OKC Council denies new jail site
The OKC City Council discusses a zoning proposal for a new county jail, which was denied Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Screenshot)

The long saga of efforts to replace the troubled Oklahoma County Jail with a new facility has hit yet another snag, as the OKC City Council denied a proposal today to locate the new jail at 1901 E. Grand Blvd.

Tuesday’s vote came after hours of public comment regarding the proposed new jail location, which was advanced by the OKC Planning Commission in April. But with Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher abstaining because his law firm was hired to represent the City of Del City over their opposition to the proposed site, the council voted 7-1 to deny zoning for a new county jail just feet away from the city limits of Del City.

Ward 4 Councilman Todd Stone made the motion to deny the county’s request to rezone the property, saying it was too close to neighborhoods and schools. He said released inmates could walk into neighborhoods, which include a nursing home and day care centers.

“We’ve got detainees that are going to be let out in an area where they can walk, what is it, 300 feet, 600 feet over to neighborhoods? And that’s really about the only place to go in this area,” Stone said. “If you’re on foot, there’s nowhere else to go other than if you can leave the Trosper jail and go to the Trosper Park or the Trosper Golf Course. And when we talk about this being the hottest spot for crime, we think that’s a good place to release detainees? I disagree with that.”

Stone said the county only has 40 percent of the funding in place for the project, and he said OKC City Council members would not even consider a project that lacked even half of its necessary financing in place.

His motion was followed by applause from many who filled the council chambers. Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper seconded it. More than 20 people spoke against the project, citing safety and the effect a jail would have on their property values.

When the 7-1 tally was announced, with Mayor David Holt the only “yes” vote, many in the council chamber again broke into applause.

County commissioners unsure how to proceed

inmate death
An Oklahoma City Police Department car sits parked near the Oklahoma County Jail on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Michael Duncan)

Now, the protracted process of selecting a new jail site has slowed again, and county leaders have an additional decision to make: Go back to the drawing board and revisit an imperfect slate of alternate possible jail locations or pursue a legal remedy wherein a court would have to rule that a county does not need municipal zoning approval to establish and operate a jail.

Brian Maughan, chairman of the Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners, said commissioners have no clear alternative, and the Oklahoma City Council provided no guidance despite some members saying they prefer a downtown site.
“It’s a problem, and when you talk to the council members, they don’t even have consensus amongst them about exactly where downtown they’re referring,” he said. “They say downtown as a cliché, but when you start pressing — about, ‘Were you talking about this side or that side?’ — they begin to have different issues that come up with different members, because they realize it’s close proximity to schools that are downtown, they have issues about how close it is to other developments that there are plans for, and whether again, there’s enough adequate land without having to explore eminent domains, should you not be able to get enough willing sellers. Because there are such a multitude of property owners down there, you’re not dealing with a singular one or maybe just two property owners. You have to involve several, which can hold up a project if you have a couple of them stand tight and say they’re not going to sell. It can ruin the whole development or force you into litigation.”
County commissioners selected the Grand Boulevard site because it would allow the county to build a one- or two-story jail that would be less expensive and more efficient to operate and maintain. They said it also would provide detainees with better access to natural light and open air, unlike the existing high-rise jail in downtown OKC that has been a political albatross with deadly consequences for decades.
“Our architects that we hired for this said it would cost them just $90 million to build it on any of the prospective sites that they know of downtown because it goes back into a vertical high-rise versus a horizontal plan like the Grand Boulevard site allowed,” Maughan said. “So, no one has a suggestion about how we’re going to come up with the money to buy that land and everything else. To buy it, we’re probably already grossly short anyway, but to add to that that we don’t have enough land and have to go back to a vertical plan, and it cost us an additional $90 million, who’s going to come up with that?”
In mid-2023, a Citizens Bond Oversight Advisory Board formed by commissioners was given a list of properties submitted by the City of Oklahoma City and landowners to consider as potential locations for a new jail. That list later was trimmed by the board after evaluating proposed sale prices, typographical, environmental and functional concerns. After a property adjacent to the Will Rogers World Airport was deemed unworkable owing to federal regulations, the board determined the Grand Boulevard location to be the best option for a detention facility and an associated mental health center.
“The constitution says we shall have it inside the county,” Maughan said. “So, we’ve got that issue, and the voters two years ago gave us a mandate to build a new jail. We have the people’s will to execute, and we have the constitution that we have to look at.”

District 3 Commissioner Myles Davidson also expressed frustration with Tuesday’s result.

“This decision overlooks the critical need for modern, humane detention facilities that can better serve our community,” Davidson said in a statement. “Our current facilities pose significant risks and challenges. I am disappointed in the city council’s inability to recognize the need for a new jail to ensure the safety and well-being of both inmates and staff.”

District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert said she has “mixed feelings” about the OKC Council’s rejection of the 1901 E. Grand Blvd. location.

