January 2004 Archives

Devon Jones, the Republican nominee for City Council District 1 in 2002, is once again seeking that office. Jones is an American Airlines maintenance technician with a heart for public service.

Devon Jones is the best choice in the Republican primary.

In the 2002 election, despite a heavy registration and name ID advantage for incumbent Joe Williams, Devon Jones won the precincts west of downtown Tulsa along the Sand Springs Line. He is active in local Republican politics and has received the endorsement of the Oklahoma Minority Republican Coalition.

As a Republican in a heavily Democrat district, as a white man in a majority African-American district, Devon Jones would seem to be facing long odds. But he is active in working with neighborhoods and community organizations across District 1, building friendships and respect across partisan and racial lines. Republicans will be proud to have Devon Jones as their standard-bearer in District 1.

This is what I know about the three candidates running in the District 1 Democrat primary to succeed Joe Williams:

I know nothing at all about Shirley LeRoy.

I know that Joda Trimiar received the endorsement of the Tulsa Whirled. While the Whirled sometimes endorses good candidates in federal and state elections, their local endorsements are usually all about electing easily-controlled sheeple who will carry out the Whirled's hidden agenda. The Whirled describes Trimiar as "bright and thoughtful". Are the Whirled's editorial writers being sincere in Trimiar's case, or are they playing the same game as when they describe Randy Sullivan as having "keen intelligence" and a "pleasant demeanor"? Sorry, Ms. Trimiar, but in the absence of mitigating information, a Whirled endorsement is a disqualifier.

Here's what I know about Jack Henderson. When countless civic leaders were lining up behind a regressive sales tax to build entertainment facilities, Jack Henderson was a leader in the fight to stop the tax hike. He was a co-chairman of the opposition efforts against the Tulsa Project in 1997, against "It's Tulsa's Time" in 2000, and against Vision 2025 last year. That's how I came to know Jack.

I'm sure that Jack Henderson and I disagree on many state and national issues, and probably some local issues as well. But Jack has been willing to buck the establishment, and we need that kind of independence on the City Council.

Randy Sullivan is under a tub?

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sullivan3.jpg

Councilor Randy Sullivan may be under a tub, under a blanket, or under a barrel, but whatever the case, it isn't pertinent. (MP3, approx 600 KB.)

(A bit of bizarreness from the notorious October 30, 2003, Council meeting in which Councilor Randy Sullivan (absolutely no relation to Congressman John Sullivan) led the effort to deprive homeowners of their rights to present a valid petition and expect the laws to be followed as written. The Whirled assures us that this man is intelligent.)

The slide shows presented by TulsaNow at Wednesday night's city council candidate forum are now available on the TulsaNow website here. There are two presentations.

The first is entitled "We Can Do Better", and it was presented by Duane Cuthbertson. It is laden with pictures which are more eloquent than the words, but I'll give you some of the words to give you enough of the flavor so you'll want to look at the presentation in all its glory.

It begins by leading the audience through a mental exercise:

Id like to start with a little exercise. Id like to ask everyone in the audience to imagine that you have two weeks to spend in any city in the world (cities, not beaches). You have no family or work obligations, and money is no object. Now imagine yourself in that city . . . . Think about your surroundings . . . .

... the question we confront, and which those we elect to office will confront, is whether Tulsa will be more like the cities we admire and enjoy, or more like the cities we do our best to avoid.

The presentation goes on to look at Tulsa as it is today, showing examples of good urban form and bad urban form, and then showing how we can take the kind of places we have now, places that don't work well, and make them better by adding elements of good urban design.

The second slide show, presented by Jamie Jamieson, reviewed TulsaNow's mission and core values, set out the importance of land use planning and the drawbacks of zoning as a means of land use planning, and alternative approaches to planning. The presentation concluded with a list of principles, strategies, and actions TulsaNow is encouraging the new City Council to adopt for its 2004-2006 term. I won't spoil the presentation by listing them here; you need to see them in context.

Go and read them, and when you're done, have a browse through the resources on the site and visit some of the research links. You'll begin to get a sense of what TulsaNow hopes for our city's future, and the lessons we can learn from the experiences of other cities.

