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Early voting for Improve Our Tulsa renewal begins Thursday at Election Board

Tulsans who want to vote early on the $639 million Improve Our Tulsa renewal package can do so from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Tulsa County Election Board, 555 N. Denver Ave.

There is no early voting Saturday or Monday. The election is Tuesday, when polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The proposal includes $427 million in streets and transportation projects, $193 million in capital projects and $19 million for the city’s Rainy Day Fund.

About two-thirds of the 6½-year package would be funded through bond sales, financed with property taxes, and a third in sales tax.

A permanent 0.05% sales tax would be dedicated to the city’s Rainy Day Fund.

Mayor G.T. Bynum said it’s important for supporters of the proposal to get out and vote, because opponents of the plan will surely turn out.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but there are a lot of people who don’t want to pay to fix our streets,” Bynum said. “They’d rather cheap out now and pass the bill to future generations.”

The mayor said he’s already voted by absentee ballot and encouraged Tulsa residents to take advantage of the early voting option.

“This vote is a referendum on whether or not Tulsans are committed to making the most basic improvements in our community that impact the daily quality of life for every one of us,” Bynum said.

Voters will be asked to vote on three propositions: one for the $427 million in street and transportation projects, one for the $193 million in capital projects, and one for the permanent tax to fund the city’s Rainy Day Fund.

Nearly $300 million of the renewal package would go to fund street maintenance and rehabilitation projects and associated sidewalk work. The proposal also calls for the parks system to receive $30 million to improve its facilities, including $1.7 million for Swan Lake Park, $2.75 million for Ben Hill Park and $1 million for Mohawk Park.

Twenty-three million dollars would go to replace fire trucks and other Fire Department apparatus, with $3 million dedicated to a new 911 alert system for fire stations.

The Greenwood Cultural Center would also benefit if the package is approved. City leaders have allocated $5.34 million for the center. The funds would be combined with private donations to pay for a major expansion and renovation of the center to coincide with the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

The package also includes $9 million — $1 million for each City Council district — for community development priority projects. The funds must go toward a project that serves a public purpose and meets criteria set out by the city. Each project would be subject to approval by the council.

The renewal, which would be an extension of the $918 million Improve Our Tulsa package approved by voters in 2013, does not call for a tax increase.

Dividing up $639 million: Who gets what in the Improve our Tulsa plan?

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Proposed Donald Trump highway not coming to section of Route 66

The Donald Trump highway has taken a detour.

Bowing to resistance from all sides, state Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, said Wednesday that he won’t pursue renaming a 4-mile stretch of Historic Route 66 in Ottawa County for the 45th president.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be a Donald Trump Highway somewhere in Oklahoma. It just means it won’t be associated with the Mother Road.

“I am open to working with anyone to find a satisfactory solution,” Dahm said.

The Route 66 Association of Oklahoma and Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who is in charge of the state’s marketing and branding, both quickly panned the idea of naming part of the iconic road for Trump or any other political figure.

“I don’t want Historic Route 66 called anything except Historic Route 66,” Pinnell said Wednesday afternoon at a ribbon cutting for a visitor’s center along the old highway in west Tulsa.

“I don’t care if you want to call it Mother Teresa Highway or Donald Trump Highway; there is only one thing to call it, and that’s Historic Route 66.”

Pinnell and others have been working for months and even years to develop the route of the former U.S. 66 for tourism. Pinnell said a “uniform branding” is about to be rolled out.

But beyond that, some people long associated with the highway do not want it dragged into politics.

“Route 66 is not red or blue,” author and Route 66 historian Michael Wallis wrote on his Facebook page. “The Mother Road’s color is purple.”

The Route 66 Association of Oklahoma also panned the idea.

“The Route 66 shield … has become one of the most iconic symbols in the world, appearing throughout Europe, Asia and points around the globe,” the organization said in a statement on its Facebook page. “Officially calling the road anything other than Historic Route 66 adds confusion and dilutes the uniquely American experience that the highway represents.”

State Rep. Ben Loring, D-Miami, in whose district the proposed highway would have been located, said it could have a negative impact on tourism, which is important to the northeast corner of the state.

“All of the mayors whose communities would be affected and the County Commissioners join me in opposition to this idea,” Loring said in a written statement.

“This is not a political party divide. Many Americans with strong political beliefs and foreign tourists would avoid this section of Route 66 simply because of this legislation if it goes through. That is not fair to these communities.

“Please pick another road,” Loring said, “and I would suggest one in your own districts.”

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Oklahoma to issue REAL IDs in spring 2020, mandatory to fly next October

After multiple extensions from the federal government, Oklahoma will roll out REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses starting April 30.

In a news conference at the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at Tulsa International Airport, Oklahoma Secretary of Public Safety Chip Keating and Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Scully addressed how as many as 650,000 state residents will get REAL IDs before the Oct. 1 federal deadline.

“We will be rolling out a very, very comprehensive marketing plan, and we’ll begin that process in mid-December,” Keating said. “We will get the marketing plan out to Oklahomans to let them know what they’ll be expected to do when our system issues that ID.”

REAL IDs initially will be available only in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metro areas but will be phased in at all 33 Department of Public Safety locations by August.

In an earlier news conference in Oklahoma City, Scully said Oklahoma has spent about $11 million and will spend another $10 million to bring REAL ID online, The Oklahoman reported.

Starting Oct. 1, any passengers older than 18 going through a TSA checkpoint or entering a federal facility will need a REAL ID-compliant license or ID card or another acceptable form of ID, including a U.S. passport or Department of Defense ID. The full list of acceptable IDs can be found at the TSA’s website.

