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Waiting is the worst part: County building inspector begins work after flooding in Town and Country addition

The hardest part of Teresa Tosh’s job is telling disaster victims they can’t fix their property just yet. Or they’re going to have to wait to turn their power back on.

“They are just frustrated,” Tosh told the Tulsa World Friday. “They want their power on so they can run a fan, so they can run an ice box.”

They want their lives back.

But as Tulsa County’s building inspections director and floodplain administrator, it falls on Tosh and her staff to ensure that people trying to rebuild their homes — and their lives — after a disaster like last week’s flooding don’t create more problems for themselves by failing to follow proper procedures.

As part of that effort, Tosh joined about a dozen other volunteers Friday morning in the Town and Country addition west of Sand Springs to do substantial damage assessments. The reports are required as part of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.

And they are integral to property owners hoping to rebuild after storms.

Here’s how it works: If the estimated damage caused to a structure by last week’s flooding is 50% or greater than the structure’s fair market value, the structure is considered substantially damaged.

If the estimated damage caused to a structure by the flooding is 50% or less than the structure’s fair market value, the structure is not considered substantially damaged.

Tosh, in her role as county building inspections director — with jurisdiction over unincorporated areas like Town and Country — uses the information to determine whether she can issue a building permit.

If the home is not substantially damaged, a building permit can be issued to rebuild the home as it was.

The process is more complicated if the structure is found to be substantially damaged.

“Take Town and Country, if they are in a 100(-year) flood zone, and their house has become substantially damaged, then not only does the International Building Code say we have to apply current code,” Tosh said, “but FEMA says that you can’t build back unless you meet the base flood elevation. And then we (the county) have the (additional requirement of) two feet of free board.”

At the first home Tosh and fellow volunteer Bill Smith visited Friday morning, a brown water line 66 inches off the ground circled the brick facade. Inside, the water line was almost 47 inches high, or about halfway up where walls once stood.

“We were in the flood of ’86,” said John Patterson, 70, who built the home four decades ago. “We thought they (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) had it under control, and that is the only reason we’re still here.

“We didn’t want to give up what equity we have in it, so we stayed. It’s absolutely sickening.”

Patterson said he and his wife, Paula, had some flood insurance, but not enough to cover all of their losses.

“We were going to travel a lot,” Patterson said. “Just got me a brand-new pickup truck and we were going to hit the road and see the country, but that’s all over.”

Friday’s assessment efforts were organized and conducted by the Oklahoma Flood Managers Association Disaster Response Team. Smith established the group in 2008, and since then it has responded to more than 30 emergencies.

“Most people don’t understand what this is all about, they really don’t,” he said. “It’s real important that they know that if they are in the special flood hazard area, they can buy flood insurance. If they are outside the special flood hazard area, they can buy flood insurance.”

But when it comes time to rebuild, Tosh can’t say it enough — wait until your property has been inspected and the proper permits issued.

And don’t dare have the power turned on.

To prove her point, she had Smith turn his pickup off 145th West Avenue on to a side street, where she patiently directed him to another home damaged by the flood.

But this one looked different. Worse. All that was left was a stone skeleton.

The owner, Tosh said, had his power turned on before having it inspected.

“It is so ironic that what I kept telling people is, you do not want your house to burn down, and now we have one that burned down.”

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FEMA official says flood victims should not expect full reimbursement for damages

Property owners seeking federal assistance to help rebuild their homes after last week’s flooding should not expect all of their costs to be reimbursed, an official with FEMA said Friday.

Kent Clark, response division director of FEMA Region 6, said the maximum FEMA will provide is about $30,000 and that a typical payment is much less.

“If your house is totally destroyed, then there is the possibility of getting up to that,” Clark said. “But that will not replace your home.”

The average payout is about $4,000, Clark said.

FEMA assistance is to pay for restoring a home’s living area to a “safe and sanitary” condition, not to rebuild it as it was, Clark said. The funding does not cover outbuildings or barns.