District 4 Councilor Tom Baker, former Tulsa Fire Chief, is a bureaucrat to the core, and at the TulsaNow forum he was employing the skills that enabled him to climb to the top of a city bureaucracy and hang on for over a decade. He has that knack for speaking at length without telling you what he is thinking, or indeed if he is thinking at all. Asked if Tulsa's current process needed to be revised, he said he wasn't there to condemn the current process, but didn't explain what was good or bad about it. To several questions, he replied that "there is room for improvement" while carefully avoiding telling us what he thought might need improving.

Another key bureaucratic skill is the ability to make decisions in a way that avoids accountability for the results. A proven technique for achieving this is to develop a process involving quantifying the intangible and unquantifyable, then putting the numbers through complex formulas, and hallowing the result as Vox Dei. This technique dates back at least as far as Aaron at the base of Mt. Sinai: "While I may or may not personally have chosen a golden calf as an object of worship, it emerged from our board-certified, ISO-9000 compliant process of evaluating this nomadic community's quality of life, to which all stakeholders previously agreed, and so we must all accept the result."

Wednesday night's TulsaNow candidate forum on land use planning was a wonderful event. 13 of the 26 council candidates were present to respond to a presentation on land use planning as we do it now, and as we might do it in the future. The opening slideshow, presented by city planner Duane Cuthbertson and developer Jamie Jamieson, featured compelling images of city scenes good, bad, and ugly. Jamie, who is the developer of the Village at Central Park, made the point that development is not the problem; the real problem is the patterns of development. We need to be willing to do development in a different way than it's been done for the past 50 years.

Candidates, including some not in attendance, submitted written responses to five questions on the topic.

The Tulsa Whirled coverage , headlined "Group focuses on city zoning", missed one of the key points of the evening. TulsaNow points out that there are various methods of land use planning, of which zoning is only one, albeit the predominant approach in the US since World War II. Tulsa's land use planning process is broken, and zoning, which requires strict and arbitrary segregation of different land uses, very different from the ways in which cities evolved before World War II. Our process generates confrontations between homeowners and developers. For example, a change in land use which might be beneficial is fought because the zoning change opens the door for other uses which might be disruptive.

It was clear that the concepts under discussion were new to most of the candidates, even to some of the incumbent councilors. Some impressions:

Most of the candidates were at least open to the ideas presented, and many gave answers that suggested they had thought about some of these notions before, particularly Medlock, Self, Mautino, Huston, and Neal. Huston expressed the most enthusiasm for the vision presented but said he didn't know to what extent the Council had the power to make it happen. Medlock called for a flexible, comprehensible, comprehensive master plan that would be "stuck to". He said it should be hard for zoning attorneys to make a living in this town.

Eagleton made the excellent point that whether you have a new plan or an old plan doesn't matter when you have Councilors who won't honor the plan. Eagleton also emphasized respect for property rights and sounded an appropriate note of caution, reminding that layering new restrictions on property owners can be considered a taking under our Bill of Rights.

When asked if the current system was friendly to homeowners or developers, Medlock said the pendulum had swung too far in the direction of developers, and most candidates agreed, except for Baker who refused to answer and just said there was opportunity for improvement, and Neal, pointing to two recent TMAPC decisions that favored the neighborhood over the applicant, said it depends on who you ask. (Neal answered the question in terms of outcomes, but the question was really about the fairness of the process.)

Larry Self wants to transplant downtown Minneapolis to downtown Tulsa. Joe Conner called for a ban on political contributions from individuals bringing zoning cases before the Council.

Baker exhibited his bureaucratic mindset in all his answers, but I'll save that for another entry.

More endorsements

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Below are a couple of more endorsements for next Tuesday's primary elections. There will be eight city council races on the ballot, three of which will decide the election because no one of the other party filed.

A disclaimer: I am involved in a lot of different civic activities around town and I wear a lot of different hats, but in making these endorsements (as with everything else on this blog), I am speaking only for myself.

