A battle over the separation of church and state came to East Central University in 2017, as people argued about whether crosses and other religious symbols belonged at Kathryn P. Boswell Memorial Chapel.
The uproar started June 20, when the group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State sent ECU officials a letter saying that the items displayed at the chapel violated federal law. The letter did not identify the source of the complaint, but it asked the university to remove the items.
University officials began complying with the group’s demands at the end of June. But they later reversed course, saying they wanted to seek consensus from students, faculty members and Ada resident before making a final decision.
The debate continued through September, as attorneys with Americans United traded barbs with Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter over the fate of the chapel items.
The chapel controversy may have generated the most debate in 2017, but nine other stories also captured plenty of ink. Here are the remaining top stories of the year, in no particular order:
2. Katricia Pierson was inaugurated as ECU’s ninth president in September, becoming the first woman to hold the post in the university’s 108-year history.
Pierson has worked to bring students, faculty and staff into the decision-making process as the university navigates an era of declining state appropriations and increasing political hostility, The Ada News reported in September. Her work has won her almost universal support on campus and a reputation as a consensus builder.
3. Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, praised Gov. Mary Fallin for vetoing most of a budget bill that relied heavily on one-time money and cut spending for most state agencies by about 2.44 percent.
Thomsen said Fallin’s decision gave lawmakers a chance to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better plan.
Fallin’s veto came after the Legislature spent about eight weeks in a special session, trying to eliminate a $215 million deficit for fiscal year 2018. Her decision meant lawmakers would have to return to the capitol before the end of the year to find a better solution.
Earlier this month, lawmakers approved a $44 million spending package during a second special session, according to The Oklahoman. The money will go to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Human Services, which lost funds when the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a proposal to boost cigarette fees as unconstitutional, according to the Oklahoman.
The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, which also lost revenue when the cigarette fee was struck down, already has enough money to operate until May 1.
Lawmakers will reconvene after New Year’s Day to tackle long-term budget solutions, which may include proposals to boost revenue, according to the Oklahoman.
4. Ada City Schools and the Southern Oklahoma Nutrition Program joined forces to ensure that Ada’s meal service for senior citizens would continue.
In October, the Ada Board of Education approved a site sponsor contract with Southern Oklahoma Nutrition, which provided meals for citizens at the Irving Center until the facility closed in the fall. The contract allows Southern Oklahoma Nutrition to use the Glenwood Resource Center and Ada Junior High to provide hot lunches for seniors.
The program will use Glenwood when school is in session and move to the junior high during summer vacation and long breaks during the school year.
The city of Ada, the Chickasaw Nation, Southern Oklahoma Nutrition and the school district worked together on the plan to relocate meal service to Glenwood, and service began in mid-November.
Officials made arrangements to continue the meal service program at Glenwood during Christmas break, said Ada City Schools Superintendent Mike Anderson.
“The original plan called for the senior citizens to receive their meals at the Ada Junior High School
cafeteria over the break,” he said. “However, everyone concerned was able to rearrange schedules and make the necessary accommodations to allow this
service to remain at the Glenwood Resource Center with very few disruptions.
“The meal service program for our senior citizens appears to be a huge success and is a perfect example of what can take place when the right people get together to do the right thing.”
When the senior center closed in September, meal service for seniors was suspended until Southern Oklahoma Nutrition and city officials looked for a new site. Mercy Hospital Ada provided a temporary solution by offering meals for senior citizens through the end of October, giving Southern Oklahoma Nutrition time to move to a new site.
5. In August, the Pontotoc County Commissioners accepted Mercy EMS’ bid to provide ambulance service. Mercy EMS submitted the only bid in the county’s continuing effort to solve an operational deficit, which was originally estimated at about $475,000 but later narrowed to about $350,000.
Under Mercy’s bid, the agency proposed continuing its service for one year at a cost of $300,000 — almost $50,000 less than the last deficit.
6. Also in the fall, the county commissioners voted to put a sales tax initiative on the Jan. 9 ballot.
The county is asking voters to approve a 9/16th-cent sales tax increase, which would generate about $2.8 million in revenue. Most of the funds would be used to help finance 911 operations, subsidize the county’s ambulance service and close an operating deficit at the Justice Center,
The remaining $1.2 million would be split among the county’s three districts for county road maintenance and bridgework.
The county is also expected to create a trust, tentatively called the Pontotoc County Public Safety Authority, which would regulate and administer money appropriated to the participating agencies.
7. Pontotoc County District Attorney Paul Smith determined that the June 2 shooting of a man who tried to drown his three-month-old twins was “a justifiable use of deadly force under Oklahoma law.”
Smith’s ruling stemmed from the fatal shooting of Oklahoma City resident Leland M. Foster, who was upset over being separated from the twins and their mother. He forced his way into a home in the 1800 block of Sixth Street, where he attacked the mother, Michelle Sorrells, and tried to drown the twins.
Sorrells’ niece fled the home and sought help from a neighbor, David C. Freeman. Freeman armed himself and entered the home, where he found Foster on top of Sorrells while holding the twins underwater. Freeman shot Foster three times, killing him.
In July, Smith said he thought the shooting was justified under a section of state law that allows a person to use deadly force to defend someone else “when that person reasonably believes that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to another.”
Smith said the police report closed the investigation into the shooting, pending any further evidence to the contrary, and expressed a lack of probable cause to charge Freeman with any criminal offense.
8. Ada resident Kalup Allen Born, 19, was charged with first-degree murder and other crimes in the death of 70-year-old Brenda Carter.
Born was accused of kidnapping Carter in January 2017 and leaving her to die after a car wreck and assault. Carter never recovered from her injuries and died in early June.
9. Seminole resident James R. and Rebecca F. Clark were convicted in October of first-degree murder-child abuse and child abuse by injury in the death of 9-year-old Colton Clark, who disappeared in 2006. His body has never been found.
The Clarks were later sentenced to life in prison without parole.
10. In December, the Ada Board of Education voted to put two bond issue proposals — one for $2.3 million and one for $565,000 — on the Feb. 13, 2018, ballot.
If voters approve both propositions, the district would issue about $2.59 million in bonds for technology improvements, new textbooks, STEM lab upgrades and new buses. Financing for the buses is a separate proposition because proceeds from a transportation bond issue may only be used to buy buses, not other items.
Property owners within the district would see their tax bills rise by about 5 percent, according to the district. For example, property owners who currently pay $100 in annual property taxes would pay an additional $5 each year, for a new total of $105.