We can't trust county government:
Keeping the oversight committee in the dark


Here's a bit from the October 27, 1995, Tulsa Whirled. We're being told we can trust the County Commissioners to handle $1 billion the right way, because of the way they handled the Whirlpool tax, and because there's an oversight committee. Here's how the county treated the Whirlpool oversight committee:

[County Commissioner] Selph was present at Wednesday's meeting of the Whirlpool panel to try to smooth ruffled feelings among members who believed they were kept in the dark over how $1.7 million in excess Whirlpool sales tax revenues were spent. Committee members said they were especially concerned over commitments made by the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, which is made up of Selph and fellow Commissioners Bob Dick and Lew Harris.

On Sept. 18, the authority gave approval to spend $341,073 to build a portion of Whirlpool's wastewater treatment plant, $449,266 for a series of water and sewer lines and the balance of excess tax revenues for various road projects at or near the Whirlpool site.

The problem was that no one from the 10-member oversight panel was
present at the meeting, nor did the members believe they had been adequately briefed on the process of deciding on the projects and the allocation of funds.
All the panel received was a copy of the authority's resolution approving the projects.

"Call this an apology," Selph said. "I think there was a misunderstanding, or the result of a lack of communication, but you should have never received just a copy of the resolution."

Several members noted that a proper briefing was not the only thing the panel lacked. Apparently after more than a year in their watchdog role the oversight committee has yet to see a map of the Whirlpool facility. That lack of familiarization was a stumbling block to Wednesday's discussion as Selph, authority counsel John Weidman and county fiscal officer Wayne Carr attempted to explain to the panel why the wastewater, sewer and road projects were selected. ...

[County fiscal officer Wayne] Carr tried to ease concerns that Whirlpool sales tax money was being "comingled" with county general revenue funds. An additional concern was how Whirlpool revenues would be kept separate from Criminal Justice Authority sales tax funds, which are expected to begin flowing to the county in mid-December.

Carr explained that each fund has always been kept separate, as required by law, and was subject to strict accounting and auditing procedures.

[Watchdog committee chairman John] Gray, however, said neither he nor the public at large was impressed by audits.

Lest anyone say, "That was a long time ago": One of the current county commissioners, Bob Dick, was on the commission in 1995, and both he and Commissioner Wilbert Collins have shown contempt for openness and public input in their handling of more recent county matters, such as their handling of contracts at the fairgrounds.

One more thing: The Whirlpool tax was authorized by the voters with a narrow purpose and under a narrowly drawn statute which was in effect when the tax was passed. The Commissioners could only spend the money on qualified projects related to manufacturing facilities. The tax before us next Tuesday would empower the Commissioners to spend the money on anything relating to broad purposes like economic development and infrastructure. They can spend any excess as they wish, and the county trust authority can add, delete, or change projects at will. The oversight committee will only learn about it after the fact and will have no power to reverse the decision of the trust. This truly is a billion dollar blank check.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 3, 2003 8:59 AM.

BREAKING NEWS: KTUL preempts sales tax debate was the previous entry in this blog.

The view from downtown: Instead of "Vision 2025" is the next entry in this blog.

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