Someone wrote in asking about some of the other races, like the District 6 race. District 6 and District 9 are the only two races which have no primary at all, and District 9 isn't really a contest at all. I'll talk about them and the other four general election contests at length closer to the general election, but for now, I'll say that Jim Mautino, the Republican in the District 6 race, will be a great Councilor, he has an excellent chance of winning, and he could use your support. Call him at 437-2642 if you'd like to help.

This almost goes without saying. This blog has chronicled Chris Medlock's stalwart efforts in support of fair treatment for homeowners.

Chris Medlock is the clear choice in this race. We need him, and more like him, on the City Council.

I got to know Chris Medlock through the county Republican organization. He and I served together on the platform committee, and I appreciated his quick mind, gracious manner, and sense of humor.

We need people on the Council who bring to the job some capacity for independent thought and judgment. Chris Medlock excels in that regard. He is a voracious reader, particularly of books on public policy. He devotes himself to studying and understanding the issues before him as a councilor. When he has something to present to his fellow councilors, he works to make his case in a logical and compelling fashion. This diligence was evident in the presentation he made regarding the unfair treatment endured by the 71st & Harvard neighbors in the handling of their protest petition.

Sam Roop is another Councilor who applies himself diligently to the job, studying the issues and coming to an independent judgment.

Sam Roop is the choice in the District 5 Republican Primary.

Sam Roop has taken some hits over the years for asking tough questions of the the administration, particularly on budget matters. He has been targeted for defeat time and again, and it was a close shave last time out. He has asserted the Council's role for oversight and insisted on the Council having the staff and resources to monitor the City's executive branch.

City Council Primary Preview

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In the entries preceding this one, you will find my analysis and endorsements the City Council primary races. (I have written about four of the races so far, and will address the other four primaries in later entries.)

Why am I, as a Republican in District 4, concerning myself with races in other districts for other parties? Because however good or bad my own councilor is, he's only got one vote, and it's the majority of the Council that will determine if we have fair and efficient city government. Party primaries matter because three races will be decided in the primary, and in another seat, Democrats have a tremendous registration advantage.

Even if you don't live in the subject district, you have friends that live there and you can encourage them to vote for the good guys. You can also volunteer to help the best candidates in each district and contribute financially. As a former candidate, I can tell you that even a small contribution or a little bit of volunteer effort is welcome and greatly appreciated, and many small donations and many one-hour volunteering stints add up quickly to make a real difference.

The next entry previous is an essay from my 2002 campaign website on the essential qualities of a good City Councilor.

I wrote the essay below for my 2002 campaign website. It explains why I think the City Council matters, why voters should care who sits on the City Council, and what qualities voters should look for in choosing their representative on the Council. The gist is that we need Councilors who will seek first to represent their district's interests -- no one else will -- while being mindful of the needs of the City; who have the intelligence and desire to do the hard work of thoughtful legislation; and who will ask polite but tough questions to ensure that taxpayers are getting their money's worth.

Here are some excerpts, the link below will lead you to the full essay:

...when you've gone down to City Hall for Tuesday morning committee meetings and Thursday night regular meetings, as I have, and talked to Councilors, Council staffers, and the ordinary citizens who come to address the Council on some matter, you realize that the City Council has an impact on Tulsa's quality of life, and it has the potential to become an even greater asset to the City.

The Council performs three crucial functions that no other body can perform: representation, legislation, and oversight. If it fails to fill these roles adequately, Tulsa loses.

On representation:

By speaking for his constituents' interests, a City Councilor bridges the gap between City Hall and the parts of the city that feel disenfranchised. By recommending candidates for mayoral appointments, a City Councilor helps ensure that Tulsa's diversity is represented throughout city government. By taking an active role in setting city priorities, a City Councilor ensures that our plans for the future will benefit Tulsans from every walk of life.

A City Councilor must remember that he is there to represent his district's interests at City Hall. He is not an ambassador from City Hall to the district.

On the Council's law-making role:

The Council frequently deals with zoning and land-use laws: changing the zoning on an individual piece of land, revising the Comprehensive Plan for an area, or general reform of the zoning laws.

