Matt Trotter

News Director

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN. 

He has a master's degree from Arizona State University, where he spent a semester on the first reporting staff of Cronkite News Service's Washington, D.C., bureau. As a grad student, he won awards for multimedia journalism and in-depth TV reporting.

Matt is from Southern California, so he's slowly following Route 66 across the United States. He would have made it Chicago by now, but he's not a fan of long drives.

Ways to Connect

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The latest coronavirus variant of interest has been confirmed in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health says the Mu variant appeared in 13 lab samples between May 20 and Aug. 10. The World Health Organization has designated Mu a variant of interest because preliminary evidence shows it may be able to escape antibodies acquired through vaccination or previous infection.

Another Tulsa school district is implementing a mask requirement.

The Union Public Schools Board voted 4–0 in a special meeting Friday in favor of mask mandates that apply to all students, employees and visitors while indoors on school property. The mandates kick in Wednesday but allow medical and religious exemptions, and people can opt out on the basis of "strongly held personal reasons."

Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartzler recommended the mandates earlier this week. Board member Dr. Chris McNeil was absent Friday.

Tulsa Recycle Transfer Facility

The facility that processes recycling for Tulsa-area communities will not reopen until late December at the earliest, but it will boast an improved sorting system when it does.

The Tulsa Recycle Transfer facility, or TRT, was badly damaged and its sorting equipment destroyed by a fire April 1. The blaze was sparked by a lithium-ion battery in the recycling stream.

U.S. Department of Defense

Oklahoma health officials said Thursday while state- and hospital-reported capacity numbers are not matching up, they are aware of the strain on health care facilities because of an influx of COVID-19 patients.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said the issue is the state health department and hospitals give point-in-time counts at different times, and data comes second to patient care, so it may not always be exact. Frye said the health department is working with hospitals to close reporting gaps.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

State and local officials celebrated on Tuesday the opening of a tech incubator inside Tulsa City Hall.

There are now 50,000 square feet on the fifth floor of One Technology Center available for entrepreneurs looking to get their ideas off the ground through 36 Degrees North, which also has two coworking spaces in the Tulsa Arts District. CEO Devon Laney said the incubator is more than a place to bounce ideas off of other people.

Photo via Corian.com

Hospital officials told Oklahoma lawmakers on Tuesday they are struggling with the latest COVID-19 surge because there are not enough nurses to go around, hurting patient care and their bottom lines.

Tulsa Police

Tulsa Police said on Tuesday the first 30 days of a new initiative aimed at taking on an uptick in violent crime led to dozens of arrests and the seizure of more than 200 guns.

Chief Wendell Franklin said TPD crime analysts have been looking into more than 80 incidents going back to April to help officers’ on-the-ground investigations.

Joe Ravi / CC-BY-SA 3.0

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor says he is dropping his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in the first-degree murder case of death row inmate Shaun Bosse.

A filing in the appeal asked the high court to find its July 2020 ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma did not apply to criminal convictions before the decision or to overturn it completely. That ruling found the state had since statehood illegally prosecuted crimes involving Natives within the boundaries of tribal nations.

Groups across the political spectrum are urging state lawmakers to let them establish a system to automatically seal Oklahomans’ court and arrest records once they’ve completed their sentences.

Oklahoma construction firms are 33% more likely than the country as a whole to say a worker shortage is making projects take longer to finish, and vaccine hesitancy appears not to be helping matters for anyone.

According to a 2021 workforce survey by Associated General Contractors of America, 81% of Oklahoma firms responding said a labor shortage is holding up projects, compared to 61% of firms nationwide.

Nationally and in Oklahoma, more than 80% of companies said they are having a hard time finding laborers, truck drivers and a variety of trades.

Philbrook Museum of Art will host an exhibition next year featuring works of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her partner, Diego Rivera. 

"Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism" is made up of pieces from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. Philbrook President and CEO Scott Stulen said the exhibit’s 150-plus items have recently been on an international tour.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Updated Sept. 1, 6:15 p.m.

Tulsa City Councilors on Wednesday approved a proposal to spend almost $1.8 million in federal virus relief program on a campaign encouraging employees to get vaccinated.

The city’s American Rescue Plan Working group pitched giving employees who are or who get fully vaccinated $250. They must do so by Oct. 15 to receive the stipend

Workers in departments that hit a 70% vaccination rate can receive another $250 beginning Nov. 1.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has not touched $164 million lawmakers appropriated to pay for the state’s 10% share of the program’s costs.

OHCA CEO Kevin Corbett told lawmakers this week federal virus relief funds and savings from shifting thousands of people from fully state-funded coverage to the expanded Medicaid program are enough to cover costs right now. Around 65,000 people with health coverage through entirely state-funded programs qualified for insurance under Medicaid expansion.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tulsa Transit is studying a policy to encourage employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

General Manager Ted Rieck told the transit board of trustees on Tuesday they’ve hit a plateau at around 50% vaccinated. 

"In order to protect the employees as well as the riders, we want to get to a higher percentage compliance. So, we are going to study — we're certainly not ready to make a decision yet — whether to require either a vaccination or weekly testing of employees," Rieck said.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

The group tasked with redrawing Tulsa City Council districts after the 2020 census will have some work to do.

The 2020 census showed the city gained 21,000 residents since the last count.

"That growth was not evenly distributed around the city. There were some council districts that had more growth. There were some council districts that did not grow as much," said INCOG Executive Director Rich Brierre, who is helping the City of Tulsa Election District Commission with its work.

