"VOICE — Voices Organized in Civic Engagement — reports that the poorest Oklahomans inevitably fall behind on their payments and are victim to an endless cycle of bench warrants, arrests, driver’s license suspensions and incarceration, thus exacerbating the state’s incarceration problem.
Many offenders can only afford a public offender[sic], cannot afford bail and are only given the evidence against them 10 days before trial. Thus, 95% of charges are pleaded out regardless of a person’s guilt, according to VOICE...Read more
As states grapple with the repercussions of last year's severe winter storms, VOICE-OKC condemns a related Oklahoma Corporation Commission decision. With only one dissent, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission approved a plan from Oklahoma utility companies to recover costs for the February 2021 winter storm by transferring them to residents over decades.
The dissenting opinion comes from the one corporation commissioner who voted against the utility plans.
Bob Anthony, who wrote the dissenting opinion, is saying “Oklahoma rate payers deserve an explanation.” In the filing he also asks “why are resulting energy costs so shockingly high and who pays how much?”...
“We are being stuck with the bill for that and getting nothing in return,” Nick Singer [with the VOICE Coalition] said. “There’s nothing that is requiring these companies now to invest in infrastructure to prepare for future cold weather or natural disasters.”
[Photo credit: KFOR]
Members of VOICE-OKC gathered in Oklahoma City to challenge the Oklahoma Congressional Delegation to condemn the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
"A small group braved frigid temperatures in Oklahoma City on Thursday to assert their support of democracy, a system they believe was threatened by the riot at U.S. Capitol a year ago.
"I am here today because I feel like our democracy...is really important for the people," said Maureen Harvey, chair of Voices Organized in Civic Engagement, or VOICE. "And our representatives are acting like nothing happened."
[Remarking on the grief felt about the Jan. 6 insurrection], "...many people saw this as an assault and not just against this country, not just against our seat of government and our democracy and free elections, but against their life's work," said the Rev. Diana Davies, of the First Unitarian Church in Oklahoma City.
[Photo Credit: Doug Hoke and Addison Kliewer, The Oklahoman]
Oklahomans Gather to Reflect on Anniversary of Jan. 6 Insurrection, The Oklahoman [pdf]
[Excerpt from Guest Column by VOICE-OKC leaders]
"In the matter of the February Freeze and utility costs, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) is failing us.
OCC's own "Vision" promises to "hold itself and utilities accountable to the citizens of Oklahoma," but it allows secrecy and evades answering public questions.
VOICE is a coalition of churches and community groups concerned about issues affecting families, so we looked at OCC documents. Utilities don't profit from the February price spikes, so why secrecy? In the middle of the freeze, Oklahoma Natural Gas (ONG) asked the OCC on Feb. 16 to keep all price records secret. The OCC said yes after just 48 hours.
We now know that ONG put Oklahomans in debt by an extra $1.3 billion in just nine days.
.... VOICE-OKC made the common-sense suggestion that when home energy prices spike suddenly, consumers should receive real-time updates from utilities. Imagine how much more conservation would have occurred in February if utilities (as they knew) said "your price for energy tomorrow is going up by 500%." However, OCC has dismissed this idea; it's another example of OCC favoring monopoly corporations over consumers."
[Photo Credit: From right to left: Eric Jergensen, President of VOICE Action Fund and S. Bennet Goldman, a member of VOICE through First Unitarian Church of OKC. Via The Oklahoman]
VOICE (Voices Organized in Civic Engagement) of Oklahoma City condemns the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for apparent conflict of interest in campaign contributions they have received.
The three elected members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities and numerous other industries, have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from those they’re tasked with regulating during their most recent election cycle, a CNHI Oklahoma [News] investigation has found.
“The rubber stamping so quickly has me worried that this world is just too cozy between regulators and the companies they’re supposed to be watching," said Steven Goldman, a member of VOICE, a coalition of groups that have come together to advocate for Oklahoma City-area residents. He became interested in the Commission after members of his Oklahoma City congregation started expressing concerns about increasing utility rates.
Goldman said he believes the Commission is more invested in protecting businesses over consumers and in limiting public access.....
"[R]oofing contractors face litigation from the Attorney General’s Office if they raise prices more than 10% after a natural disaster, but companies that increased natural gas costs by 1,000% have yet to face any consequences."
Oklahoma City religious and community leaders are raising questions about how power providers plan to recover an estimated $4.5 billion spent on fuel during February's severe winter storm.
Power providers spent so much in the wake of the storm, a customer who might normally see a $100 February bill could have seen a nearly $2,000 bill instead, with months of similar bills to follow.
Some legislators recently submitted plans to mitigate these costs over time, but leaders of the civic organization VOICE OKC want assurance the process won't pass unreasonable fuel costs on to consumers.
