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Fairgrounds' new barn gives new life to horse shows, live racing meet

It sure would be nice to know what the horses think of Expo Square’s new $19 million barn. Because everyone else can’t seem to say enough good things about it.

Longtime trainer Tim Dixon calls it “a helluva barn.”

“It’s really got some of the nicest stalls in any racetrack I’ve ever been to, and I go to Oaklawn Park, I go to Delta Downs,” Dixon said Friday. “I go to all the racetracks, bigger racetracks than this that put on the big meets.”

The investment might seem counter-intuitive. It has been many years since the fairgrounds’ summer horse racing meet at Fair Meadows Race Track drew more than a few hundred spectators.

But Mark Enterline, general manager of the live racing meeting, said things are looking up. The number of patrons, the amount of wagering and applications for stalls have all increased this year.

“Everything is doing a little better this year than in the past,” Enterline said. “In a world of racing where you just hope to stay flat, it’s real exciting to see things happen.”

The new barn was constructed just north of the old racetrack grandstand, which has been removed, and sits next to the track. Spectators can purchase concessions on the first floor before walking a few steps to the paddock to watch horses before they head out to the track.

A large patio area provides a good view of the entire track, and an upstairs balcony is available for rent.

“It is a much better experience for both sides — the horse owner/trainer and the patron coming out to watch,” Enterline said.

The barn was one of the first Vision Tulsa projects completed. The city sales tax package was approved by voters in April 2016, and construction began in October 2017. A year later, the approximately 140,000-square-foot structure was full of horses, trainers and owners for another kind of equine event — the annual U.S. National Arabian & Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show.

The Arabian Horse show and others like it bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year into the local economy, according to the Tulsa Regional Chamber. The Arabian Horse Show alone draws more than 3,000 horses, each accompanied by a retinue of trainers, owners and other supporters.

“As other facilities around the country are modernizing, Expo Square has had the vision to know it needs to do the same,” said Glenn Petty with the Arabian Horse Association. “It’s the quality of the stalls in the new barn that make our horses safe and makes our exhibitors really love coming to Tulsa.

“And it’s icing on the cake to have the schooling ring inside the barn that provides weather insurance.”

Mark Andrus, president and CEO of Expo Square, said that without the new barn, the fairgrounds would have been in jeopardy of losing other horse shows. The fairgrounds is also home to the Breeder’s Invitational, Pinto World Championship, and the National Snaffle Bit Association World Championship, to name a few.

“Four of our major shows were almost outgrowing us,” Andrus said. “So this puts us that we have over 2,200 new stalls on property, and for the Arabian and Half-Arabian show ... we still have to rent stalls.”

For the next three weeks, however, the barn — which could also play host to livestock shows — will belong to the jockeys, trainers and horses participating in this year’s live racing meeting. And although one will never know what the horses think of the new facility, longtime trainer Gary Walker has a hunch.

“The easiest thing about this (barn) is the convenience to the racetrack and the convenience to the saddling paddock,” Walker said. “We race at Remington (Park) and other jurisdictions, and there is a tremendous amount of stress on a young horse that has to walk from the backside of Remington Park to the front side, and some of these horses can’t take that stress.

“When you can go from your stall to the saddling paddock in 2½ minutes and go from your stall to the racetrack in 3 minutes, it makes a huge, huge difference on some horses.”

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Cherokee chief could see 84% raise to $350,000 barring Tribal Council action on recommended pay increases

TAHLEQUAH — Barring action by its Tribal Council, elected officials at the Cherokee Nation are about to get five-figure raises come August.

A report from the Cherokee Nation Compensation Committee submitted earlier this week recommends pay increases ranging from 26% for Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd to 104% for the deputy chief.

If approved, Principal Chief-elect Chuck Hoskin Jr. would make $350,000 per year upon taking office next month, or an 84% increase over outgoing Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s salary of $190,000.

Deputy Chief-elect Bryan Warner would be paid $233,333, compared to outgoing Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden’s $114,000 salary. Additionally, Byrd would receive $95,000, Deputy Speaker Victoria Vasquez would receive $90,000 and the remaining 15 councilors would each be paid $85,000.

