July Column Winner

Keep black helicopters out of the courthouse

TED STREULI, The Journal Record

Someone this morning said, "You know, I bet if you went to Penn Square Mall and randomly polled 50 people, none of them could tell you who the Oklahoma County clerk is." I thought about giving that a try, but after I bought myself a little treat at the Godiva store and got in line at Starbucks, I thought, "Hey, wait, I already know who the county clerk is. It's Patricia Presley. I don't need to ask 50 people; I can just go check out that sale at Jos. A. Bank. Since Jos. A. Bank is always having a sale, I figured it was a pretty safe bet. And who doesn't need a new argyle sweater vest?"
An Aug. 28 runoff election will determine who shall replace Presley, who is retiring. It will be either Tim Rhodes, the deputy clerk of 15 years, or Charles Key, a state representative who may still be trying to convince people that either the ATF and/or FBI blew up the Murrah Federal Building because, uh, well, because they just did.
The job requires such duties as the maintenance of court records, collection of criminal fines, and collection of child support. The court clerk has an annual budget of $20 million and a staff of 75, and is one of eight county officials on the budget board.
I will say this for Key: His campaign website has a better family photo than Rhodes'.
I will also say this for Key: He says what he thinks, consequences be damned, much in the spirit of his colleagues Sally Kern and Mike Reynolds.
In a March 12, 1997, letter, Key asked constituents to sign a petition calling for an independent investigation into the Murrah bombing because, in short, he was determined to shine light on the great conspiratorial cover-up. He claimed that ATF brass knew the bombing was imminent and told their agents to stay away from the building. He said the FBI warned the Oklahoma City Fire Department of the bombing, and that the bomb squad was there in advance.
He made similar allegations about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
When The Oklahoman, Tulsa World, then-Attorney General Drew Edmondson, then-Gov. Frank Keating and others said Key's collusion theories were hooey, he countered that they were conspiring against him. So, at Key's insistence, a state grand jury investigated - and concluded that Key's allegations were, in fact, hooey.
Key now says he is a great fiscal conservative, one that Oklahoma County voters should trust over Rhodes on the budget board. The grand jury investigation in 1997 - the one Key insisted upon, the one that found his notions to be poppycock - cost taxpayers $525,434, the equivalent of $751,249 today.
Key asserted that grand jurors were forbidden to interview some witnesses. "Clearly they were blatantly deprived of their basic constitutional rights as grand jurors," Key wrote in the 1997 letter. "Why?"
I don't know about Key's copy of the Constitution, but mine doesn't give grand jurors any particular rights. In fact, the only reference to a grand jury is in the Fifth Amendment, where it says no person shall be held for a capital crime unless indicted by a grand jury. But, hey, why bother reading it when you can just make up the contents to suit your argument? Funny, then, that Key's campaign website has him posed in front of that same document. Perhaps he has read it since writing that 1997 note.
Rhodes might need a better family portrait, but he has been in the court clerk's 15 years.
And here's a bonus: He doesn't see black helicopters every time he looks at the sky.