“If we as consumers are going to be asked to pay $4.5 billion, we deserve transparency,”
said Eric Jergensen, a VOICE member representing the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House.
[Photo Credit: Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Advocates Call For Transparent Investigations Into Cost Spikes, The Norman Transcript [pdf]
In the face of impending evictions in Oklahoma, ACTION and VOICE-OKC leaders organized city councils from OK City, Tulsa, and Norman to urge the governor to expand the eviction moratorium in July. Governor Stitt responded by allocating $10 Million in state funds for a rental assistance grant program ($5 Million for Tulsa and $5 Million for Oklahoma City).
In Tulsa, ACTION was the first organization to go to the county with the idea for rental assistance, and leveraged $15 million for local residents. When the county attempted to claw back unspent funds at the end of October, ACTION leaders fought to keep $3.5 million for a brand new utility assistance program, which helped over 6,000 families.
In Oklahoma City, VOICE-OKC leaders were critical players in the fight for Oklahoma County to use $1.5 Million in CARES Acts funding for rental assistance. In combination with funds drawn down from the state, more that 5,200 families (estimated 17,368 people) were assisted.
Pastors and lay leaders from both organizations leaned into the fight to keep families sheltered, ultimately protecting tens of thousands across the state.
[Photo Credit: Video/ACTION Tulsa]
Rental Assistance, Small Business Relief Programs Announced, The Oklahoman [pdf]
Tulsa County Organization Provides Rental Assistance, News On 6 [pdf]
Greg R. Taylor: Love Your Neighbor, Don't Evict Him, Tulsa World [pdf]
Good News Week 2021, ACTION Tulsa
The council passed a resolution calling for Gov. Kevin Stitt to temporarily block residential evictions unless a landlord is responding to a tenant’s criminal behavior or dangerous activities.
“We’re really just asking the governor to pay attention to Oklahomans who are really struggling right now” as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown, said City Councilor Lori Decter Wright, one of the sponsors of the resolution.
The push for a statewide eviction moratorium started with a Tulsa religious coalition known as ACTION and a similar group called VOICE-OKC in Oklahoma City, where the City Council has said it will vote on a similar resolution.
In effect until July 25, a federal moratorium already applies to rental properties that have federally backed mortgages, but the Tulsa City Council wants the same protection for tenants in all rental properties.
Landlords would benefit, as well, said Councilor Kara Joy McKee, explaining that tenants would ultimately still have to pay their rents in full but would have more time to seek employment or government assistance.
“Our tenants and landlords need this support at this time,” McKee said.
[Photo credit: Joey Johnson, Tulsa World]
Clergy from across the state are urging Gov. Kevin Stitt to designate these grocery workers as first responders, hoping that this recognition will help them in more ways than one during the COVID-19 crisis.
"They are literally risking their lives to be with the public every day, ensuring that families across Oklahoma can have access to the food they need in order to survive," the Rev. Diana Davies wrote in a recent letter emailed to Stitt.
Davies, senior minister of First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City, wrote on behalf of 40 Oklahoma clergy and religious sisters affiliated with Voices Organized in Civic Engagement. The group, also known as VOICE, is a coalition of more than two dozen metro-area congregations and nonprofits.
In her letter, Davies said giving grocery workers the first responders' designation would recognize the workers for the "vital role" they are playing in the current emergency but also help draw down federal funds that would keep more money circulating in Oklahoma.
She said the federal dollars could be used for childcare for grocery workers' families, medical testing for the coronavirus should they need it, treatment for COVID-19 if necessary and greater access to personal protective equipment.
"Our organization represents thousands of families across Oklahoma, and many of our loved ones are working tirelessly in stores to keep our supply chains functioning," she wrote. "We would love to tell them that our governor honors their courage and their service at this time."
[Photo Credit: Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma City voters will decide on Dec. 10 whether to extend the MAPS penny sales tax for eight years to fund nearly $1 billion in projects. An estimated $115 million would go toward Chesapeake and the Thunder’s practice facility in northwest Oklahoma City....
In addition to the Chesapeake money, MAPS 4 proposes a $37 million soccer stadium on a site to be determined. Much of the rest of the money in MAPS 4 would be directed to social services, including mental health and homelessness, and to parks and recreation centers.
Sundra Flansburg, a board member of Voices Organized in Civic Engagement (VOICE), which pushed for the social components to be included, said the group is backing the MAPS 4 package and accepts the sports facility funding as necessary to attract broader support.
She said the sports facilities are “not our favorite part of it, but we are very excited about the rest of it. … Politics is politics. And we got a much, much better package.”
[Photo Credit: Dave Morris, The Oklahoman]