Oklahoma County voters signaled their desire to build a new jail Tuesday, approving the use of $260 million in bonds to build a new facility to replace the decrepit 13-story tower built more than 30 years ago.
The jail bond proposal was approved with more than 59 percent support, or 61,147 votes.
From the beginning, the jail project proved controversial. Proponents touted it as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to fix an error. Opponents said the project would be far more expensive than the estimated $300 million building cost because of the interest rate tied to the bonds would balloon its cost. They also opposed the inclusion of a mental health facility within a new jail, and also the issue of incarceration rates that largely impact those who are poor.
The jail project has been supported by the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and a cadre of local politicians, civic leaders and organizations, including the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council, which led the process of studying the idea of building a new facility.
“We’re hopeful, because we’ve put together a good package for voters,” CJAC executive director Tim Tardibono said last week. “There is no tax increase, and it solves a 30-year problem by providing a safer, appropriate-sized jail at a time when we are seeing an increase in diversion programs. We think it will improve public safety.”
The People’s Council for Justice Reform organized a grassroots campaign against the proposal, holding a series of town halls across the county in the past six weeks to explain the project’s potential shortcomings. Besides the cost of the project, opponents said more can be done to address the larger problem of keeping the jail population down, which is something a new facility would not address.
“I think we all agree there are problems with the existing building, but what people want to know about is what has the county done to take steps to alleviate the problems created by over-crowding and the problems that create drug overdoses or the horrific conditions,” organizer Mark Faulk said at a June meeting. “The reality is, if you reduce the population on the front end, we know the jail population could be cut in half. Even Texas has closed prisons. Oklahoma is still in a 1980s mindset.”
It’s still unclear when construction would begin, or the expected completion date. Proponents have targeted a 2026 or 2027 opening for the new facility.
All results posted by the Oklahoma State Election Board online are unofficial until they are certified by the board.
Blumert, Pittman headed to runoff
Incumbent County Commissioner Carrie Blumert and challenger Anastasia Pittman will head to an Aug. 23 runoff after neither reached the 50 percent threshold to capture the Democratic nomination for District 1 of the Oklahoma County Commission.
Pittman finished with 38.64 percent, or 7,838 votes to 35.71 percent, or 7,244 votes for Blumert with all precincts reporting.
Pittman is a former state senator who launched her bid for commissioner earlier this year and is a former nominee for Lt. Governor. Blumert, elected in 2018, is running for a second term.
The vote to build a new Oklahoma County jail was one of the most discussed issues in the race. At a forum, Blumert and Pittman both expressed support for the project.
“I support the new jail, not because I want a $300 million bill put toward the residents of Oklahoma County but because of the way the current jail is,” Pittman said in the June 15 forum. “It’s not secure. The medical floor is not a medical floor at all. People are still lacking access to water, and women are still being victimized.”
Blumert also supported the project.
“I do believe we need a new jail, and I’ve said that since I started campaigning in 2017,” Blumert said in December. “Over the last few weeks, having seen these forums and going to meetings, I’ve felt conflicted. But when it comes to voting on bond issues that are about to expire, I believe we have a small window of time to do this. In all my campaigning, the large majority of folks were supportive of a new jail.”
Former Oklahoma County judge Kendra Coleman and Oklahoma City pastor Christine Byrd finished with 17 and 8.64 percent respectively.
On the GOP side, Willard Linzy captured the nomination to face either Blumert or Pittman in the Nov. 8 general election. He got 66.52 percent, or 7,276 votes compared to 33.48 percent, or 3,662 votes, for opponent La Tonya Williams.
District 1 includes parts of northeast OKC, Del City, Forest Park, Jones, Midwest City, Nicoma Park, Spencer and, since re-districting last year, The Village.
Cummings advances in District 3; GOP candidates go to runoff
Cathy Cummings, a restaurant owner and former city councilwoman in The Village, defeated Jay Bridwell for the Democratic nomination for Oklahoma County Commissioner District 3.
Cummings captured 71.58 percent, or 10,471 votes with all but one precinct reporting. Bridwell picked up 28.42 percent, or 4,157 votes. The win caps an odyssey of sorts for Cummings in her quest to win the nomination.
Oklahoma County District 3 covers far northwest Oklahoma City, Edmond, Arcadia and Luther. The seat is being vacated by Commissioner Kevin Calvey, who is running for district attorney.
Cummings had resided in The Village, but during the county commission’s re-districting her home was placed inside District 1’s boundaries. In response, Cummings moved to keep her residence inside District 3.
Despite the redistricting controversy, Cummings struck an optimistic tone late last year when talking about the race.
“We got a copy of the new map and went through the new district literally precinct by precinct to see if I could still win,” she said. “We looked at the race between Drew Edmondson and Kevin Stitt and how those numbers looked, and Drew did very well winning many of the precincts in the new district, so I think we can still do this.”
Bridwell is a 24-year U.S. Air Force veteran who currently serves as the director of support services at the Homeless Alliance.
On the GOP side, Myles Davidson and Amy Alexander will head to the Aug. 23 runoff. Davidson, who is the current chief deputy of District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey, picked up 38.32 percent, or 9,626 votes with all but one precinct reporting. Alexander, who works for current District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan, got 23.42 percent, or 5,882 votes.
Former Oklahoma County Sheriff P.D. Taylor and business owner Ronnie Jones finished with 21.95 and 16.31 percent respectively.