2007 PSO Contest Winners

  • 2007 Sweepstakes Winners

    Weekly Winner
    Oologah Lake Leader

    Helm case is serious
    Editor John Wylie and Reporter Bill Snyder wrote a series of articles chronicling the serious issues concerning County Commissioner Mike Helm. The Leader reported that, among other things, Helm hired three-time convicted felon Scott Casler as a receiving officer, lavishly misspent federal grant money and stalled efforts to upgrade the 911 emergency response system. A Feb. 15 article detailed Helm's hiring of Casler along with Casler's extensive court and state prison records.

    Daily Winner
    The Norman Transcript

    Jailhouse rock (and a hard place)
    Norman Transcript Reporters Peggy Laizure and M. Scott Carter wrote a series of articles from March to May chronicling Cleveland county commissioners’ search for a new jail site. The story began when Laizure and Carter learned that the prospective new jail site was far from the downtown site most presumed would be used. Despite residents protesting the planned purchase, commissioners bought the land anyway. State lawmakers then got involved by filing a bill to deny a jail site near any school. The bill died in the legislature and the issue of where to build a new jail is still up in the air.
  • December 2007

    Weekly Winner
    Oologah Lake Leader

    Tax hike plan surprises voters
    In news analysis and editorial, Oologah Lake Leader Publisher John M. Wylie II laid out the facts of a secretive tax hike that would soon hit election ballots. A Dec. 11, 2007, election would go on the ballot with a grant to give Northeast Technology Center a $4.4 million a year levy. A second question on the ballot would make the levy permanent. Wylie’s investigation revealed that NTC had tried to keep the levy a secret. The Dec. 9, 2007, ice storm cancelled the election. The Lake Leader’s findings of the proposed election also came as news to many local public officials.

    Daily Winner
    The Norman Transcript
    Icy weather hammers Cleveland County
    The Norman Transcript covered the Dec. 9, 2007, ice storm that left thousands in Norman without power and forced Norman Public Schools to close for one week. The Transcript’s office was without power for the first two days of the storm and was forced to print off site at the Edmond Sun. Various stories and pictures through the month of December tracked the cleanup process. December’s stories included how the city council considered debris cleanup bids, county election board holding elections while without power and a cave-in of a middle school gymnasium roof.
  • November 2007

    Weekly Winner
    The Perkins Journal

    'Angels' help youth recover
    Cindy Sheets, editor of The Perkins Journal, described the plight of a Perkins boy fighting chronic fatigue and pain. After overcoming mononucleosis and meningitis, Ty Dilley’s health crashed. It was then that Dilley was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Sheets told of how a group of pilots, known as Angel Flight, flew Dilley to Dallas 14 times to receive treatment. Angel Flight arranges free air transportation for those in dire medical need who can’t afford trips to see medical specialists. Dilley now leads a normal, active life of a 15-year-old boy.

    Daily Winner
    Muskogee Phoenix
    Learning disabilities have effects after school ends
    Muskogee Phoenix staff writer Cathy Spaulding profiled one Muskogee adult with learning disabilities and the negative effects it has had in his professional life. Spaulding talked with several local experts on the subject. Her article reported that being tested to find out what form of learning disability someone has is vital in getting what’s needed for professional success. Spaulding also provided a list of common signs to help spot learning disabilities.
  • October 2007

    Weekly Winner
    Oologah Lake Leader

    Dog Iron Days deliver
    With summer floods and a couple of popular restaurants closing, 2007 was a tough year for tourism in Oologah. Floods from excess rains hurt the Memorial Day and July 4 holidays at area lakes. When summer passed, no more special events had been planned to draw visitors to the town. Since Oologah-Talala schools hadn’t held homecoming with class reunions in years, Lake Leader Marketing and NIE Director Carolyn Estes decided to chair a two-day festival that combined a homecoming for alumni with an official Oklahoma Centennial Event. Estes, a former president of the Oologah Chamber of Commerce, created the 2007 Dog Iron Days. The Lake Leader covered the event with a 20-page special edition.

    Daily Winner
    Muskogee Phoenix
    Is city too aggressive in demolition plan?
    In Muskogee, a city council plan is under way to clean up and reclaim neighborhoods by demolishing dilapidated structures. Around 30 to 40 structures, including houses, are demolished each quarter in an effort to boost pride of town residents, reduce crime and increase property values. However, as Muskogee writer D.E. Smoot found, some responsible homeowners have been lumped in with those who haven’t kept up their properties. In the Oct. 7 article, Smoot reported on one Muskogee resident who has a rental property that was placed on the demolition list. Smoot also talked to city officials, who face several challenges in contacting property owners and identifying property.
  • September 2007

    Weekly Winner
    The Tecumseh Countywide News

    Fallin, soldiers send huge flag off to war zone
    When Tecumseh held its Fourth of July celebration, a giant flag of paper squares representing the American flag was created. Messages to the troops were written by Tecumseh residents on each square. Gloria Trotter, co-publisher of The Tecumseh Countywide News, and the Tecumseh Chamber of Commerce arranged for Rep. Mary Fallin to dedicate the flag. In addition, Fallin spoke on her experiences of touring the war zone in Iraq. An article and photo spread in the Countywide News detailed Fallin’s visit. The flag is now in the hands of a Tecumseh soldier who will take the flag with him when he is deployed.

