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Liquor store sales on Sundays? Tulsa County commissioners vote to let you decide

Tulsa County commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a ballot question to let voters decide this spring if they want liquor stores to be able to open on Sundays.

The proposition will appear on the March 3 ballot, coinciding with the presidential primary election. A state law took effect in October 2018 that allows counties the option to vote on Sunday liquor store sales — and Tulsa County appears to be the first to send it to a ballot.

Tulsa County Commission Chairwoman Karen Keith said local retailers are at a disadvantage compared to grocery and convenience stores, which after a wave of reforms to modernize the state’s alcohol laws now can sell full-strength beer and wine. Keith said she wants to give longtime local retailers struggling with the changes a fair chance.

“Some retailers will choose not to open on Sunday — but I’ll speak for myself — my sense is if the mom-and-pop stores do want to stay open, they’re at an unfair advantage if they don’t have that opportunity,” Keith said.

If the proposition passes, the earliest Sunday a liquor store could open is March 8, Keith said. That date is the first Sunday after the election’s certification March 6.

Ian Sproul, owner and operator of Biergarten Wine & Spirits in Jenks, was instrumental in working with the three commissioners on the issue.

His beer sales are strong and liquor — not included in the reforms — is steady. But wine receipts are down between 30% and 35% this year, he said. Sunday sales will help ease the sting of losing so much wine business by capitalizing on weekends and sporting events.

“There’s a lot of beer and wine that’s sold on Sundays in grocery and convenience stores,” Sproul said. “For us, we miss out on a lot of that revenue. I know there are some stores that won’t open on Sundays, but to have the option would really benefit small business owners.

“Most grocery stores are giant corporations, and all of the liquor stores are small businesses, in comparison.”

The primary election March 3 is the first countywide ballot on which such a question could be posed without ordering a costly special election.

Bryan Kerr, president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, applauded the move and said he believes Tulsa County is the first county in the state to put the question to voters.

After studying the issue in other states, Kerr said, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. has determined liquor stores can increase sales by 4% to 7% by being open Sundays.

He hopes Tulsa County’s move prompts all 76 other Oklahoma counties to follow suit in time for the March 3 election.

“Obviously, if the people of the county want it, it should be done,” Kerr said.

Fewer liquor stores, tax revenue shifts: How have alcohol modernization laws affected Oklahoma since Oct. 1, 2018?

Fewer liquor stores, tax revenue shifts: How have alcohol modernization laws affected Oklahoma since Oct. 1, 2018?

Closest witnesses kicking off big Trump impeachment week

WASHINGTON — Nine witnesses. Five hearings. Three days.

The Trump impeachment inquiry is charging into a crucial week as Americans hear from some of the most important witnesses closest to the White House in back-to-back-to-back live sessions.

Among them, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the wealthy donor whose routine boasting about his proximity to Donald Trump is now bringing the investigation to the president’s doorstep.

The witnesses all are testifying under penalty of perjury, and Sondland already has had to amend his earlier account amid contradicting testimony from other current and former U.S. officials.

White House insiders, including an Army officer and National Security Council aide, will launch the week’s hearings Tuesday.

It’s a pivotal time as the House’s historic inquiry accelerates and deepens. Witnesses have said Trump demanded that Ukraine investigate his Democratic rivals in return for a White House visit and U.S. military aid the country needed to resist Russian aggression, and Democrats say that may be grounds for removing the 45th president. Trump says the Democrats are just out to get him any way they can.

On Monday, Trump said he was considering an invitation from Speaker Nancy Pelosi to provide his own account to the House, possibly by submitting written testimony. That would be an unprecedented moment in this constitutional showdown between the two branches of U.S. government.

Trump tweeted: “Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!”

A ninth witness, David Holmes, a State Department official who overheard Trump talking about the investigations on a phone call with Sondland while the ambassador was at a restaurant in Kyiv, was a late addition Monday. He is scheduled to close out the week Thursday.

