Mayor wields the veto pen


For the first time in his administration, and only the second time since the current form of city government was adopted, Mayor Bill LaFortune has wielded the veto pen. He chose not to exercise this power in the 71st & Harvard rezoning ordinance, even though the ordinance was passed by a narrow 5-4 vote, was opposed by his own appointee to the planning commission, and was accomplished by neighboring property owners being illegally deprived of recognition for their protest, thus triggering yet another civil liberties lawsuit against the city. No, in that case, the Mayor chose to defer to the prerogatives of the Council.

So what Council action was egregious enough to get the Mayor to whip out his veto pen, sans Liquid Paper? A 9-0 vote by the Council to require by ordinance that cell phone expenditures be accounted for by department, rather than as a single budget category. The Council's proposal, initiated by Bill Christiansen, is a sensible measure. It is too easy to hide unnecessary expenditures in one big government-wide budget item. By having each department responsible for its own cell phone expenses, each department has an incentive to control its own cell phone usage. The Whirled story quotes Christiansen drawing a comparison to copier usage:

At issue in the ordinance is a clause that would decentralize the oversight of cell phone use.

One employee in the Telecommunications-Information Services Department currently monitors all cell phone use.

The ordinance would transfer that power and budget responsibility to individual city departments.

"I believe it is much more efficient and effective for one experienced employee to handle the cell phone program rather than train 15 people, one from each department, and keep them all up-to-date with the latest changes in the industry," LaFortune wrote.

Christiansen disagreed.

"My answer to that is I don't think the system in place now will save more money," he said.

The District 8 councilor said the ordinance would save the city $25,000 to $50,000 in the first year alone, in part by providing for "full accountability at the department head level."

As an example, Christiansen said, the city saved money when copying costs were decentralized and individual departments were required to foot the bill for copier use.

The heart of the issue appears not to be which cell phone approach will save money, but a matter of executive vs. legislative prerogatives, as it was when former Mayor Savage first exercised the veto eight years ago. The Mayor sees this as an infringement of his powers to run city government, the Council believes it has the right, as the legislative branch, to set policy which governs the Mayor and his department heads as they carry out their duties.

While understanding the Mayor's concerns, I'm inclined to support the Council on this. One of the major selling points of this new form of government back in 1989 was the separation of powers and checks and balances. If the Council can't set policy, we may as well combine the legislative and executive branches again. I hope the Council will flex its muscles and achieve the first veto override in Tulsa history.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 8, 2003 12:23 AM.

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