said Saturday, “Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”

Trump, too, had talked more harshly at first. But by Monday afternoon he seemed intent on consultations with allies.

“That was an attack on Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“It wasn’t an attack on us, but we would certainly help them,” he said, noting a decades-long alliance linked to U.S. oil dependence that has lessened in recent years. The U.S. has no treaty obligation to defend Saudi Arabia.

Trump said he was sending Pompeo to Saudi Arabia “to discuss what they feel” about the attack and an appropriate response.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the U.S. was considering dispatching additional military resources to the Gulf but that no decisions had been made. The U.S. already has the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier battle group in the area, as well as fighter jets, bombers, reconnaissance aircraft and air defenses.

Trump, alternating between aggressive and nonviolent reactions, said the U.S. could respond “with an attack many, many times larger” but also “I’m not looking at options right now.”

American officials released satellite images of the damage at the heart of the kingdom’s crucial Abqaiq oil processing plant and a key oil field, and two U.S. officials said the attackers used multiple cruise missiles and drone aircraft.

Private experts said the satellite images show the attackers had detailed knowledge of which tanks and machinery to hit within the sprawling Saudi oil processing facility at Abqaiq to cripple production. But “satellite imagery can’t show you where the attack originated from,” said Joe Bermudez, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who examined the images.

“What the photos indicate is that someone planned a sophisticated, coordinated attack that really impacted the production of oil at this facility,” he said.

The U.S. alleges the pattern of destruction suggested Saturday’s attack did not come from neighboring Yemen, as claimed by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels there. A Saudi military alleged “Iranian weapons” had been used.

The Saudis invited United Nations and other international experts to help investigate, suggesting there was no rush to retaliate.

Jon Alterman, the chief Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Saudi caution reflects the kingdom’s wariness of taking on Iran.

“I don’t think there’s a great independent Saudi capability to respond,” he said. “You don’t want to start a war with Iran that you don’t have an idea how you’re going to end.”

In New York, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, condemned the attack and said that “emerging information indicates that responsibility lies with Iran.”

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Mark Esper suggested Iranian involvement, too. In a series of tweets after meeting with Trump and other senior national security officials, Esper said the administration was working with partner nations “to address this unprecedented attack and defend the international rules-based order that is being undermined by Iran.”

Iran rejected the allegations, and a government spokesman said there now is “absolutely no chance” of a hoped-for meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Trump at the U.N. General Assembly next week.

“Currently we don’t see any sign from the Americans which has honesty in it, and if the current state continues there will be absolutely no chance of a meeting between the two presidents,” spokesman Ali Rabiei said.

Downplaying any talk of imminent U.S. military action, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, told reporters at the White House that Trump’s “locked and loaded” was “a broad term that talks about the realities that” the U.S. is “safer and more secure domestically from energy independence.”

The new violence has led to fears that further action on any side could rapidly escalate a confrontation that’s been raging just below the surface in the wider Persian Gulf in recent months. There already have been mysterious attacks on oil tankers that Washington blames on Tehran, at least one suspected Israeli strike on Shiite forces in Iraq, and the downing of a U.S. military surveillance drone by Iran.

Those tensions have increased ever since Trump pulled the U.S. out of Iran’s 2015 agreement with world powers that curtailed Iranian nuclear activities and the U.S. re-imposed sanctions that sent Iran’s economy into freefall.

The weekend attack halted production of 5.7 million barrels of crude a day, more than half of Saudi Arabia’s global daily exports and more than 5% of the world’s daily crude oil production.

The U.S. and international benchmarks for crude each vaulted more than 14%, comparable to the 14.5% spike in oil on Aug. 6, 1990, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

U.S. stocks were down but only modestly. Major stock indexes in Europe also fell. Markets in Asia finished mixed.

At a news conference, Saudi military spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki said, “All the indications and operational evidence, and the weapons that were used in the terrorist attack, whether in Buqayq or Khurais, indicate with initial evidence that these weapons are Iranian weapons.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry, while expressing “grave concern” about the attack, warned against putting the blame on Iran, saying that plans of military retaliation against Iran would be unacceptable.