Why This Okie Doesn’t Support the OKC Thunder

Like many people from Oklahoma, my Facebook news feed is filled with statements like, “Thunder Up!”, “Metta World Peace sucks”, “There’s a Thunderstorm tonight” and Kevin Durant memes I’m sure someone finds amusing. But this Okie doesn’t cheer for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and here’s why (much is taken from an earlier post of mine):

Just as Oklahoma City stole the the state capital from Guthrie in 1910, it essentially stole the Supersonics from the city of Seattle. A group of Oklahoma City businessmen, led by Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon (who is now under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for improper business dealings involving personal loans taken out against his stock in his own company), bought the Supersonics in 2006 for $350 million, with every intention of moving the team to Oklahoma City. He (and the group of Oklahoma City wildcatters) demanded that the City of Seattle or the State of Washington build a new $500 million basketball arena or else. After much wrangling, the City of Seattle and Microsoft announced plans to build a new arena for the team, but Bennett declared in November 2007 that the team would be leaving for Oklahoma City as quickly as they could cancel their lease with the Key Arena. After calling Seattle home for 40 years, the Supersonics were ripped out of the city by out-of-town renegade businessmen. They never intended to keep the team in Seattle; the issue of building a new arena was a red herring, a disingenuous attempt concocted to appear as though they wanted to keep the team in Seattle.

To sweeten the deal for the NBA, Bennett and McClendon, with the help of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, then convinced Oklahoma City voters to spend $125 million on upgrades to the Ford Center (now the Chesapeake Energy Arena, after the company over which McClendon presides). The citizens of Oklahoma City had already spent $89 million to construct the facility in 2002.

What happened next is even more appalling: the group led by Bennett and McClendon convinced the State Legislature to amend a state law known as the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Program, a program which gives tax breaks to companies which bring high-paying jobs to Oklahoma, to specifically include the basketball team.

More specifically, the measure would:

Expand Oklahoma’s Quality Jobs Program to include the NBA, permit the Sonics to receive a rebate of a portion of payroll taxes paid by the team and places a reimbursement cap on the incentives not to exceed the top income tax rate in Oklahoma, which is currently 5.5 percent.

The measure will also permit the company to receive rebates on the taxable payroll paid by players from opposing teams when they play in the city. The rebate will be about $4 million a year and $60 million over its 15-year life.

The State Legislature passed the $60 million tax break swiftly and handily so that millionaire basketball players and team owners essentially didn’t have to pay taxes on a large portion of their income. That was never the intent of the legislation, which aimed to improve the quality of life and per capita income of Oklahomans by courting higher-paying jobs to the state. Meanwhile, funding for crucial upkeep on critical roads and bridges across Oklahoma was denied because the state’s revenue didn’t meet a growth benchmark. Keep in mind, Oklahoma has some of the worst bridges and roads in the nation, many of which were constructed prior to 1932. At the same time it gave the new NBA team millions in tax breaks, the Oklahoma State Legislature didn’t include transportation funding in the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget, and had to resort to creating a massive bond issue later on to provide that critical funding.

After having successfully lobbied the Mayor and citizens of Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma State Legislature, Bennett then approached the NBA Relocation Committee and got them to sign off on the deal. Described as a major coup for the entire state, it was revealed early on that Oklahoma City’s close proximity to Tulsa was a key, integral factor in the committee’s approval of the move. Without Tulsa’s large population such a relatively short distance away, it would have been a no-deal because of the limited size of the OKC metro compared to other metros with NBA franchises. When NBA Commissioner David Stern suggested that the team should be named for the state, since it would be a statewide franchise, not just an Oklahoma City one, Oklahoma City’s Mayor Mick Cornett threw a fit and called the matter non-negotiable:

Yahoo! Finance article:

…Her presence [Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor] — and the role Tulsa-area residents could play in supporting an Oklahoma City franchise — was noted by NBA Commissioner David Stern. During a press conference following last Friday’s vote, Stern mentioned Tulsa a half-dozen times.

Stern said the owners learned “how close Tulsa is” to Oklahoma City “and how many citizens of Tulsa will consider the team to be, and did consider the (New Orleans) Hornets when they were there …a state franchise.”

[Oklahoma City Mayor Mick] Cornett said 10 to 20 percent of the Sonics’ ticket sales in Oklahoma City will come from the Tulsa area, and Taylor noted that it’s “90 minutes door-to-door” from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. Those numbers are why Cornett said it only made sense to include Tulsa leaders as part of Oklahoma City’s presentation to the NBA.

