Our regular weekly meetings had come to a halt. Typically, Commissioner Owens and I meet in person weekly to discuss ongoing challenges, issues and to keep the cooperative spirit of City-County relations progressing. But, so many commercial businesses (including restaurants) were temporarily closed, and the added immediate responsibilities of the pandemic had interrupted the meetings.
Watching the pandemic numbers daily and assess- ing what actions would keep the numbers low was always on my mind. So, when I saw that the Comanche County Detention Center was starting to have a few cases, I called my friend to see what we could do. We had a little room in the City jail but were working to social distance, and there were jurisdictional issues. Any agreement to hold County inmates would have to be reviewed by the Attorney General’s office for compliance with Oklahoma State Law, and that takes time. The City might be a part of a solution, but it was clear that we were not THE solution. The most we could do, with AG’s approval, was hold incoming arrestees on a very short- term basis.
Over several conversations, we discussed different ideas and options, such as using the Coliseum, but there were security and resource issues that included beds, showers, human resources, and money. Money is the fuel for it all. Money that we did not readily have locally without an election. It became clear that the challenge had risen above our local resources, and we had to find those resources fast. The number of cases of COVID-19 had increased to 105 associated with the jail and represented most of the active cases locally. This challenge could be handled but only with the proper resources, fast. This left community options wanting due to legalities such as needing an election to have the money, the necessary fuel for all things to happen quickly.
Our conversation naturally went to the state as being the only place we knew with the resources to help us get this COVID-19 outbreak in the CCDC under control. Since I already had a call in to the Governor on a different matter, we took the opportunity to ask for the state’s assistance.
I had contacted the Governor so that he would know what our local challenge was and was surprised and encouraged when Secretary of Public Safety Chip Keating, was on the conference call. In less than five minutes, the Governor was asking Sec. Keating to assess the situation and help with a solution. Within hours I received a call from Lawton-raised Director Scott Crow, of the Okla. Department of Corrections, to let me know that he was calling Commissioner Johnny Owens to offer to work alongside the County to arrive at a productive solution. Soon I was talking to Judge Jari Askins, Administrative Director of the Courts, assisting with resources from her office. Judge Askins is a Duncan resident who has a storied history of service to the citizens of our state. There are jurisdictional issues involved, and Attorney General Mike Hunter was offering his expedited service to review intergovernmental agreements for compliance to state law to meet the timeliness of the challenge. Brandie Combs of the State Department of Health has been at the forefront working together for a positive solution.
As I conveyed that I was positively overwhelmed with the Governor’s responsiveness, a quote from Sec. Keating says it all, “We are all Oklahomans, and this is the Oklahoma standard I know and know we all share at the end of the day.” I do not have enough acclamation for our Governor and his team for setting the Oklahoma Standard.
God Bless you all and thank you for your service.
And thank you to the Southwest Ledger for allowing me to communicate with our citizens.