Scully said those whose state IDs expire before April 30 will have to pay for a license again after REAL ID becomes available use another form of ID to access TSA checkpoints and federal facilities.

Scully said much of the state’s delay has been getting funding to update infrastructure, and the Legislature approved funding in 2017. The Department of Public Safety will hire 50 additional employees, as well as update computers and install fiber optics to handle the REAL ID transition more efficiently, Scully said.

The need isn’t only about speeding up the process at the Department of Public Safety, but Scully said it boils down to data the state previously didn’t have to handle.

“With REAL ID, we’re now mandated to scan and store all documents used by citizens to obtain a REAL ID,” Scully said. “Currently, we’re not required to do that.”

To get a REAL ID, Oklahomans will need to provide proof of identity, such as a birth certificate or passport, and proof of Social Security number through a Social Security card or federal income tax return.

Two proofs of residency, such as a utility bill or lease agreement, will also be necessary.

Original licenses will be available only at Department of Public Safety locations, and Scully said they will cost the same $42.50 as a non-REAL ID. Renewals may be picked up at tag agencies.

The state also has a website with a checklist to get a REAL ID at realid.ok.gov. Upon submitting documents, Oklahomans will get a temporary paper ID until their REAL ID arrives in the mail in five to seven business days.

Non-REAL ID licenses will still be available, but Scully said individuals will have to recognize they need a second form of ID to pass through the TSA or enter a federal building.

Keating said the plan is to spend the next 10 months getting the word out to make sure every Oklahoman who needs a REAL ID gets one with the least amount of hassle possible.

“We will not miss this deadline,” Keating said. “We will be compliant by Oct. 1.”

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McLain students, community members collect soil in remembrance of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims

Resting on a concrete bench in a grassy field on the grounds of Vernon AME Church stood an empty glass jar with the name “Henry Walker” inscribed on it along with the date of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Just below the setup was a dirt-filled hole and small shovel.

Walker was one of many people who died in the wave of violence and destruction but had not received a customary burial.

Not much was known about Walker’s life other than that he was a Greenwood District resident who died during the massacre and was reportedly hastily buried alongside other victims.

On Wednesday, the Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition — led by Tiffany Crutcher, local activist Kristi Williams and African Ancestral Society President Chief Egunwale Fagbenro Amusan — wanted to ensure that Walker and Ed Adams, another known victim, would be memorialized with dignity.

As part of its effort to honor those killed in the massacre, the group held a soil collection ceremony. More than 140 McLain High School students were invited to both observe and actively participate in the symbolic ceremony by placing soil in the jar, which will be added to a future memorial at the church.

“We’re honoring those who passed on,” said Amusan, who implored the students to shout Walker’s name in reverence. “We’re honoring the dead. We call the names of those who’ve never been buried properly. We dig them back up so we can place soil in this jar and give them a proper burial.”

While convened in a circle, students — one by one — took turns packing the special jar with dirt. Some students, not completely understanding the significance of the act, were hesitant to engage at first before finally joining their peers.

And the end of the ceremony, students were asked to describe what participating in the collection meant to them.

“It’s great that these people can live on and have a proper burial,” one student said.

Said another: “I think it’s so sad that so many innocent lives were taken from their own families. It’s time to honor our people. This is really beautiful that we’re honoring them.”

Later in the day, members of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus collected soil for Adams, 32, from an area in the 300 block of North Greenwood Avenue, where he was believed to have been killed during the race massacre.

Robert Turner, pastor of the Vernon AME Church, said he did not know much about Adams other than his age, that he was African-American and that he was killed during the massacre.

Turner said not much was done in the way of record-keeping for victims. Those involved hope to discover more about the victims who were memorialized Wednesday.

“This is vital history,” Turner said. “When people drive up and down this street, when people go up on that interstate (I-244), they’re traveling through a crime scene, and it’s a crime scene that still has not been adjudicated.”

State Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, said the soil collection was a way to pay homage to the past. Matthews did not recall being taught about the race massacre in school. He specifically recalled that he was an adult before someone shared that history with him.

“The significance, particularly as an African-American, is we have found that people who look like me were slaughtered and were never given a formal ceremony or a funeral,” Matthews said. “It’s a very emotional thing to participate in and acknowledge that.”

The effort is all part of a partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, for an outdoor memorial to be erected at the Greenwood District church to further inform the public about the race massacre. The project, announced in May, also included the placement of a historical marker on the church’s property that pays homage to Black Wall Street.

The coalition estimated that the project will cost about $3 million to be funded through donations and various fundraising efforts.

Soil collection from locations where victims were killed is also an integral part of the project.

It is why Wednesday meant so much to those who wanted to expose the current generation to all that encompasses the Greenwood story.

“It’s really important to get our kids here because we have to give the story they’re not told,” said Williams. “So often our history is whitewashed or reduced to one page, and that’s all that they get.”

Following the soil collection, students toured Black Wall Street, Vernon AME Church and the Mabel B. Little Heritage House. Along the way, they also learned about Greenwood’s history, its prominent figures and iconic entities.

“It’s real important from a historical point of view because so much of our history is being lost with these young people,” said McLain Assistant Principal Maurice Walker. “We adults are not passing it along, and I commend our teachers for organizing and bringing these young people out here so they can see something that is very tragic and historic in their own community.”

A Tulsa transplant from Chicago, Walker himself learned of the race massacre as student at Langston University. These days, he said, “not enough” students in general are aware of the event despite McLain teachers diligently incorporating the material into their own lesson plans.

“Just being Americans and being citizens period ... they need to know this,” said Walker.

Tulsa World staff writer Harrison Grimwood contributed to this story.