“One of the things that people need to remember is, their first course of action is to go with their insurance,” Clark said. “Insurance is really the No. 1 thing that people can do to kind of make themselves whole.”

FEMA assistance also can include rental assistance and low-interest loans to pay for major repairs.

Clark said FEMA’s disaster survivor assistance teams have already been deployed to flooded areas to encourage homeowners to register for disaster assistance and to answer questions.

People can register by phone at 800-621-3362, or online at

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Criminal justice reform advocates plan second commutation campaign

Criminal justice reform advocates who helped 30 Oklahomans secure an early release from prison last year are launching another commutation campaign with hopes of helping hundreds more who are serving what the group considers excessive sentences.

Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, a bipartisan coalition of community leaders, is again working with the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office, University of Tulsa law students and community partners. Officials will present their plans Monday to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, which makes commutation recommendations to the governor.

“We just scratched the surface last year,” said John Estus, chief of staff for Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.

This year, they hope to help hundreds of people with commutation applications and hearings, Estus said. They plan to review thousands of cases and conduct hundreds of interviews to identify potential candidates.

Read the full story online at

Former TPS official Becky Gligo named Tulsa's first housing policy director

Becky Gligo won’t start her new job with the city until Monday, but she’s already an old pro at describing what she hopes to accomplish as Tulsa’s first housing policy director.

“If you lack housing stability, it is almost all-consuming over anything else that you and your family are trying to tackle,” Gligo said Friday. “And so, for us, I think it is really important that Tulsans feel like they have access to decent, safe, sanitary and affordable housing so that they can think of things like education, upward economic mobility (and) reinvesting in the community.”

Mayor G.T. Bynum said that although the city has a role to play in addressing public housing and affordable housing issues, it cannot tackle them alone. A key aspect of Gligo’s job will be to bring other players together at the table.

“That is something that we can do at the city, that we have the ability to do, is be a convener,” Bynum said. “Similar to what we are trying to do on racial disparity, even similar to what we’re trying to do on economic development.”

Gligo arrives at City Hall with years of experience in housing and community development.

She was director of professional development at Nan McKay and Associates, where she was worked with private and public entities to establish and implement veteran, low-income, assisted and local housing initiatives.

Gligo has also served as the interim director for the housing authority for the city of Amarillo, Texas, and as the housing choice voucher director for the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Prior to joining the mayor’s staff, she was director of portfolio management for Tulsa Public Schools, where she oversaw seven charter schools and the state’s first partnership school.

The city’s Gallup CitiVoice Index survey showed that 36% of Tulsans found it difficult or very difficult to access affordable housing. The survey also found that 30% of Tulsans making less than $27,000 a year did not have the money to provide adequate shelter or housing in the last 12 months.

A major focus of Gligo’s work will be to reduce the city’s eviction rate. Eviction Lab recently ranked Tulsa as having the 11th worst eviction rate in the nation.

“I think the first thing we have to do is really get community stakeholder voice involved in what we’re about to do,” Gligo said. “So, looking at the landscape of housing across Tulsa, hearing from the community where they think we’re lacking in terms of affordable housing access, or where they don’t feel they have stability for housing.”

Those conversations, Gligo said, will help establish priorities for the city as it relates to housing policies.

“Because this is a big, systemic issue that we’re tackling,” she said. “It is not going to happen overnight.”

Nick Doctor, the city’s chief of community development and policy, said Gligo brings the skills and experience the city needs to comprehensively address its housing challenges.

“We can strategically align our resources — including funding, programs, economic incentives, and policies — to address challenges of home affordability, stability and ownership,” Doctor said. “And we can convene and collaborate with other Tulsa organizations focused on housing, and leverage the city’s resources to ensure their success.”

Gligo will be paid $110,000 a year. Her position is being funded by the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation.

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Actor Jason Lee talks about his new photo exhibit that is being shown at the same time as photos from Larry Clark's iconic photo book "Tulsa."

Read the story: Larry Clark, Jason Lee exhibits show Oklahoma from inside, outside