Courtesy

Oklahoma is being taken to court over another law passed in the last legislative session.

Tulsa Public Schools

Updated Aug. 30, 2:10 p.m.  

The Education Department announced Monday that it’s investigating five Republican-led states, including Oklahoma, that have banned mask requirements in schools, saying the policies could amount to discrimination against students with disabilities or health conditions.

The City of Tulsa is releasing five companies that own downtown property from their tax covenants after just a few years.

The tax covenants are part of agreements Valley National Bank, Vast Bank NA, PH Stadium Hospitality LLC, WPX Energy Headquarters LLC and 403 Cheyenne LLC have with the city in which rising property tax values in designated districts are set aside to help fund development assistance and public improvements.

The longest-standing covenants started in November 2018.

Whitney Bryen-Oklahoma Watch

There’s a common problem facing Tulsa’s would-be marijuana dispensary owners.

They generally need to get a certificate of occupancy from the city permit office before they can be licensed by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, but the certificate can be derailed if one has been issued to another dispensary within 1,000 feet, even if that dispensary never opened or has gone out of business. In some cases, that’s happened after people sink money into required renovations to meet building codes and other standards.

A federal prosecutor turned private practice Native American law attorney says the despite the current stalemate between Gov. Kevin Stitt and tribes, there is a way forward — and there needs to be, because the McGirt decision is likely here to stay.

Choctaw citizen and former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Trent Shores said there is a different justice on the court since the 5–4 decision in July 2020. Conservative Amy Coney Barrett replaced the late liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Muscogee Nation has issued a rebuttal to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s latest comments against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last July in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

At a Tulsa Chamber event Thursday, Stitt said the ruling that Oklahoma for more than a century wrongly asserted criminal jurisdiction over tribal citizens on tribal lands "remains a threat" to the state and is the most pressing issue for Oklahoma.

Hall-Estill

The Oklahoma Attorney General said Thursday his office will move as quickly as it can to block public school mask requirements that are in violation of a state law enacted this year.

Attorney General John O’Connor said legal action could come as soon as next week.

"I think we'll probably have to ask for injunctive relief early in the lawsuit so that the schools have guidance. My basic position is that we can trust the parents. Somehow, we've sort of abandoned the notion that the parents are in the best position to protect their kids," O'Connor said.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Gov. Kevin Stitt spent time touting business wins and attacking President Joe Biden in a speech Thursday to Tulsa business leaders, but he only briefly touched on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Tulsa Regional Chamber State of the State at the Cox Business Convention Center was billed as a discussion of the Stitt administration's "support of economic development and efforts to address and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic."

Updated Aug. 26, 5:05 p.m.

Tulsa Public Schools' Carnegie Elementary will remain closed Friday because of multiple staff absences.

The school was closed Thursday for the same reason.

TPS employees report a reason why they will be absent when they call out. A district spokeswoman said the closure is not because of the absent staff members needing to be in quarantine because of close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Principal Krista Blanche said in a statement seven teachers notified the school Thursday morning they would be absent.

CVS Health

The City of Tulsa is considering putting federal virus relief money toward vaccination incentives, but only for city employees.

A working group is set to propose a $250 payment to employees who have been fully vaccinated or who get fully vaccinated. Employees in departments where 70% of workers get vaccinated would get an additional $250.

The incentives would be paid for from the city’s nearly $88 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Updated Aug. 25, 11:35 p.m.

Lacking the votes to immediately implement a new mask mandate, Tulsa city councilors supporting the proposal asked their colleagues on Wednesday to join them on a nonbinding resolution strongly encouraging people to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That resolution passed unanimously Wednesday night.

Data from the Centers For Disease Control; photo from https://fshoq.com

What plans are hospitals in Tulsa following for elective surgeries now during COVID-19?  

Ascension St. John has publicly announced its services “may require” adjustments, while media reports say the hospital has internally communicated cancellations. Hillcrest Hospital and Saint Francis Hospital say they’re evaluating electives on a patient-by-patient basis. 

Ten Tulsa breweries are asking city councilors to reinstitute a citywide mask mandate on Wednesday.

The breweries are American Solera, Cabin Boys, Dead Armadillo, Eerie Abbey Ales, Heirloom Rustic Ales, Marshall Brewing, Neff Brewery, Nothing’s Left, Pippin’s Taproom and Renaissance Brewing — collectively, the Tulsa Craft Brewery Alliance.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

The Redbud Valley Nature Preserve is closing to the public until May 2022.

The closure is effective Aug. 30. The preserve is currently open Saturdays and Sundays. Chief Naturalist and Oxley Nature Center and Redbud Valley Nature Preserve Director Eddie Reese said attendance has boomed in the past year, and that’s meant more problems.

"And so, we have some plants being poached — some rare plants — and we have off-trail hiking, which causes erosion, graffiti on the rocks and the trees and things like that," Reese said.

Saint Francis officials said in a Monday update their COVID hospitalizations are nearing their early winter record.

The hospital reported 282 COVID patients Monday, including nine children. That represents about 25% of staffed beds across all inpatient facilities. The winter peak was 309 COVID patients.

Acute Care Nursing Director Christy Pisarra said things feel different this time because of a lack of community support. She said nurses and doctors leave the hospital after their demanding shifts and see people have largely moved on from the pandemic.

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