    Daily Winner
    Muskogee Phoenix
    Lack of diverse educators leads to learning gap
    Muskogee Public School’s black students aren’t faring well, Cathy Spaulding wrote in a September article in the Muskogee Phoenix. Among the articles’ statistics, Spaulding found that 2006 state tests show blacks ranking below all minorities in all subjects and in all grade levels tested. Spaulding talked to the Oklahoma Education Association President, who said that the learning disparity is more due to poverty than race. Former Muskogee administrator Cedric Johnson, vice president of the Muskogee NAACP, said that more minority teachers could help close the achievement gap. Also included with the article were several tables showing test results broken down by race.
  • August 2007

    Weekly Winner
    The Tecumseh Countywide News

    State’s tax system leaves some cities gasping for money
    Wayne Trotter, publisher of The Tecumseh Countywide News, published a series of three articles revealing the results of a thorough study of Oklahoma tax statistics. Trotter revealed that a sizable disparity exists between which towns receive sales tax money. The Oklahoma sales tax system says that local sales taxes remain in the area where the sale was made. Trotter revealed that as a result, towns with large commercial centers, like Wal-Mart, get a higher percentage of sales tax money to provide civic services. Trotter also talked to local lawmakers and officials for their input on the issue.

    Daily Winner
    Muskogee Phoenix
    200 wait for Head Start infant, toddler openings
    Muskogee Phoenix Staff Writer Cathy Spaulding found that Muskogee County Head Start doesn’t have the money to serve as many children as officials would like. Spaulding’s article revealed that the program only has 60 spots for the infant and toddler program, but 200 people are waiting to get in to the program. To remedy the situation, Muskogee County Head Start has recently qualified for a U.S. Dept. of Education grant. To see how this affects different sides of the issue, Spaulding interviewed Muskogee’s Head Start manager, a director at another day care service and a mother currently using Head Start’s services.
  • July 2007

    Weekly Winner
    Oologah Lake Leader

    Compassion, heroism emerge from tragedy
    On July 6, 2007, a car wreck involving a Rogers County Sheriff patrol ended with two deaths. Oologah Lake Leader Editor John M. Wylie painted a picture of the accident scene and highlighted efforts of citizens who pulled the deputy and dispatcher from the patrol car. Though an investigation was ongoing to determine the details of the accident, Wylie addressed questions of whether the deputy was traveling at excessive speeds and was using his lights and siren when the accident occurred.

    Daily Winner
    Muskogee Phoenix
    Actions by Council HIll officials trouble citizens
    Discontent has grown in the community of Council Hill after recent personnel changes in the town’s fire department. A year ago, the town’s Board of Trustees began firing, suspending and demoting members of the fire department. Muskogee Phoenix staff writer D.E. Smoot talked to several people directly affected by the changes. Smoot found that the acting fire chief was demoted after a special meeting was adjourned and was replaced by the son of a town trustee, Renee McBride. The town’s mayor is Kenneth McBride, Renee’s husband. Several of these town meetings are also believed to be in violation of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act. Attempts by Smoot and the Phoenix to reach the Kenneth and Renee McBride were unsuccessful.
  • June 2007

    Weekly Winner
    Oologah Lake Leader

    Mental patient roams to Tulsa; caught in Catoosa
    In a June 7, 2007 article, Oologah Lake Leader Editor John M. Wylie revealed the secrecy around an escape of a violent felon. Randy Kent Thweatt, 42, was allowed to attend a recreational outing to Oologah Lake on May 23 when he simply walked away. Thweatt was under the custody of the Oklahoma Dept. of Mental Health. Thweatt’s escape was concealed from local authorities until Wylie worked with a local law enforcement officer to force the mental health department to release limited information on the felon. Thweatt was apprehended by Highway Patrol Officers 42 hours later.

    Daily Winner
    Muskogee Phoenix
    Agency wants mercury curbed
    After the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality drafted an early version of rules to curb mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, Phoenix writer D.E. Smoot followed how that would effect the environment in the Muskogee area. In the June 17, 2007 article, Smoot found that coal plants are the nation’s largest remaining source of manmade mercury emissions. ODEQ has been leaning toward adopting Environmental Protection Agency rules for mercury emissions. The Air Quality Council’s meeting to discuss such rules came on July 18. For the article, Smoot talked to officials from Oklahoma Gas & Electric, ODEQ and the Oklahoma Sustainability Network.
  • May 2007

    Weekly Winner
    Oologah Lake Leader

    Rescue effort ends tragically
    When three high school boys’ trip down the Oologah Lake Spillway turned tragic, Oologah Lake Leader writers Bill Snyder and Faith Wylie covered the ensuing search for the boys. Two of the boys were unharmed while the third, Harrison Lodes, was found dead a day later on the eve of his graduation. Snyder and Wylie provided a profile of Lodes, a description and photo essay of the search along with a photo essay of the Oologah High School graduation. A front-page picture showed one of the survivors, Bryce Underhill, recovering on the ground just after his rescue.