A Councilor needs to have a grasp of the complexities of the law, and an awareness of the risks and potential rewards of a change. The Law of Unintended Consequences is in full effect, and a bad decision can undermine years of hard work and thousands of dollars that homeowners and business owners have invested in their properties. A Councilor must also be able to think "outside the box" -- willing to consider creative solutions to reach a win-win outcome for all concerned.

On oversight:

To fulfill its oversight and legislative responsibilities, the Council needs the independent resources and freedom of action to research issues and to evaluate the information it receives from the city administration. There is a cost involved, but the ability to get a sound second opinion is necessary if we want a excellent, efficient government.

From time to time, exercising effective oversight means saying "no." A good Council will cooperate with the Mayor whenever possible, but some plans are wrong for Tulsa, and the Council needs the guts to send them back to the drawing board.

This is the most clear-cut race on the ballot. Tulsa needs John Eagleton on the City Council, and Tulsa needs to remove the bizarre character who currently occupies that seat. This is a key race, one which will be decided in the Republican primary on February 3, and is perhaps the best chance to replace a bad councilor with an excellent one.

John Eagleton is a native Tulsan, the fourth generation of Tulsans in the legal profession. After graduating from ORU School of Law in 1986, Eagleton served as Assistant District Attorney for three years before starting his own practice specializing in criminal law and family law. While our state legislature sometimes seems to be overrun with attorneys, we could use at least one city councilor who has a legal background. As a councilor, John Eagleton would be able to help his colleagues evaluate the advice coming out of the City Attorney's office.

In addition to his legal experience, Eagleton has an undergraduate degree in accounting. Smaller, more efficient government has been a key theme of his, and he would use his accounting knowledge to help taxpayers get better services for our tax dollars.

John Eagleton wants to make Tulsa a better place to do business and would address taxes and regulations that hinder local entrepreneurs.

As an attorney, Eagleton understands the importance of following the rules and keeping the process fair. He was appalled by the treatment received by homeowners in the 71st & Harvard zoning case and has been supportive of homeowners' concerns about the process.

John Eagleton is a social conservative as well as a fiscal conservative, and is committed to the sanctity of human life, to traditional values, and to the individual's right to keep and bear arms.

There are two good men, Eric Gomez and Larry Self, running in the District 4 Republican primary for the opportunity to defeat incumbent Tom Baker. Baker has shown himself to be an opponent of fair treatment for homeowners, has disappointed many of his former supporters, and is vulnerable to be defeated in this district, where party labels don't matter as much as principles.

Eric Gomez is the best choice for District 4 City Councilor.

Eric is past president and a long-time board member of Renaissance Neighborhood Association. A native of Fort Worth, Eric came here at age 22 and put down roots, getting involved in many aspects of community life. He owns a small renovation and remodeling firm and is a Realtor with Keller Williams.

This is one of three primary races, which will decide the winner of a City Council seat.

Roscoe Turner is the clear choice in this race.

During his time as a Councilor and as Council Chairman, Roscoe Turner built a bipartisan consensus to increase Council oversight of the executive branch (the Mayor's Office and the departments) and to give due attention to the concerns of homeowners about urban development. Although he is a Democrat, that did not stop him from asking tough questions about fellow Democrat Mayor Susan Savage's administration and opposing her on a number of key issues. In exchange for his devoted service to taxpayers and homeowners, Turner was savaged by the Tulsa Whirled, which expended a great deal of ink denouncing him before the 2002 primary. You might get the idea that the Whirled just doesn't appreciate someone asking tough questions.

This is another rematch race, and another race that will be decided in the February 3 primary. Todd Huston is the better choice in this election.

Todd Huston served on the City Council from 2000 to 2002. He was one of several councilors targeted for defeat by the Tulsa Whirled and Mayor Susan Savage for asking tough questions of city officials. He was also a consistent supporter of homeowners' concerns.

Todd is a lightning rod, and in his determination to get something done has been known to rub people the wrong way. Sometimes he shoots from the hip. But on balance, I believe his willingness to ask tough questions, dig for answers and be an advocate for ordinary citizens makes him the better choice. His opponent, Bill Christiansen, has some positive accomplishments, but he has blocked some important initiatives, joined Democrats in a resolution designed to embarass President Bush and Congressman Sullivan on the President's Head Start initiative, and there are questions about whether he has used his position on the Council to gain an unfair competitive advantage for his business, which is based at City-owned Jones Riverside Airport.