As per Cherokee Nation law, the proposed raises will automatically take effect within 30 days unless the legislation is introduced at a meeting of one of two Tribal Council committees: Rules or Executive and Finance. Both are scheduled to meet July 16.

Shawn Crittenden, a Tribal Council member based out of Adair County, posted Wednesday on Facebook that he would try to get the issue on a committee agenda to prevent the raises from being enacted.

“There are too many employees not receiving 35 plus percent raises and too many times I hear that there is not a pot of money for this or that,” he wrote.

The five-member committee meets every four years to offer its input on elected officials’ salaries. The executive branch is responsible for appointing two members, and another two members are appointed by the legislative branch. The other four select the fifth member.

In 2015, the committee recommended that Principal Chief Baker receive a $5,000 pay increase annually for four years, with a $3,000 annual increase for Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden, $2,000 annual raises for each member of the Tribal Council and a $12,000 stipend for the council’s speaker.

Cherokee Nation spokeswoman Julie Hubbard confirmed Friday that the committee began compiling the necessary data for its recommendation almost four months before the tribe’s general election. In addition to looking at market data, the committee members also weighed the salaries of elected officials of other area tribes.

For comparison purposes, in 2018, the Choctaw Nation approved an annual base salary of $150,000 for its legislators, plus mileage for travel to council meetings and events hosted by the tribe’s executive branch where attendance is requested in writing. In 2011, the Chickasaw Nation voted to double Gov. Bill Anoatubby’s base salary from $300,000 per year to $600,000.

“Typically our Cherokee Nation employees receive a cost of living increase each Oct. 1, so this adjustment builds in that increase for our elected leaders, as well,” Hubbard said. “It also compensates our top elected officials, who serve the largest federally recognized tribe in the United States, with a pay scale that is more comparable, but still less than what elected leaders from some of our neighboring tribal nations earn.”

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Tulsa priest placed on leave amid sexual misconduct investigation

The Diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma announced Friday that a local priest has been placed on leave amid an investigation of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.

The Rev. Joe Townsend, who was ordained in May 1988 according to the diocese’s website, is under internal investigation conducted by “professional third-party investigators,” which will be reviewed by a board of lay people, the Diocesan Review Board, stated Harrison Garlick, chancellor and attorney for the Tulsa diocese.

It was unclear from a Friday afternoon press release whether any related law enforcement investigation is underway. When asked, Dave Crenshaw, a spokesman for the diocese told the Tulsa World “out of respect to both the accused and alleged victim, the press release is all we can share until the investigation is complete.”

On Friday evening, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler told the World: “I was contacted by the diocese yesterday and informed that an allegation had been raised. Based on that report to me, I contacted the Tulsa Police Department and referred one of their child crisis detectives to contact the diocese about what information they have.”

In its press release, the Tulsa diocese pledged “to be transparent and cooperative with all civil authorities.”

“The Diocese is committed to a process that is both victim-centered and respectful of the rights of the accused,” Garlick said in the written press statement. “Father Joe Townsend is presumed innocent, he is fully cooperating with the investigation, and he denies all allegations of misconduct. A priest being placed on administrative leave is a prudential step in the procedures of addressing an allegation of sexual misconduct. It permits the Diocese to conduct an open, thorough and fair investigation.”

According to Tulsa World archives, Townsend was assigned in 2007 as pastor at St. Benedict Catholic Church, 2200 W. Ithica St. in Broken Arrow.

When Bishop Konderla announced new priest appointments across the Tulsa diocese in April 2018, Townsend was listed as beginning a “sabbatical experience for one year.”

The Diocese is asking anyone with knowledge or concerns to contact local law enforcement and call the diocesan Pastoral Hotline at 918-307-4970. Callers to the hotline will be greeted by an automated message and may leave messages anonymously, if preferred.

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The Church of Saint Mary, 1347 E. 49th Place, reminded its parishioners on Friday that Townsend had served as associate pastor there about 15 years ago and urged anyone with information about this case or any other to call the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Abuse Hotline, 800-522-3511.

Townsend is listed in the online history of the St. Philip Neri Catholic Newman Center at the University of Tulsa as chaplain there from 2002-03, at which time he was also pastor at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 1436 N. 67th East Ave.

Both St. Mary and Sts. Peter and Paul have parochial schools on site.