“When you talk to NBA owners, the idea of people driving 1½ hours to an NBA game is something they’re comfortable with,” Cornett said. Including Tulsa as part of the team’s sphere of influence meant the owners would “see a larger metropolitan area that they’re more comfortable with.

But just because the team will be marketed throughout Oklahoma does not mean that Oklahoma City officials aren’t somewhat territorial, at least when it comes to how the team will be identified. Stern said Friday the team might consider using “Oklahoma” as its name, noting that “you really see a much larger market than just the Oklahoma City market.”

Cornett quickly squashed such a notion, pointing out that Oklahoma City’s signed lease with the Sonics stipulates that the team name be Oklahoma City.” Cornett called that matter nonnegotiable.

http://biz.yahoo.com/ap/080423/bkn_supersonics_oklahoma.html?.v=1

This means that Tulsa’s citizens (and the entire state) are subsidizing the team and Tulsa’s metro played an enormous, make-or-break role in obtaining it, but Oklahoma City (whose citizens comically call it, “The City” as though it were New York City) wanted the team and the team’s name for itself. This also means that in the State of Oklahoma, people pay unfair taxes on the most basic of needs, groceries, while tickets to the NBA game are essentially tax-free.

This brings us to another editorial by the Daily Oklahoman on May 27, 2008, this time in video form and from the Editor, Ed Kelly:

If perception is indeed reality, downtown Oklahoma City has taken another leap forward. What would have been unthinkable a few years ago is now happening: the city is being mentioned as a peer of some of the nation’s great communities.

Such validation comes from the Kansas City Star, one of the best regional papers in this part of the country. The Star published a series this week, comparing its downtown to similar-sized communities with reputations of vibrant downtowns. Look at the list of 13 cities the star chose for its comparison and you’ll find cities bigger than Oklahoma City with, in some cases, international reputations, like Denver, Indianapolis and Nashville. Each of those three have iconic institutions, from the Rocky Mountains to the world’s most famous speed race, to the home of country music.

Of these 13 cities being compared to Kansas City, 11 of them have at least one major sports franchise. Add Oklahoma City to the list when the NBA comes to town. And how do we fare on the Kansas City paper’s comparison? Pretty good, actually. As my colleague Steve Wrightmeyer noted in his column this week, Oklahoma City and Kansas City were the only cities on the list not to experience a loss in businesses downtown, and Oklahoma City had one of the largest increases in the number of hotel room bookings downtown.

This, folks, is big news. For years, Oklahoma City was a so-called Tier III, even Tier IV city, with comparisons to the likes of Wichita, Amarillo, Little Rock and Tulsa. Now, thanks to the Kansas City survey, Oklahoma City has made the leap to the tier II market. Nothing but good will come from this, from increased tourism, business relocation prospects and more positive publicity.

There’s still plenty to do if the city is to continue to run with the bigger dogs: we need more convention space, more medium-priced housing, a downtown school or two, and less vacant office space. But the momentum is significant and others are taking notice. Quite simply, downtown Oklahoma City’s image hasn’t been this good in a very long time.

http://www.newsok.tv/?titleID=1569139354

How dare other people compare Oklahoma City to Tulsa! Truth is, Tulsa and Oklahoma City were both already Tier II cities, according to the industry that actually uses and makes those rankings, the convention industry. In the following Business Facilities article, generally-accepted definitions of Second Tier (Tier II) Cities are as follows (by the way, both Oklahoma City and Tulsa are mentioned in the article):

Second-Tier Cities: TheRight Size at the Right Cost
By Mark M. Sweeney, Senior Principal
McCallum Sweeney Consulting, Greenville, SC

http://www.businessfacilities.com/bf_04_02_cover.asp

…Meeting Planners International offers a more practical definition, in which a second tier city is a city with a population of more than 300,000 and less than one million. This statement highlights that STCs are not just defined as “smaller” but also as “larger.” STCs have a significant presence of their own that distinguishes them from small cities, micropolitan areas, and rural towns. So, STCs have a ceiling (“no bigger than”) and a floor (“no less than”).

… An alternative working definition for STCs may be those locations with populations less than two million and greater than 350,000…STCs will have the characteristics that meet the needs of such projects while offering a mix of advantages that make them highly competitive with the largest locations. The STC will have what the large cities have, and have more of it (responsive government, labor growth), enough of it (transportation infrastructure, financial services), and less of it (congestion, housing costs) in a mix that makes them especially attractive. The fundamental value proposition of STCs for locating companies is the right size at the right cost.

Population—STCs have a substantial enough population to meet the expectationsof location decision makers. There is such a range of potential STCs that even those firms seeking cities with a minimum of one million population have 30 STCs from which to choose, ranging from Sacramento-Yolo CA CMSA (25th, 1.8million) to Oklahoma City OK MSA (49th, 1.08 million).