    Daily Winner
    The Norman Transcript
    Jailhouse rock (and a hard place)
    Norman Transcript Reporters Peggy Laizure and M. Scott Carter wrote a series of articles from March to May chronicling Cleveland county commissioners’ search for a new jail site. The story began when Laizure and Carter learned that the prospective new jail site was far from the downtown site most presumed would be used. Despite residents protesting the planned purchase, commissioners bought the land anyway. State lawmakers then got involved by filing a bill to deny a jail site near any school. The bill died in the legislature and the issue of where to build a new jail is still up in the air.
  • April 2007

    Weekly Winner
    The Hennessey Clipper
    Fifth grader has rare leukemia
    The Hennessey Clipper ran a series of four stories in April to inform Hennessey residents of Gavin Zelnicek’s battle with cancer. Zelnicek was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Also known as AML, the disease is common in adults but rare in children. The Clipper said Zelnicek is fighting the disease in a stem transplant unit at OU Medical Center’s New Children’s Hospital. The paper also gave information on where donations can be sent to assist Gavin and the Zelnicek family through funds set up by the Hennessey Ministerial Alliance.

    Daily Winner
    Muskogee Phoenix
    Counselors in short supply at schools
    An April 8, 2007 article by Muskogee Phoenix Staff Writer Cathy Spaulding revealed the decrease of elementary school counselors in Oklahoma’s public school system. Spaulding talked with the president of the Oklahoma Counseling Association, who said that Oklahoma City schools used to have one counselor for every 400 students. Now, the same school system uses one counselor for every 600 students. By comparison, several counselors in the Muskogee area serve a ratio of one counselor for over 800 students. Before Muskogee Schools can add more counselors, they must first repay the state $3.5 million of overpayments, which resulted from inflated enrollment figures.
  • March 2007

    Weekly Winner
    Oologah Lake Leader
    Oologah to star in anti-global warming fight
    The Public Service Company of Oklahoma announced that its Northeastern Station in Oologah was chosen as the site where $600 million would be invested to reduce greenhouse emissions. Oologah Lake Leader Publisher John Wylie explained how the project reduces the carbon dioxide (CO2) created by burning coal. The article then explained how the changes would financially benefit the Oologah area.

    Daily Winner
    Muskogee Phoenix
    Not all food handlers learn food safety
    Phoenix staff writer Keith Purtell interviewed various officials from the state health department about details of food handling permits. He learned that while Muskogee does require restaurant employees to have a food handling permit, Wagoner doesn't. The time and money involved in qualifying for a food handling permit should not be a problem for anyone, the article stated. Purtell included input from local Muskogee restaurant owners on the issue.
  • February 2007

    Weekly Winner
    Oologah Lake Leader
    Helm case is serious
    Editor John Wylie and Reporter Bill Snyder wrote a series of articles chronicling the serious issues concerning County Commissioner Mike Helm. The Leader reported that, among other things, Helm hired three-time convicted felon Scott Casler as a receiving officer, lavishly misspent federal grant money and stalled efforts to upgrade the 911 emergency response system. A Feb. 15 article detailed Helm's hiring of Casler along with Casler's extensive court and state prison records.

    Daily Winner
    Muskogee Phoenix
    Insurance falls short
    After winter ice storms crippled parts of eastern Oklahoma, Phoenix staff writer D.E. Smoot talked to homeowners who were battling their insurance companies for damages caused by the weather. Some homeowners found that their claims wouldn't be filed due to ice not being covered in the plan or that damages hadn't exceeded the deductible. One Muskogee resident had no insurance coverage and was awaiting federal disaster assistance. The Feb. 12 article also included insurance tips to protect consumers.
  • January 2007

    Weekly Winner
    The Hennessey Clipper
    Tension rises over proposed detention center
    After rumors swirled about the possibility of a 1,000-bed Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center being built near Hennessey, The Clipper talked with city officials and townspeople to get input from both sides. The Clipper also presented the specifics of the proposed facility to clear up any confusion. At the town's following board meeting, The Clipper reported that the board was no longer considering the facility.   Daily WinnerThe Norman Transcript Judge OKs bid for Moore Medical Center Transcript Reporter Scott Carter wrote a series of seven articles in January following the Moore Medical Center's re-purchase process. The hospital filed for bankruptcy within a calendar year of when it opened. The bankruptcy would effect several hundred employees. The Transcript was the only news outlet that covered the story. Norman's local hospital was one of several bidding on the facility.

    Daily Winner
    The Norman Transcript
    Judge OKs bid for Moore Medical Center
    Transcript Reporter Scott Carter wrote a series of seven articles in January following the Moore Medical Center's re-purchase process. The hospital filed for bankruptcy within a calendar year of when it opened. The bankruptcy would effect several hundred employees. The Transcript was the only news outlet that covered the story. Norman's local hospital was one of several bidding on the facility.
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