Council candidates on the web

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Howard Dean's campaign got a lot of buzz for its use of the Internet, and a website is considered required for serious congressional races, but local candidates have been slower to take up the practice.

In 2002, some of the newspaper and TV station websites provided online information about the mayoral and council candidates. This year none of them are bothering with this; the only election highlighted on local media websites is the upcoming Democratic presidential primary.

This entry will be a placeholder for council candidate websites as they go online. Bookmark the permanent link at the bottom of this entry (the time stamp). If you know of one I missed, e-mail me at blog at batesline dot com.

District 2

Chris Medlock, Republican, www.chrismedlock.com

District 3

Roscoe Turner, Democrat, www.roscoeturner.com

District 4

Eric Gomez, Republican, www.eric4tulsa.com

District 5

Andy Phillips, Democrat, www.andyfortulsa.com

District 6

Jim Mautino, Republican, http://members.cox.net/jamesmautino

District 7

John Eagleton, Republican, www.johneagleton.com

District 8

Todd Huston, Republican, www.toddhuston.com

And before anyone asks, no, despite the resemblance, this is NOT Randy Sullivan's official website.

UPDATE: Added Roscoe Turner's website. Interesting that, so far, the only candidates with websites are the good guys.

UPDATE (1/27/04): Added Andy Phillips' website. I'm told he's a good guy, too.

UPDATE (1/29/04): Another good guy -- added Jim Mautino's webpage.

Rumor mill: Bob Dick to resign

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This is still at the rumor stage, but it's the sort of rumor that, if true, needs to be passed along so that people can make some preparations, and if it's false, there's no harm done. And the rumor comes to me from very reliable sources who assure me this is really going to happen.

The rumor is that Bob Dick will resign from the County Commission sometime this year, which would trigger a special election. He had already said publicly that he did not plan to run for another term in 2006.

Depending on the effective date of resignation, the special election may be held as part of the normal election cycle. This was the case in 2002, when Commissioner John Selph resigned in March and the process of replacing him involved the usual primary, runoff, and general elections, held along with the scheduled state elections. It would be better from a voter's perspective and a taxpayer's perspective if we could avoid a special election in this year already full of elections.

Continuing with the rumor: State Senator Jerry Smith, who is being forced out of office this year by term limits, has been tapped by Bob Dick to replace him on the commission. Smith already has ties to county government -- his wife, Sally Howe Smith, is an elected official, Tulsa County Court Clerk. Smith has not been seriously challenged for re-election in many years and has a war chest ready for a County Commission race.

I said earlier that it's reasonable to pass along a rumor so that people can make preparations. If Bob Dick is stepping aside, we need to make sure that his replacement is someone who will be responsive to the citizens, someone who will reform county government and scrutinize the cozy network that currently runs the place. How Vision 2025 overages will be spent should be a major campaign issue. Will the new commissioner push to grow county government, or will he seek to return the county to its proper minor role? Will his appointments to the TMAPC, Fair Board, and Board of Adjustment be neighborhood-friendly or servants of special interests? Think about people you know in District 3 who might make a good County Commissioner, and drop me a line at blog at batesline dot com if you come up with some good ideas. The time is now to begin to organize a campaign and raise money.

It's hard to imagine the point of having a bail bond office seven or eight miles away from the county courthouse and jail, but ABC Bail Bonds is asking to rezone a duplex on the edge of the Lewis Crest neighborhood at 51st and Atlanta, right across from the regional Girl Scouts headquarters. Although the home is not yet approved for the new use, word is that the business is already up and running 24/7.

Imagine having a next door to you a 24 hour business whose client base is people who have run afoul of the law. (Girl Scouts selling cookies rarely need to be bailed out of jail.) Worse yet, the INCOG staff has recommended approval of the zoning change on the grounds that it is in accordance with "trends" in the area. Neighbors see a connection with the strip club going in at 51st & Harvard and wonder if businesses catering to a similar clientele will fill in along 51st Street. That area has been relatively quiet, with some office buildings replacing homes, compatible with the neighborhood, and nothing so far like a bail bonds office. Despite the proximity to I-44, the locations of entrances and exits on that stretch of road makes 51st from Lewis to Delaware inconvenient to easy-on, easy-off traffic, but a concentration of businesses targeting freeway traffic could change all that.