…Road Transportation (Congestion and Commuting)—A key driver in projects seeking out STCs is to find a location where workers do not face long commutes. Such commutes may arise from long distance (evidence of a housing cost and availability problem-see below) or inadequate infrastructure. Corpus Christi TXMSA (109th, 381,000) consistently ranks at the top of the list as Most Drivable (Sperling’s Best Places) and Least Congested (Texas Transportation Institute). Tulsa OK MSA (59th, 803,000) also scores well on this factor and offers relocating companies a low congestion location.

But I digress. Oklahoma City leaders have long treated the rest of the state as a collection of acquaintances it uses to its advantage and to get ahead. Once they get what they want, they break their empty promises to the rest of the state. It’s overwhelmingly insulting.

Oklahoma City’s shady businessmen (heard any good news from Chesapeake lately?) had the opportunity to reverse action and do the right thing with regards to the Seattle Supersonics, and they didn’t. They lied about their intent from the moment they bought the team. After they stole the team, they had the opportunity to do the right thing and not ask the citizens of Oklahoma to subsidize their team via tax rebates. And they didn’t. They had the opportunity to do the right thing and acknowledge that the Tulsa metro and the rest of the state were huge reasons why the relocation was even approved. And they didn’t. At every opportunity to do the right thing, they did the opposite. State leaders had the opportunity to stand up against Bennett’s and McClendon’s pet project and deny the expansion of the Quality Jobs Act. And they didn’t.

Am I angry? Yes I am. If I lived in Seattle, I’d be angry, too. And all of Oklahoma should be angry that this team was acquired and pushed through in such a reckless, shady way, being subsidized with our tax dollars while hundreds of thousands of our children live in poverty; while education funding has fallen 15% in the past three years though enrollment continues to rise; while our worst-in-the-nation roads and bridges are crumbling; while we have the third highest incarceration rate for women and no support in place to prevent recidivism; while we lose our best teachers to Texas due to low wages; while our cities and towns struggle to reduce our bulging waist lines and high mortality rates due to preventable diseases.

Oklahoma City is like that “friend” that’s always looking over your shoulder for someone better to talk to. The one that always asks for favors but can’t help you in return. And after they get what they want from you, you’re worthless to them. Unless you give them lots of compliments. Then you become their pet.

So, no, this Okie does not like the Thunder. This Okie doesn’t care how many points Kevin Durant scores, or when Charles Barkley says something negative about Oklahoma City. And this Okie will root for whatever team plays against the Thunder.

To everyone in Seattle, I’m sorry. We’re not all bad; come visit Tulsa during the springtime stormy season for some real thunder action. To my fellow Oklahomans, I hope you know how and why this team was relocated to Oklahoma City, and what underhanded tactics were used. And think about how many Oklahoma teachers are losing their jobs this year while the Thunder enjoy their $60 million tax break the next time you want to post “Thunder Up” on your Facebook wall or buy a Kevin Durant bobble-head doll.

The McClintock Mansion, Tulsa

McClintock Mansion, Tulsa

This house is well-known as “that pretty white house at 41st & Lewis” by many Tulsans. Indeed, it’s been called Tulsa’s most beautiful house since its construction in 1932. From the beautifully-manicured lawn to the graceful dormers and towering fireplaces, the house is among Tulsa’s most iconic residences.

The house was built for R. Otis McClintock, and was designed by architects Donald McCormick and John Duncan Forsyth. When McClintock approached his friend Waite Phillips about the design of the house, Phillips advised him to hire two architects. “I am going to help you with the selection,” Phillips told McClintock in a conversation recorded for posterity by longtime Tulsa architect and historian John Brooks Walton. “For one of the mistakes that I made was that Villa Philbrook is a palace and not a home.”

McClintock took the advice of his friend, and this stunning home is the result. I think we can all agree he made a wise decision.

Spring has sprung

Photograph © Daniel Jeffries. All rights reserved.

Thanks to an early wet season, a warm winter and summer-like temperatures, trees are in full, fresh regalia across northeast Oklahoma. I planted this Bald Cypress tree in my parents’ yard about 8 years ago and it’s already 25 feet tall. Bald Cypress has become one of my favorite trees in that time, for its fine leaves, lacy bark, naturally beautiful shape and its sheer resilience. No trees weathered the ice storms of 2007 like the Bald Cypress.

I try to plant a tree every year on Arbor Day, but have missed a few years, so this year, I planted eight trees: two Bald Cypress, two Tupelo Blackgum, two Tulip Poplar, one Loblolly Pine and one Chinese Elm. In no time, they’re going to be big, beautiful, full trees. Trees keep all us mouth-breathers alive. So give thanks to our woody friends!

