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Gov. Kevin Stitt on board with preliminary Greenwood museum plans

Gov. Kevin Stitt gave a thumbs-up to preliminary plans for the proposed Greenwood History Center following a half-hour presentation Friday at the Greenwood Cultural Center.

“This is a story that’s important to tell,” Stitt said, “to make sure we don’t repeat history.”

The entire project consists of three main components: The Pathway to Hope, linking Vernon AME Church and the Greenwood Center complex with the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park; a $5.3 million renovation of the Greenwood Cultural Center; and the museum, tentatively budgeted for around $18 million.

On Friday, though, Stitt was primarily interested in the museum, which will be committed to the life of Tulsa’s historic Greenwood District.

Central to that is the 1921 Race Massacre, resulting in Greenwood’s destruction. In the past, officeholders have been reluctant to address the issue, but Stitt said he has a responsibility to do so.

“I’m the governor of all 4 million Oklahomans,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rural or urban or American Indian or black or white or Hispanic, I’m going to do what I think is best for all 4 million Oklahomans.”

Besides, Stitt added, the state has appropriated $1.5 million for the project, which gives him some oversight responsibility.

Stitt got something of a preview earlier this week when he visited the September 11 museum in New York. That museum’s exhibits were designed by Local Projects, the same firm designing the Greenwood museum.

“They did a great job there and I know they’ll be great to kind of roll out the history of what happened 100 years ago here in Tulsa,” Stitt said.

Stitt said he particularly appreciated elements of the proposal that highlight Greenwood entrepreneurs and the rebuilding of the devastated district after the 1921 massacre.

Jake Barton and L’Rai Arthur-Mensah made four presentations to a variety of audiences Thursday and Friday. Their primary purpose was gathering feedback, which Arthur-Mensah said was favorable.

“All of the feedback from the community meeting (Thursday night) was very positive,” said Arthur-Mensah, the project manager. “We had great engagement about the content, which is exactly what we wanted.”

One of the designers’ challenges is space. That’s almost always the case with museums, but at 7,000 square feet the Greenwood Museum is a little on the small side for the scope of the story it is trying to tell.

Arthur-Mensah said Local Projects accepted the challenge of the potential significance.

“We connect to stories and projects that are going to be important to telling the truth,” she said.

Planners hope to begin construction in early January and complete the museum shortly before the centennial of the race massacre in late spring 2021.

Stitt uses $2 million in additional funds to restructure Governor's Office

OKLAHOMA CITY — Using an infusion of cash thanks to a $2 million budget increase, Gov. Kevin Stitt has realigned his office.

Stitt has made some key personnel changes such as moving Deputy Secretary of State Donelle Harder to senior policy adviser, according to Chief of Staff Michael Junk. Her salary increased to $140,000 from $120,000.

Harder, who formerly worked for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, is a spokesman for Stitt.

In addition to maintaining her role in communications, she will work on federal policy issues and scheduling, Harder said.

Samantha Davidson moved from the Governor’s Office to deputy secretary of state, Junk said. Davidson, who was originally tapped as a policy director, will be paid by the Secretary of State’s Office, Harder said.

Davidson is a former lobbyist for Oklahoma Global Health. She also worked as a policy adviser for the state Senate Republicans.

Her salary will rise to $120,000 from $90,000, he said.

Junk said the focus on state policy issues will come out of the Secretary of State’s Office, which acts as the governor’s liaison with the Oklahoma Legislature.

Fewer than a handful of other employees were given raises as they took on additional duties, Harder said.

The budget for the Governor’s Office went to $3.7 million after getting about $2 million in new dollars, according to Senate staff.

Junk said that when Stitt came into office in January, funding for the Governor’s Office had been at historic lows.

The office was realigned based on increased appropriations, Junk said. “We are just now getting our team aligned,” he said.

Stitt’s office has 24 full-time employees and three part-time employees, said Baylee Lakey, a Stitt spokeswoman.

In May, the Governor’s Office had 18 full-time employees, but it added staff after additional dollars were provided in the budget.

The full-time count includes Budget Secretary Mike Mazzei, a Tulsa financial planner and former Republican senator. His current salary is $45,000, Harder said.

“We are also working to compensate other Cabinet members out of the governor’s budget, but that process is still underway,” Lakey said.

Currently, Mazzei is the only Cabinet secretary compensated out of Stitt’s budget, Harder said, but the office is working to change that.

Some Cabinet secretaries earn compensation from other positions, such as Transportation Secretary Tim Gatz, who serves as director of both the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. Steve Buck is secretary of Human Services and Early Childhood Development. Buck is also executive director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs.

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US to send troops to Saudi Arabia, hold off on striking Iran

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Friday announced it will deploy additional U.S. troops and missile defense equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as President Donald Trump has at least for now put off any immediate military strike on Iran in response to the attack on the Saudi oil industry.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Pentagon reporters this is a first step to beef up security and he would not rule out additional moves down the road. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said more details about the deployment will be determined in the coming days, but it would not involve thousands of U.S. troops.

Other officials said the U.S. deployment would likely be in the hundreds and the defensive equipment heading to the Middle East would probably include Patriot missile batteries and possibly enhanced radars.

The announcement reflected Trump’s comments earlier in the day when he told reporters that showing restraint “shows far more strength” than launching military strikes and he wanted to avoid an all-out war with Iran.

Instead, he laid out new sanctions on the Iranian central bank and said the easiest thing to do would be to launch military strikes.

“I think the strong person’s approach and the thing that does show strength would be showing a little bit of restraint,” Trump told reporters during a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “Much easier to do it the other way, and Iran knows that if they misbehave, they are on borrowed time.”

Dunford told reporters the extra equipment and troops would give the Saudis a better chance of defending against unconventional aerial attacks.

“No single system is going to be able to defend against a threat like that,” he said, “but a layered system of defensive capabilities would mitigate the risk of swarms of drones or other attacks that may come from Iran.”

The U.S. has not provided any hard evidence that Iran was responsible for the attacks, while insisting the investigation continues, but Esper on Friday said the drones and cruise missiles used in the attack were produced by Iran.

“The attack on Sept. 14 against Saudi Arabian oil facilities represents a dramatic escalation of Iranian aggression,” Esper said, adding that the U.S. has thus far shown “great restraint.”

In deciding against an immediate U.S. strike, Trump for the second time in recent months pulled back from a major military action against Iran that many Pentagon and other advisers fear could trigger a new Middle East war. In June, after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, Trump initially endorsed a retaliatory military strike then abruptly called it off because he said it would have killed dozens of Iranians.

On Friday, he left the door open a bit for a later military response, saying people thought he’d attack Iran “within two seconds,” but he has “plenty of time.”

Trump spoke just before he gathered his national security team at the White House to consider a broad range of military, economic and diplomatic options in response to what administration officials say was an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities.

Iran has denied involvement and warned the U.S. that any attack will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation from Tehran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have condemned the attack on Saudi oil facilities as “an act of war.”

Esper and Dunford declined to discuss any potential ship movements to the region, although a number of U.S. Navy vessels are nearby.

The additional air and missile defense equipment for Saudi Arabia would be designed to bolster its defenses in the north, since most of its defenses have focused on threats from Houthis in Yemen to the south.

A forensic team from U.S. Central Command is poring over evidence from cruise missile and drone debris, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not finished. Officials are trying to determine if they can get navigational information from the debris that could provide hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran.