Sherriff candidate shows support for the unknown essential workers

By Michael Kinney

Ever since the Coronavirus has spread into Oklahoma, there are several groups of people who have stayed on their job because of their essential status. They include nurses and first responders.

However, there is one group that has continued to work in the same conditions, but are much less herald. They are those in the public transportation realm. The bus drivers have been on the job in Oklahoma City and other parts of the state keeping the economy moving.

That is why Tommie Johnson found himself at the EMBARK headquarters Wednesday evening. The Norman police officer wanted to give back to the underappreciated group.

“We wanted to give back to our community, definitely give back to people who have been servicing Oklahoma County,” Johnson said. “Now I’m a police officer. I realize that the community has poured so much love and attention to us, as first responders, and I appreciate that. But as a cop, you see other sides of things and how other people are investing, especially during this COVID crisis as well.”

Johnson decided the best way to show his gratitude was by feeding the EMBARK employees.

He enlisted the help of his old high school baseball teammate Abel Deloera, who is the manager of San Marcos Mexican Restaurant.

Deloera’s family established San Marcos in 1993. The business has grown to five locations during the past 27 years.

“I went to school with him at U.S. Grant. We played on the same baseball team, so our ties go way back,” Johnson said. “We brought food here today and fed approximately 30 people. We brought enough for 30 meals, full setups, fajitas, enchiladas, the whole works.”

According to Johnson, the EMBARK personnel was very appreciative of the gift.

“When I called in to schedule this, the lady who answered the phone was like, ‘Sir, I appreciate that more than anything, because somebody is thinking about us,’” Johnson said. “And when you get that response, I mean, that made me feel so good. I mean, even bringing the food here, just hearing her say, “Somebody’s thinking about us.” That made me feel good.”

TJ photo
Oklahoma County Sherriff candidate, Tommie Johnson, right, dropped off dinner for the transit workers in Oklahoma County April 29

Johnson, who is also running for Oklahoma County Sheriff, said he knows the men and women who transport people are the ones who are keeping the economy going in every city and town. He wanted to show them that their work has not gone unnoticed.

“I believe situations like this, you feel you’re forgotten. Their toeing the front line like first responders are, and their job is very important,” Johnson said. “And I didn’t want them to think it would be overlooked, and I didn’t want the community to overlook them either. We need to shed light on the people who are doing positive things that may just not be in the nursing field, or on police or the fire side. But they are just as easily exposed to this as we are. So I just wanted to just show appreciation. Abel wanted to show appreciation, and San Marcos did as well.”

Johnson said what he and Deloera did is just being part of a community.

“I think all too often, police and a lot of first responders are put in a box, like it’s just enforcement that we do,” Johnson said. “Police are involved in the community at a level much greater than that. We see when situations like the COVID-19 hit, we see how that affects communities at a ground level, and we see how it affects people in their homes. And so I just think from that perspective, I think this is why this fits so well, and why I’m running for Oklahoma County Sheriff is because I want to be more than an enforcer. I want to be involved in my community in a bigger capacity. I want them to know that they have me for more than just enforcing the laws on the street. They have somebody who’s going to be invested as well.”

Michael Kinney Media

Audio shop finds loophole to avoid COVID-19 shutdown


By Michael Kinney

Back on March 24, Lawton Mayor Stan Booker ordered all non-essential businesses to close. That included hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlors and all other non-medical establishments.

Yet, there was one business that was able to stay open in Lawton that seemingly didn’t fit the essential category. Audio Tech, which installs home theaters and car audio systems, has been able to keep working throughout the shutdown due to the COVID-19 disease. According to Carol Perez, the CEO of Audio Tech, they provide an essential service.

“What people don’t know is that we’re considered essential,” Perez said. “Even though we don’t let people in, we’re essential because we’re a service center for a company called Low-Cost Interlock. You know those breathalyzers for DUIs? They have to be calibrated and we’re a service center for this company. In the state of Oklahoma, we’re essential.”

According to Perez, the breathalyzers, which are placed in automobiles in order for them to start, have to come to Audio Tech every three to four weeks to be calibrated. That includes a diagnostic test. “If we were totally shut down, they wouldn’t be able to drive because their car would lock up,” Perez said. “We were essential in that part.”

Because of that, Audio Tech has also been able to stay afloat by being able to work in other areas of its business. But that has not been easy during what Perez calls the new normal. “I’ll tell you that one of the things that has helped our business is that we did get the PPP loan,” Perez said. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be able to keep the employees that I have now, and that’s going to help us keep us afloat for a little bit.”

When the coronavirus pandemic started to spread through Oklahoma, Perez knew right away she was going to have to modify her business philosophy. She knew the demand for electronics was going to suffer.

“It has affected our business. Our business is not where it normally is this time of the year in comparison to other years and the month,” Perez said. “But like every other business, I guess, we just had to learn how to adapt. Our store is closed. No one’s allowed to walk in here. What we’re offering right now is curbside service. We conduct a lot of the business outside.”

Audio Tech has pretty much turned into a drive-through style business. That is the only way to keep her staff and the customers safe while also keeping their doors open, somewhat.

“In the car business, we were able to conduct business outside of this building,” Perez said. “Normally, we have a waiting room, but we told them they could not wait here. They could sit outside, and we’d give them a chair, or they had to make arrangements to be picked up while we were servicing the vehicle. That’s how we conducted that business.”

According to Perez, the staff still must use masks and gloves while working on the audio systems of vehicles. They even will wipe down the interior of the automobiles with Clorox wipes. “They are to use precaution in those areas,” Perez said. “I mean, we couldn’t just totally shut down or we could very well be non-existent right now. That has maintained us. It’s not anywhere where it needs to be, but it has maintained us.”

While Audio Tech has been able to still work on cars, they have been unable to work in private homes. The only exceptions are houses that are under construction. “We do construction homes,” Perez said.

“There’s nobody living in them and people are still… the workers are still working, and so we’ll go in there and pre-wire the home. We were able to do those because they’re outside. One of the things that we’ve done is we were able to work on some churches, some houses of worship, because nobody was there. We were able to work in churches while they were empty.

Even as businesses are slowly opening up around the state, Perez doesn’t know when she will be given the word to return to full status. All she can do is keep playing it by ear like all other businesses in the state.

“It’s going to be a new way of doing business,” Perez said. “I think a lot of us are thinking about how do we do business a new way. I’m just trying to take care of my employees, and they want to work. They need to work, they want to work, and I want them to work. I don’t know what the future holds. I certainly hope that we’re able to move forward.”

Michael Kinney Media

As businesses begin to open, not everyone is on the same page

(Photo by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

When Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Wednesday his Open Up and Recover Safely (OURS) plan, it caught many of the state’s residents and city officials off-guard. The three-phased approach sets the stage for the opening of Oklahoma’s economy after the spread of COVID-19.

Phase one of OURS went into effect April 24 with the opening of select businesses under strict conditions. They included personal care businesses, such as hair salons, barbershops, spas, nail salons and pet groomers. They were given the all clear to reopen for appointments only and under specific guidelines.

“This careful and measured approach is designed to protect our most vulnerable from COVID19 while safely easing most Oklahomans back to work,” Stitt said. “Under current White House guidelines, Oklahoma has met all necessary criteria to begin proceeding to a phased opening. This includes a downward trajectory of documented cases and the ability to treat all patients without crisis care.”

However, while Stitt’s announcement had its critics and fans, it put the mayors of every city in a tough situation. They now had to decide whether to follow Stitt’s recommendation to open up on April 24 or to keep their shelter in place proclamation in effect.

Several cities across the state made the same decision. They include Del City, Lawton,  Mustang, Midwest City, Yukon, Moore, Ponca City and Shawnee.

“I personally feel if salons will be open, everything could be open with the same rules in place,” said Tiffany Claborn of Teeze Total Salon. “I’m glad to be able to work. However, I don’t think salons should have been in the first phase to open.”

The mayors of Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman, Stillwater and Edmond all made the decision to keep their shelter in place ordinances intact for now.

As of  Friday the state accounted for 3, 121 cases of COVID-19. Of those, 188 have ended in death.

“We don’t have that testing capacity right now,” Norman Mayor Breea Clark said. “So it’s very, very dangerous to open without it. We need to get to a position where we’re proactive, not just reactive.”

Businesses that fit the phase one criteria were having to decide if they were ready to open their doors to customers again after being closed since March 24.

However, because the reopening announcement happened so quick, not all businesses that are eligible to get back to work chose to do so.

Marina Peterson, the owner of Native Roots Salon in Lawton, had been seeking a timetable from Lawton Mayor Stan Booker on when salons would be able to reopen was not ready for Thursday’s announcement.

“I choose not to open Friday,” Peterson said. “I couldn’t prepare my place with the requirements the city council and the Oklahoma state board has put out. I feel for the safety of my staff and clients we needed the additional time.”

Along with the standard 6-foot social distancing guidelines, other requirements for salons and barbershops include using disinfectants and sanitation products approved by the Oklahoma State Board of Cosmetology and Barbering and cleaning and disinfecting tools regularly.

Owners are also being asked to perform temperature checks employees each day with a touchless infrared thermometer. Any employee who has a high temperature are supposed to be sent home immediately.

Peterson said one of the reasons she was unable to open was because she was unable to find a touchless thermometer.

“We can’t locate a touchless thermometer because they were all sold out locally,” said Peterson.

Claborn says they have the same issues and had to put off opening Friday as well.

“It will take some time to get all of the new regulations in place,” Claborn said. “We have to order a sneeze guard, a no-touch thermometer, we are waiting on clarification on how many stylists and customers that we can have at one time. The city issued conflicting information. Once all of that is in place, we will determine the schedules and allow customers to book at that time.”

Both Peterson and Claborn said their salons are looking at hopefully opening May 1st.

While larger shops like Native Roots may have had a tougher time opening at such a fast pace, that was not the case for the Elevation Grooming Studio in Del City. Owned and operated by a DeAngelo Payne, the one-man operation made it simple to get back to work Friday morning. Del City’s guidelines are also not as strict as Lawton.

Payne wore a mask and gloves while working on his customers and has hand sanitizer situated around his shop.

Payne is taking the needed precautions and only taking appointments. Yet, he also seems to believe Oklahoma has hit its peak of COVID-19 cases.

“I’m not too worried about it,” Payne said. “We have been closed for so long, that if any of my customers were going to catch it, they would have done it by now.”

Clark disagrees.

“Our constituents are following our guidelines along with other major cities of Oklahoma,” Clark said. “It just gets really frustrating because now our first responders in response to the confusion are going out and educating businesses who have opened.”

Michael Kinney Media

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