Thank you to the CFPB and Elizabeth Warren

As I wrote last week’s post about the new ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I was submitting my complaint against Wells Fargo Education Financial Services. Yesterday, I received an email from a “research and remediation analyst” at Wells Fargo EFS thanking me for my complaint to the CFPB, and offering to work with me on a workable repayment plan.

After figuring out what payment I can afford to make to Wells Fargo EFS each month, they accepted my offer. That simple arrangement could have been made over a year ago, but they refused to work with me until the CFPB got involved.

I have to send a huge thank you to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for the creation of the ombudsman for private student loans. I’ve tried everything I know to do for over a year now, and within a few days of the CFPB’s involvement, Wells Fargo is now willing to work with me.

After all the heartache, the job hunts, the packing, moving, and unpacking, contacting my congressmen, going on national radio, the letter writing, financial and legal consultations, etc., they’re finally being responsive. If they had simply done a year ago what they did today, this whole mess could have been avoided. Now I get to try and repair the damage that has been done to my credit since this situation began. Any tips on that are welcome.

Another big thank you goes to Elizabeth Warren for her efforts to create the CFPB. Without her leadership and persistence, the CFPB would not exist today, and I wouldn’t have been able to get Wells Fargo EFS to agree to any terms on my own. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I know this isn’t over–far from it, I know–but for now, I’m able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Refresh. Recharge. Reboot.

Private Student Loan Ombudsman

I just saw the news a few days ago that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has officially launched its complaint system for private student loans. Prior to a few weeks ago, if you had problems with your private lenders, you had no place to go. Now you do! If you have private student loans and your lenders have been unreasonable or treating you unfairly, use this contact form!

Reprehensible Wells Fargo

I read an article at Huffington Post this morning about a federal bankruptcy judge in Louisiana who ordered Wells Fargo to pay $3.1 million dollars to a homeowner for their “highly reprehensible” actions against that homeowner.

Read the article in full here.

The article got me thinking about the many people who’ve shared their own horror stories of dealing with Wells Fargo, and the conversation I had with the Wells Fargo representative named Cody who told me I should be thankful my student loan through them isn’t a mortgage because they would already have taken my home by now.

That in itself speaks volumes, and is a confirmation of the stories friends and relatives have shared with me. It also illustrates a pattern of abuse by Wells Fargo (see below). Even worse, when I met with representatives from my Congressmen about my problems with Wells Fargo, one said, “Wells Fargo really shouldn’t be in the business of lending money to anyone, since they repeatedly show no interest in helping their own customers”. This representative then shared that they (Congress, a broader “they”) receive more complaints about Wells Fargo each year than any other bank or loan company. Considering that the representatives for my area are some of the most conservative in the country, it was quite surprising to hear those statements from their offices.

I decided to see what other people across the country have to say about their experiences with Wells Fargo. A simple search returned thousands of results, a vast majority of which were extremely negative. Just browse the Wells Fargo page at Consumer Affairs to see for yourself. Of the 686 responses on that page, 81% rated their experience the lowest possible (1 star of 5). Another 11% rated it 2 stars. That’s a huge disapproval rate. Granted, it’s a website that caters mostly to complaints, so those scores are somewhat expected, but dramatic nonetheless. I encourage you to read through some of the stories people shared.

Back to the search results. Scroll through the 28 pages of complaints at the Complaint Board. Or visit the Customer Service Scoreboard, where Wells Fargo currently has 784 negative reviews and only 22 positive reviews.

Now, these are the ratings for Wells Fargo as a whole. How does Wells Fargo Education Financial Services, the division responsible for student loans, stack up? Back at Consumer Affairs, all 48 reviewers have given them the lowest score possible (again, 1 out of 5 stars possible). Many of the experiences shared are similar in nature to mine. Here’s one that really struck a chord:

Mike of La Crosse, WI on March 29, 2010

I’ve had enough harassment. My son has fallen behind in his payments on a student loan I co-signed. We have both contacted Wells Fargo on several occasions explaining our situation looking for options. After graduating from college, he has tirelessly interviewed for jobs. He currently is working for Target Corporation, part-time, hoping to go full-time soon. In the meantime, Wells Fargo calls me 4-5 times a day to inform me that he is late on his payment.

I try to explain that we have talked to a Wells Fargo representative and as soon as he gets a paycheck, he pays on the loan. I have put payments on my credit card at times to help get him caught up. I’m also paying on student loans. Finally last week I told the representative, this is enough. I’m tired of them calling. We’re doing our best to make payments. The representative got extremely rude telling me there were no other options, nor did she care about our situation. She went on to threaten me with a lien on my house and garnishing my wages.

