We reported on a man left paralyzed on the streets of Tulsa. How’s he doing now? What Fortune 500 company decided against expanding in Oklahoma again? The Frontier is updating its most-read stories of 2023.
5. Gov. Kevin Stitt paid more than $1.9 million in legal fees for gaming lawsuits with state money
Publication date: Aug. 4
What happened: Gov. Kevin Stitt paid nearly $2 million in state money to law firms representing the governor in legal fights with the tribes. The money came from funds the tribes pay the state to ensure Oklahoma is receiving its cut from tribal gaming operations. Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said he was looking into whether the funds were properly used and filed a motion in one of those cases to take over legal representation for the state.
Update: The Oklahoma Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency issued a report in November that found the amount of tribal gaming funds the governor’s office spent on attorneys was even higher than initially reported — $3.3 million. Stitt’s attorneys are also still fighting Drummond’s bid to take over legal representation in one case. Drummond has asked the federal court to have the Oklahoma Supreme Court rule on the issue. The federal court has not yet issued a decision.
4. A patient-dumping probe clears two Tulsa hospitals after man left paralyzed on the streets
Publication date: Sept. 27
What happened: Brent Thurman, a man experiencing homelessness in Tulsa, sought care at two local hospitals last year for what turned out to be a serious blood infection. Instead, he was left on the sidewalk unable to move. A federal investigation into whether the hospitals failed to treat Thurman cleared them of wrongdoing. Thurman now lives partially paralyzed in a nursing home.
Update: Over the last several months, Thurman has been in and out of the hospital for seizures, low oxygen and pneumonia. He’s working with a new lawyer to look over his case. The federal government has not returned additional requests for information to The Frontier.
3. Millions of dollars meant to boost broadband access in Oklahoma has gone to emergency responders instead
Publication date: April 4
What happened: The Oklahoma Broadband Office is in charge of expanding broadband internet access in rural communities in the state. But in November 2022, its board voted to use $19.9 million in federal relief money to upgrade the Department of Public Safety’s telecommunications system for first responders instead. The Department of Public Safety said it didn’t ask the Broadband Office for the money, and none of the legislators leading the state committee that allocates federal relief funding said they knew about the agency’s decision beforehand.
Update: Broadband Office spokesperson Tim Allen said none of the funding allocated for emergency system upgrades was ultimately transferred to the Department of Public Safety. The Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services is holding it for qualifying broadband projects. The Broadband Office is using about $374 million in federal relief money for service provider grants to expand high-speed internet access, which it plans to award in early 2024.
2. Audit finds special interest groups gave Oklahoma private schools first-dibs on federal relief money while rejecting poor kids
Publication date: June 27
What happened: An audit by Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd confirmed flaws in how the state handled the Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet pandemic relief program, after a joint investigation by The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch revealed how families spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in coronavirus federal education money on video game consoles, Christmas trees, grills and other non-educational items. The audit also found that millions in federal relief money meant to help pay tuition for Oklahoma students in private schools was misspent at the hand of special interest groups who gave preferential treatment to wealthier private schoolers while hundreds of needy children missed out on financial aid.
Update: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office has since spent another $17.7-million round of federal coronavirus education funds. Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond also said in November that Oklahoma taxpayers will likely have to pay back $18 million to the federal government for the issues during the first round of educational relief funding.
1. Why three major companies have passed on expanding in Oklahoma
Publication date: March 28
What happened: Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in promised incentives, three large companies — Volkswagen, Tesla and Panasonic — passed on building factories in Oklahoma in recent years. Some blamed a lack of qualified workers and infrastructure while others faulted Oklahoma’s conservative politics.
Update: A new Senate committee on business retention and economic development has met four times this year, including a meeting this fall after Michelin announced it would close a plant in Ardmore that employs 1,400 workers. Lawmakers heard presentations on workforce development efforts, incentive programs and plans to improve industrial sites throughout the state. The committee hasn’t finalized any official recommendations, though lawmakers will likely lean on what they’ve learned in the meetings while writing bills for the next legislative session, said Senate spokesman Alex Gerszewski.
Just before Christmas, Panasonic said Oklahoma was out of the running for yet another project — an electric vehicle battery plant.