Tuesday’s sessions at the House Intelligence Committee will start with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer at the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, his counterpart at Vice President Mike Pence’s office.

Both are foreign policy experts who listened with concern as Trump spoke on July 25 with the newly elected Ukraine president. A government whistleblower’s complaint about that call led the House to launch the impeachment investigation.

Vindman and Williams say they were uneasy as Trump talked to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy about investigations of potential 2020 political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

Vindman reported the call to NSC lawyers. Williams found it “unusual” and inserted the White House’s readout of it in Pence’s briefing book.

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen,” said Vindman, a wounded Iraq War veteran. He said there was “no doubt” what Trump wanted.

Pence’s role remains unclear. “I just don’t know if he read it,” Williams reportedly testified in a closed-door House interview.

Vindman also lodged concerns about Sondland. He relayed details from an explosive July 10 meeting at the White House when the ambassador pushed visiting Ukraine officials for the investigations Trump wanted.

“He was talking about the 2016 elections and an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma,” Vindman testified, referring to the gas company in Ukraine where Hunter Biden served on the board.

Burisma is what Tim Morrison, a former official at the National Security Council who will testify later Tuesday, referred to as a “bucket of issues” — the Bidens, Democrats, investigations — he had tried to “stay away” from.

Along with former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, their accounts further complicate Sondland’s testimony and characterize Trump as more central to the action.

Sondland met with a Zelenskiy aide on the sidelines of a Sept. 1 gathering in Warsaw, and Morrison, who was watching the encounter from across the room, testified that the ambassador told him moments later that he pushed the Ukrainian for the Burisma investigation as a way for Ukraine to gain access to the military funds.

Volker provided investigators with a package of text messages with Sondland and another diplomat, William Taylor, the charge d’affaires in Ukraine, who was alarmed at the linkage of the investigations to the aid.

Taylor, who testified publicly last week, called the linkage “crazy.”

Republicans are certain to mount a more aggressive attack on all the witnesses as the inquiry reaches closer into the White House and they try to protect Trump.

The president wants to see a robust defense by his GOP allies on Capitol Hill, but so far they have offered a changing strategy as the fast-moving probe spills into public view.

Republicans first complained that the witnesses were offering only hearsay, without firsthand knowledge of Trump’s actions. But as more witnesses come forward bringing testimony closer to Trump, they now say the president is innocent because the military money was eventually released.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, during an appearance Monday in Louisville, Kentucky, acknowledged that the House likely will vote to impeach the president.

But the GOP leader said he “can’t imagine” a scenario where there is enough support in the Senate — a supermajority 67 votes — to remove Trump from office.

McConnell said House Democrats “are seized with ‘Trump derangement syndrome,’” a catch-phrase used by the president’s supporters. He said the inquiry seems “particularly ridiculous since we’re going into the presidential election and the American people will have an opportunity in the very near future to decide who they want the next president to be.”

GOP senators are increasingly being drawn into the inquiry.

House Republicans asked to hear from Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who has firsthand knowledge of some of the meetings. GOP Sen. Rob Portman disputed an account from Morrison that he attended a Sept. 11 White House meeting urging Trump to release the Ukraine military aid. Portman’s office said the senator phoned in to the session.

Pelosi said the president could speak for himself.

“If he has information that is exculpatory — that means ‘ex: taking away; culpable: blame’ — then we look forward to seeing it,” she said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS. Trump “could come right before the committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants if he wants,” she said.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump “should come to the committee and testify under oath. And he should allow all those around him to come to the committee and testify under oath.” He said the White House’s insistence on blocking witnesses from cooperating raises the question: “What is he hiding?”

The White House has instructed officials not to appear, and most have received congressional subpoenas to compel their testimony.

Those appearing in public have already given closed-door interviews to investigators, and transcripts from those depositions have largely been released.

Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, is to appear Wednesday.