The real irony is that I couldn’t make a payment with my credit card because Wells Fargo lowered my credit limit because of the late payments on the student loan…so I couldn’t pay if I wanted to. My credit card is maxed out. When I suggested that other companies offer payment options, she replied, “We are not other companies!”. I have since moved all of my accounts out of Wells Fargo including my home mortgage. It almost appears they are hoping we fail. When I asked if she preferred if he defaulted on his loan, she once again threatened me. This has been going on for months even though he’s only behind by $750.00.

Everyone getting screwed over by Wells Fargo needs to write their congresspeople! It’s great to share your stories online but in order to gain traction, all of us need to band together and get in touch with legislators. Alone, there’s not much we can do, but working together, and with our representatives, we may be able to accomplish something. Not only for ourselves, but to prevent these types of things from happening in the future.

Gracias, Discover Student Loans

A while back, I posted about Discover Student Loans offering me a 2% graduation reward on my account. Well, I checked my account today and noticed my current balance was lower than I thought it should be. I looked at my account history and they applied that 2% reduction in my principal within two weeks of my accepting it!

So I’m sending my thanks to Discover Student Loans. They’re operating in a way that Wells Fargo only wishes they could. They actually value their customers and treat them right.

Don’t Steal Photos Online!

I’ve had a number of my photographs stolen from Flickr over the past four or five years; in fact, it’s more than I can count. This list includes urban planners working on Tulsa’s new comprehensive plan and officials on public boards of directors to (most recently) magazines and PR/marketing agencies.

These individuals and organizations illegally downloaded or captured (in a simple keystroke) my photos and then used them without permission or compensation. I don’t have the best equipment (it’s expensive!) but I still make beautiful works of art simply by my use of light, color, framing, angles, et cetera and they’re obviously desirable. I think it’s great that people are noticing my photos, and I’m flattered that so many people like them.

In fact, I’ve been published in many magazines, journals and newspapers, along with special publications through the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and the New York City Department of Transportation. One of my photos of Times Square was even used in a graphic novel a few years ago. Individuals and companies have sought out my photos of Tulsa to display in their offices and homes.

So what’s the difference? All those publications and individuals respected my rights as a photographer. They first asked if I would license my photos, and then would pay me for my work. Both parties sign a license agreement, files are transferred (or printed), then I receive a check and a copy of the issue the photo will appear in. It’s easy, it’s the right way to do things, and it’s the law.

That’s right; using photos without permission is against the law. It’s a violation of intellectual property law, which covers everything from technology patents to photos, paintings and other original works. If you violate my copyright, I have the right to pursue a lawsuit, and I’m good at finding my photos that are being used by other people.

People often ask, “how do you know they’re using your photos? How do you know it’s yours?” It’s the same as identifying one’s child in a playground… You know because it was once part of you. The lighting, the colors, the street life, the reflections in windows, and yes, the smells, were all experienced by the photographer, and as the shutter is pressed, that singular moment in time is captured and will stay with the photographer forever. Add to that the time it takes to process each photo, upload it, tag it with keywords, geotag it, name it and save it, and it’s easy to see how a photographer can know exactly which photos belong to them when they’re used on other sites without permission. Even though I have 12,000 photos online (and four times that amount that remain unpublished), I can still tell you about each one; exactly where I was, how the scene made me feel, where I was going next.

Bottom line: do not steal photos from the Internet. Don’t even think about it. It’s wrong, it’s illegal, and you know better.

Federal Loan Consolidation Progress

Our records show that due to your recent consolidation loan, the account listed above is paid in full…We appreciate having been able to serve you and hope that your educational experience has been a good one.

What an excellent way to start out my day! It appears that all my federal loans have been successfully consolidated. That means I’ll immediately see lower payments and I’ll have 7 fewer open accounts. I’ve got to admit, it feels good! Hopefully, the lower monthly payment (yes, just one payment!) combined with having so many fewer open accounts and marking the other loans as paid in full and in good standing will start to help my credit rating.

The situation with Wells Fargo is still basically at a standstill. My congressman’s staff keeps playing phone tag with Wells Fargo, and I actually received a phone call from the executive director of the Wells Fargo Education Financial Services division a few weeks ago, letting me know they had received my letter and are looking into my account. I addressed the letter to the Director herself this time, instead of sending it to the anonymous CSR named Cody. The last time I talked with him, he said they hadn’t received any of my letters, so I thought I’d try someone higher up. Nothing is resolved yet, but I’ve at least gotten some people’s attention. Hanging on to hope.