Councilor Randy Sullivan scuttles school plan


Councilor Randy Sullivan was in the news recently in connection with the 71st & Harvard rezoning. He made the paper again yesterday, over a zoning change that he opposed earlier this year, an opposition that had costly consequences for a new private school. His bizarre behavior in this case raises serious questions about his fitness for office.

Sullivan, who represents near south Tulsa, was one of those who led the charge for the controversial rezoning of 71st & Harvard. He was a major recipient of funds from F&M bank officers and won an early endorsement from the Whirled, which is owned by the chairman of F&M, Robert Lorton. At the October 30th council meeting, at which the neighborhood's protest petition was discussed, he voted to cut off debate before the shenanigans of INCOG and the City Attorney's office could be fully aired. Then he voted to invalidate the neighborhood's petition, even though it met every legitimate legal test. He took several opportunities to carp at his colleague Chris Medlock without adding anything substantive to the discussion. He also made some bizarre comments about being under a tub. Finally, he voted for the rezoning, in violation of the Comprehensive Plan.

I first met Randy Sullivan when we appeared as City Council candidates to speak to a Republican club. I asked him why he decided to run for Council, and his answer shaped my opinion of him, and that initial impression has been confirmed time and again. He told me that he and former Councilor (and prominent Chamber Pot) John Benjamin had been lounging in a hot tub while on a skiing vacation in Colorado (Aspen, if I remember correctly), and Benjamin encouraged him to run. Initially, he planned to run against Todd Huston, but then found out that Todd Huston wasn't his councilor, so he switched to run for the seat being vacated by Clay Bird. That gives you an idea of how engaged and concerned he was about city issues before plunging into politics.

As I said, there was a situation a few months ago when Mr. Sullivan actively fought against a very minor land use change. This case pitted him against the formidable Charles Norman, the man who wrote Tulsa's zoning code as City Attorney. Sullivan persisted in his lonely crusade against the change, despite the absence of objections from anyone else, baffling long-time observers of zoning issues.

The event was mentioned in Wednesdays Community Whirled story about Regent Preparatory School, where our son is a student.

Earlier this year, the school proposed to purchase the old Children's Medical Center facility, 5300 Skelly Drive, from Hillcrest Healthcare System and turn it into a school building. ...

In May, the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission approved a measure allowing the building to be used as a private school despite objections of Tulsa City Councilor Randy Sullivan.

Sullivan had asked the measure be delayed and threatened an appeal if the planning commission approved it. He also requested the school pay $50,000 of the estimated $60,000 total cost to install traffic-calming devices, such as speed bumps, in surrounding neighborhoods.

Jan Saxon, Regent Preparatory School co-founder, said zoning issues and Sullivan's objection also contributed to the school's decision to let go of the old medical facility.

Here's some more detail: The old Children's Medical Center facility on I-44 east of Yale had been rezoned in 2001 for a major commercial development. The neighborhood to the south was concerned about an increase in cut-through traffic, and much of the discussion between the developer and the neighborhood focused on traffic diversions. One such diversion was installed by the city, preventing traffic from turning into the neighborhood from the I-44 service road.

The economy turned sour and the deal fell through, but the rezoning remained effective, which would allow another commercial development to come in at some point by right, without requiring further action by the TMAPC or the City Council.

Earlier this year Regent, which leases space in the old Bates Elementary School building (owned by Central Assembly of God), began looking for a permanent campus that would allow the school to add a middle school and high school and to expand enrollment. In the spring they began to pursue Children's Medical Center, and raised a remarkable about of money in a short period of time.

Meanwhile, they pursued the required zoning adjustments. Although schools are permitted by right in a Commercial Shopping Center (CS) zoning district, the property is also under a planned unit development (PUD), which includes additional development standards. Since the PUD was originally intended for commercial development and new construction, they weren't appropriate for a school planning to use the existing buildings, so a minor amendment to the PUD was required. This came before the TMAPC on May 21, 2003. Councilor Sullivan called planning staff the morning of the hearing and requested a one-week continuance, which was granted, despite the inconvenience to neighborhood representatives who came to support the school's application. No one other than Sullivan registered an objection to Regent's application.

The minutes of the May 28 meeting make for fascinating reading. Sullivan requested, through his council staffer, yet another continuance, which request was slapped down by the TMAPC. Sullivan had met with Regent's attorney, Charles Norman, and demanded that Regent pay $50,000 for traffic calming devices, despite the fact that the school represented a much more manageable traffic situation than a major retail center. If his demand wasn't met, he would appeal the decision to the City Council. Norman told the TMAPC that there would be no point in further meetings with Sullivan.

This excerpt from the minutes illustrates Sullivan's unstable behavior:

Mr. [Noah] Roberts [Regent's development director] stated that he has had several conversations with Councilor Sullivan and asked him several times to give the names of anyone who is against this proposal in order to invite them to a meeting and view their plans and discuss the issues. Mr. Roberts indicated that Councilor Sullivan's response is that he is that "one person who has a problem". Mr. Roberts asked Councilor Sullivan if he had talked with his constituents in the area, and as of today, the Councilor has not submitted any names of neighbors or constituents who have issues with this proposal. The school is troubled regarding the delays and he is confident that this proposal has unanimous support from the surrounding neighbors.

All this controversy and delay posed a threat to Regent's ability to raise the funds to purchase the property. Potential major donors would not proceed without assurance that any land use issues had been addressed. In the end, Sullivan's efforts played a major role in scuttling the deal, and Regent has been looking elsewhere for facilities; meanwhile Hillcrest is looking for someone to buy the CMC facility.

All because Randy Sullivan picked a fight over a neighborhood traffic issue that wasn't an issue for the neighborhood. I'd love to hear a rational explanation for his behavior.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 20, 2003 12:11 PM.

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