By the way, it's not just homeowners who are concerned. Weinkaupf Petroleum, which has an office across the street from the proposed location, has written the TMAPC protesting the zoning change

This points up the need to review our 20-year-old Comprehensive Plan, which long ago ceased being either comprehensive or a plan. The review needs to be on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis, and those who have already invested in that neighborhood should have a strong voice in determining its future direction.

During the build-up to Vision 2025, I proposed a neighborhood assessment process which was well-received by Mayor LaFortune and others. This process was used by Kansas City, Missouri. An assessment was done for every neighborhood in the city, centered around a meeting bringing together homeowners, businesses, and other neighborhood stakeholders. At this meeting, bolstered by weeks of research by urban development staff, a neighborhood identifies the basic condition of the neighborhood, what needs to change, what qualities and features need to be preserved, and how they would like to see the neighborhood evolve in the future. Specific improvements are identified -- projects that can be tackled by homeowners, projects that will need outside private help, and projects that need government involvement. In Kansas City, this program took four years and $2 million to complete, and they didn't use a tax increase to pay for it -- it was integrated into the normal way they do business. Supposedly some of the $30 million "downtowns and neighborhoods" project money will pay for this program in the City of Tulsa, but we shall see.

In the meantime, we need to support the Lewis Crest neighborhood as they fight this rezoning attempt, which comes before the TMAPC today at 1:30, although there has been a request to postpone ("continue") the hearing until two weeks later, which is likely to be granted. If the TMAPC approves, the request will go to the City Council. E-mail your city councilor, and e-mail the TMAPC care of bhuntsinger@incog.org and express your concern. Remember -- some day it could be your neighborhood.

UPDATE (1/27/2003): I understand that the zoning application was rejected by the TMAPC.

Homeowners for Fair Zoning, the city-wide neighborhood alliance that emerged from the 71st & Harvard zoning case, is meeting tonight (Wednesday, January 21) at Martin East Regional Library, 26th and Garnett, at 7 p.m. There are two main topics of the meeting -- an update on the civil rights lawsuit filed over the City's invalidation of the homeowners' protest petition, and a discussion of the upcoming City Council elections.

For more information, contact Mona Miller, 496-1481, or by e-mail at mrmruoutthere@aol.com

Got dirt? Don't tell a candidate

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The City Council campaign is underway. Last time around I was a candidate. Not so this time -- and while I enjoyed campaigning, I think I will enjoy watching from the sidelines this time.

As a candidate, I got many phone calls from people who wanted to pass along negative information about my opponent. As my opponent was the recently retired Fire Chief, the information came from ranking officers in the department who had worked closely with him. They came to me with examples of favoritism, indecisiveness, ignorance, procrastination, and failure to lead. These were credible charges from credible people, and they raised valid questions about his fitness to serve on the City Council.

What did I do with the information? Nothing. What could I do? The people who brought these concerns to me were not willing to go public, certainly not with Susan Savage still in office. I couldn't make the stories public -- I didn't have first-hand knowledge or documentation, and the media would treat anything I presented as crass mudslinging. I appreciated their willingness to help and their sincere belief that the other candidate was unfit for office, but there were better ways to handle the inside information they had.

My advice to you if you have negative information about a candidate: Do not tell another candidate about it. Take it directly to the media. Call KFAQ, KRMG, the TV stations, the Tulsa Beacon. Provide them with specifics -- names, places, times, and dates. If you have corroborating documents, photographs, or recordings, provide copies of them. If they're ethical reporters, they should protect your anonymity. They may not be able to do anything with your story alone, but if enough witnesses come forward about one specific incident, or if you can provide them with enough information to form the basis for an investigation, or a pattern of behavior emerges, they would be able to move forward with a story.