“I’m very happy that council voted it down, because I worked very hard with my Del City folks and east-side folks who didn’t want the jail in that area,” Blumert said. “But I also understand the county is now in a tough position because we are at risk of losing $40 million for a behavioral care center.”

As planned, the county would spend $40 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding to build a behavioral health center next to wherever the new jail is located. But under federal law, those ARPA funds must be encumbered by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

“I have not liked this site (on Grand Boulevard) since the beginning,” Blumert said. “However, I do feel conflicted because we are at risk of losing this federal money for our behavioral care center if we do not move quickly to begin construction.”

Blumert said the project proposes “true mental health diversion” in Oklahoma County, something U.S. Department of Justice investigators have been examining for more than a year.

“If law enforcement brings someone to jail, and they have obvious, untreated mental illness, a judge can suspend their sentence if they agree to go next door for mental health care,” Blumert said.

Maughan expressed similar concern about how to establish the mental health center before ARPA dollars expire.

“We’re either going to have to look at buying an existing facility, or we’re going to have to repurpose the money and go somewhere else,” he said. “It would have been for the mental health facility. We couldn’t use any of it for the jail by those trigger guidelines, but we were hoping to build the mental health facility adjacent to wherever we build the jail, so that it’s best usage for arrestees who come in facing mental health issues.”

Beyond that, Oklahoma County commissioners are facing another deadline when it comes to the new jail project, for which voters approved a $260 million bond issue in 2022. Ballot language requires the county to have allocated 85 percent of the funds from bond sales within three years of the transaction.

“I think everything’s in jeopardy after today, including that the bond deadline is approaching on it, too, because you have to spend 85 percent of the bonds within three years after issuance, and the remaining 15 percent has to be expended in the following two years,” Maughan said. “Not to underestimate the government’s ability to spend money quickly, but it’s still — you don’t want to do it recklessly and irresponsibly. So we’ve got that clock ticking on us also.”

The county has land it owns in eastern Oklahoma County, which has been looked at as a possible jail site, but Maughan said it has several obstacles, and Blumert has argued that properties in her district covering northeast Oklahoma City should not be considered.

“The deployment of utilities and adequate sewer are usually cost prohibitive,” Maughan said.

More remote locations also pose public safety issues owing to ambulance service response times and a lack of direct 911 response, he said.

Maughan, Blumert and Davidson are scheduled to meet Wednesday, but it’s unclear to what extent they will be able to discuss the latest jail-site holdup because Wednesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting agenda was already posted prior to Tuesday’s development.

“It could come up under other business, but I don’t know if it could be discussed in executive session,” Blumert said. “That’s a question for our [assistant district attorney].”

Another possibility, albeit remote, involves looking at whether commissioners have the legal option to declare the county a sovereign entity that does not need municipal zoning approval, Maughan said.

“I don’t know that that’s clear, so I think we’ll have to engage in conversations with counsel about that,” Maughan said. “But what is clear to me is after today’s council meeting, wherever it is we wind up going, I think this would be likely the fight we face, regardless of which location we’re talking about. (…) In other words, there’s no perfect spot.”

OKC Council approves new Thunder arena location

Thunder arena vote passes
More than 70 percent of Oklahoma City voters supported a new arena proposal for the OKC Thunder on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. (Angela Anne Jones)

Earlier Tuesday, the OKC City Council voted 7-2 to approve construction of the city’s new sports and concert arena on the site of the Cox Convention Center, across the street from the current Paycom Center.

The development agreement approved Tuesday outlines the funding sources, location elements and construction timeline for the new arena, which will be at least 750,000 square feet in size with a target completion date of June 2028.

At a minimum construction cost of $900 million — $50 million of which has been committed by the private ownership group of the OKC Thunder — the new arena development will also feature a new parking garage with at least 650 spaces and more than one acre of land designated for a potential intercity transit hub that could be developed in the future.

On Tuesday, the council also approved an Aug. 27 citywide election on a 3.75 percent increase for OKC’s hotel tax, which has stood at 5.5 percent since voters approved a prior increase in 2004.

If passed, the tax increase is estimated to generate an additional $11.6 million of annual revenue, which would be dedicated to tourism promotion (75 percent), event sponsorships (13.3 percent), fairgrounds improvements (6.7 percent) and OKC Convention Center improvements (5 percent).

William W. Savage III (Tres) has served as the editor in chief of NonDoc since the publication launched in September 2015. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and covered two sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature for before working in health care for six years. He is a nationally certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.
Michael McNutt became NonDoc's managing editor in January 2023. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years, working at The Oklahoman for 30 years, heading up its Enid bureau and serving as night city editor, assistant news editor and State Capitol reporter. An inductee of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, he served as communications director for former Gov. Mary Fallin and then for the Office of Juvenile Affairs. Send tips and story ideas to