The wealthy hotelier, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, is the only person interviewed to date who had direct conversations with the president about the Ukraine situation.

Morrison said Sondland and Trump had spoken about five times between July 15 and Sept. 11 — the weeks when $391 million in U.S. assistance was withheld from Ukraine before it was released.

Trump has said he barely knew Sondland.

Besides Sondland, the committee will hear on Wednesday from Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, a State Department official. On Thursday, Fiona Hill, a former top NSC staff member for Europe and Russia, will appear.

Shooting in Duncan Walmart parking lot leaves three dead

DUNCAN — Three people were shot and killed in a Walmart parking lot in Duncan on Monday, drawing a full-scale response from law enforcement and the eye of the nation on the small town in Stephens County.

At 9:53 a.m. Monday, police received a call of shots fired in the Walmart parking lot on U.S. 81 in Duncan, a town of about 23,000 people 90 minutes southwest of Oklahoma City.

Officers arrived a minute later to find three bodies in the parking lot — two inside a bright red, bullet-riddled car and one outside the car with an apparent gunshot wound to the head.

Read the full story online at Oklahoman.com. (Some stories require a subscription.)

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Early riders of new Bus Rapid Transit system give it positive reviews

Monday was the first weekday of the city’s Aero Bus Rapid Transit service, and the buses were nowhere close to full.

If that sounds like a problem, it’s not. Just the opposite.

As bus driver LaDawn Pickney explained, the BRT service along Peoria Avenue is faster, with less time between stops, than the 105 Route that it replaced. That adds up to more buses on the road, giving riders more frequent options to jump on.

“This bus is usually packed,” Pickney said. “I have done this exact same thing in the morning — same time — and on the way back (downtown) it was standing-room only.”

The 700 Route, as the new BRT line is called, runs from 81st Street and Peoria Avenue in south Tulsa to 54th Street North. City leaders are betting the new service will draw riders who typically steer clear of the regular bus service, where wait times average 45 minutes.

Sean Comstock was one of those people. Monday he boarded the BRT at roughly 51st Street and headed downtown for jury duty. He would not have risked making the trip by bus when the 105 was running.

“I wouldn’t be on this bus if it was every 30 minutes,” Comstock said. “Definitely I wouldn’t be on the bus.”

The city decided to put its first BRT line along Peoria Avenue because one in seven Tulsans live within a mile of the corridor and one in five work within a mile of it.

The hope, city leaders say, is that the faster, more reliable 700 Route will lead more people to see public transit as an option of choice rather than an option of necessity.

That day may come, but for two hours early Monday morning, many were riding it because they had to.

One man had taken the bus from north Tulsa to the Walmart at 81st and Peoria. At 7 a.m., he hopped off and headed down the street to the River Spirit Casino.

A 15-year-old sophomore at Will Rogers High School was on his way to school. Then there was Wadrian Carter, a cargo loader who boarded early near the Walmart to begin what has typically been a two-hour trip to his job.

“I hope it would shorten up the trips,” he said of the new service. “That would be good.”

The city has invested $14 million to buy new buses and build new stations for the 700 Route. It will cost approximately $3.4 million a year to operate.

Liann Alfaro, planning and marketing director for Tulsa Transit, said 462 people rode the BRT line Sunday, its first day of operation.

“So far, service has gone pretty good,” she said. “We are working on keeping the buses on time, but in general we have heard great feedback.”

Tulsa Transit is offering free service along the 700 Route through Dec. 19, when the city will have a grand opening ceremony for the line.

Malcolm Battle, who lives in north Tulsa, said the free rides are a help. He took the BRT downtown Sunday, and he was back on it Monday morning headed to The Salvation Army.

“It kind of helps me retain a little change in my pocket to be able to pay my bills,” he said.

His only complaint about the new service, voiced with a wide, mischievous smile, was that the shiny new buses don’t come with a soundtrack.

“The only thing that is missing is a little music, a little jazz, R&B,” he said.

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