OKC officials object to measure weakening local health department
Mayor's experience shows
Having a mayor with state legislative experience has its advantages.
Mayor David Holt, a former state senator, said last week that he reached out to the author when he first saw House Bill 2504 several weeks ago.
Holt said the bill as originally written would have ended local health departments, bringing them under state control.
The Oklahoma City-County Health Department has led the metro-area's COVID-19 response.
And results are clear, Holt said — Oklahoma City's toll as measured by pandemic metrics such as case counts and deaths have been better than state and national figures.
Legislators amended the bill before passing it out of committee last week.
Still, its assault on local control is clear.
As it stands, according to The Oklahoman's legislative reporter Carmen Forman, the local health department would be prohibited from taking any action "more stringent than" state law or State Board of Health action.
That substitutes for "inconsistent with" and is a clear shot at local mask mandates.
The state health commissioner would gain authority to appoint one of the nine city-county health board members.
That would diminish the influence of the Oklahoma City Council, which now appoints five of the nine.
The bill targets Oklahoma City and Tulsa, where the state's only metro health departments enjoy a degree of autonomy to address public health challenges unique to their diverse populations.
"We pride that independence greatly," Holt said.
He said it was a "total nonstarter to lose operational control of our own health department."
The mayor said he was not opposed to more collaboration but retaining local control is a must.
"We deserve that," he said.
In a written statement, Gary Raskob, chairman of the Oklahoma City-County Board of Health and dean and regents professor at OU's College of Public Health, said the bill "circumvents the purpose of the statute that created metro health departments, is unnecessary and without merit."
"We still feel there is no need for any changes," Holt said.
Mask ordinance extension set
The city council is set to vote Tuesday on Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher's request to extend Oklahoma City's mask ordinance through April 30. The ordinance requires individuals to wear a mask indoors, in most public places, with the intent of limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Public can tour convention center
Free public tours of the new MAPS 3 convention center are being offered March 13. Those who want to take a tour must make a reservation. The self-guided tours will be open between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. that Saturday. Up to 50 people will be allowed to sign up for each 15-minute time slot. Temperature checks and masks are required for entry; social distancing rules will be in place.
Sign up: Register for tours at okccctour.register110.com.
Worth noting: Tours will take about 20 minutes and start in the atrium where one of the city’s newest and most valuable art pieces, Virtual Sky, is suspended from the ceiling. Stops include the 200,730-square-foot exhibit hall, the Painted Sky ballroom, and the balcony overlooking Scissortail Park.
The city council will meet virtually at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Find the agenda and instructions for dialing in under the "Government" tab at okc.gov.
The mayor and seven city council members attended last week’s meeting. Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner was absent.
Staff writer William Crum. Email email@example.com. Twitter:@williamcrum. For civic news and more, subscribe at oklahoman.com.