Hours before the horrible night when Michael Vance allegedly killed two Luther residents, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel was in Luther, talking about law enforcement, crime, the need for reform in incarceration and mental health treatment. There was even discussion about the audit released before the election. During a late lunch at The Boundary Restaurant, we had a wide-ranging conversation about his nearly 50 years in law enforcement that started in Eastern Oklahoma County as a high school graduate, included being the Choctaw Police Chief, and of course, his experiences in nearly 20 years as Oklahoma County Sheriff.
Later that same evening, the Sheriff would find himself back in Luther looking for a killer in the woods near Ronny and Kay Wilkson’s home on 206th and Triple X Road. The following Friday he was at the Wilkson’s double funeral, there to honor the victims and ensure he never forgets. He praised the school district for making a controversial decision to close school for the day to allow law enforcement to better secure the facility to protect the mourners. After the beautiful service, the Sheriff pledged that his office would not rest until the killer was found, and pledged to keep an extra layer of security over the town.
We don’t ask about budgets and overtime when a killer is on the loose. Spare no expense.
Then after last Sunday’s killing of Vance by OHP in Western Oklahoma, the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office stood before the media with other law enforcement to review the case and proceed with the investigation of a complicated crime spree.
In the last year spent covering Luther news for The Luther Register, one thing is clear: Every public entity that handles money has problems. Every one of them from our local school district to the Town of Luther, and let’s not forget our State Legislature’s budget tragedy. Some of the problems are result of economic issues, some problems might stem from ignorance or poor stewardship of public funds, some might be from intentional wrongdoing. All of it makes you shake your head in frustration. And feel despairing.
This seemingly interminable election season finally ends Tuesday. While many of us are exhausted and honestly confused on the issues from the top of the ticket, down to county races and those complicated state questions, we can turn our confusion into action going forward.
Luther resident Jennifer Edmunson offered some encouragement and marching orders on social media:
“Know this, that when this election is over, heck, when you get in line to vote, you realize that however this turns out, We the People got this. You realize we are all in this together. Us.
We got this because we’ve always had this. You realize that the solution is right next to you in line. It’s your neighbor. It’s who you shop next to at your local grocery store. It’s the lady who hands you your donuts thru the Daylight drive thru. It’s the people you see on a regular basis, whether you know their names or not. We the People aren’t the scumbags in Washington. It’s right here.
We will be alright because the solution, the fix, the safety net, is here. Local. Everything that matters is fixed here. From how we eat, to what we buy, to how we educate, to where we work, to taking care of the sick, the poor, the lost, the lonely. When we take care of what we have here, DC, while not irrelevant, becomes less important. Fix it here, and eventually, it’s fixed in DC.
Be the person you wish those in DC were… because they aren’t different than those they represent, they mirror them. Be better and we will have the ability to elect better.
I don’t know how things will shake out on Tuesday, things may get harder, before they get better, but know this, you have what it takes to make life around you so much better for those who pass thru your orbit, and that is enough.”
Back to the Sheriff’s race, the OCSO is critical in Eastern Oklahoma County. The office provides dispatching and patrol services to nine jurisdictions including Choctaw, Jones, Forest Park, Valley Brook, Harrah and Luther. There are 150 miles of unincorporated land in the county. Sheriff Whetsel says when his patrols on are those country roads, “they are rolling billboards. We want criminals to see us in the rural parts of the county, to act as a deterrent. Our number one priority is to keep people safe.”
Other reports have had the Sheriff say this is “probably” his last election. He has vowed to work on the problems with the county sheriff budget from the audit findings. As citizens we can demand accountability – and study up on the law governing all of our county government. Where are the checks and balances? Who are the watchdogs – from the sheriff’s office, to the district attorney, assessor, clerk, court clerk, treasurer and county commissioners? What accusations of wrongdoing are motivated by politics? Is there media covering meetings when expenditures, budgets, income and bills are reviewed (like at the school board and town board)? The media, largely, only shows up when there’s a scandal going on. But we need to be there at every boring meeting. If the citizens want that, they must support media who pledges to be there even when the agendas look ho-hum. That goes for The Oklahoman, to yes, even The Luther Register. (Rant over. Support local news!)
Go vote. Then support local media. And become involved locally. Speaking of which, there’s a Luther Board of Education meeting Monday night, and a Town of Luther meeting Tuesday night (election night). We will Periscope both meetings.
Incidentally, The Luther Register reached out to the campaign of Mike Christian who is Whetsel’s opponent in the Sheriff’s race. We received one reply and were asked for questions to be sent via email. After sending the questions, we received no reply before a requested Friday deadline.