So if you know firsthand that a City Councilor has misused his public office for private benefit, let a reporter know so that the public can know. If you've been on the receiving end of discourteous treatment from a Councilor, or if he has ignored your concerns, tell a reporter. If you have firsthand knowledge of rank hypocrisy -- to pick a hypothetical example, if the Councilor trying to score political points with strip club regulation is a regular patron of the same establishments -- tell a reporter. Don't torment another candidate by giving him information he can't use.

KFAQ update postponed

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The weekly Batesline update on KFAQ will be tomorrow (Tuesday) at 6:40, preempted by an interview with a Fox News reporter covering tonight's Iowa caucuses. So tune in tomorrow morning, and we'll do a run-down of the City Council races and the latest County Courthouse and Vision 2025 scuttlebutt.

Dropping the ball

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City Councilor Randy Sullivan, whose zoning-related antics have been documented on this site, is getting lots of publicity for trying, once again, to close the barn door after the cows have gotten out, metaphorically speaking. A strip club will be going in at 51st & Harvard because the City Council dropped the ball in the Fall of 2002.

From today's Whirled:

At a public meeting Monday, about 350 area residents voiced opposition to the topless bar and frustration about a zoning process that didn't allow for public input.

Any zoning action the council takes to restrict such businesses won't stop the topless bar from opening at 51st and Harvard.

The city had an opportunity 14 months ago to act on the zoning changes that Sullivan is now calling for, but it failed to act on the proposal, which came from the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission.

More than a year ago, the Mayor's Office asked the Planning Commission to increase the spacing requirement between sexually oriented businesses and protected businesses or residential areas to 1,000 feet and to add facilities frequented by youths younger than 18 to the list of protected businesses.

The request stemmed from an unsuccessful move by a party associated with Traylor to open a sexually oriented business near a child-care center downtown.

Because the council approves zoning changes, the Planning Commission recommended that the council amend the zoning code by adding the changes.

The council discussed the recommendation at a November 2002 committee meeting but never acted on it.

When I have more time, I'll post a complete timeline and add some links to TMAPC and Council minutes. It was interesting that the Council minutes for that November 2002 committee meeting show no interest in the subject on the part of the Councilors.

So who gets the blame for dropping the ball? Bill Christiansen was Council chairman. The original zoning problem that raised the concern about strip clubs near daycare centers was in Tom Baker's district, and he is the one of the co-chairmen of the Council's Urban and Economic Development committee. And any councilor could have put the matter on the agenda, but none of them did.

By the way, one council seat was vacant at this time: Randi Miller had resigned her District 2 seat to take her post on the County Commission, and Chris Medlock had not yet been elected to replace her.

Getting enough oxygen?

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Last week Tulsa again hosted the annual Chili Bowl Midget National races in the Expo Building at Expo Square. (Translation for us old timers: That's the IPE building at the Fairgrounds.) Noisy little "sprint cars" tear around a 1/4-mile track built inside the building. The first race was held in 1987.

As Michael DelGiorno pointed out (during our weekly Monday morning Batesline update on 1170 KFAQ), people commit suicide by going into a garage and starting a car with the doors shut. During cold weather, we're warned by health authorities to open the garage door before starting the car. Going into a building with dozens of running engines is not a recipe for respiratory health, and yet thousands, including the elderly and children file in each night to breathe the fumes.

Thursday night EMSA and the Fire Department came out to investigate elevated CO levels at the event. A spectator brought a Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector into the race. CO levels in the stands reached 370 parts per million (ppm). To put that in perspective, here's what the Consumer Product Safety Commission has to say about high concentrations of CO levels.

The health effects of CO depend on the level of CO and length of exposure, as well as each individual's health condition. The concentration of CO is measured in parts per million (ppm). Health effects from exposure to CO levels of approximately 1 to 70 ppm are uncertain, but most people will not experience any symptoms. Some heart patients might experience an increase in chest pain. As CO levels increase and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms may become more noticeable (headache, fatigue, nausea). As CO levels increase above 150 to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness, and death are possible.

At about 9 p.m., the hazardous materials (hazmat) team was called to deal with the situation. For some reason, they were turned back. Similarly with the Fire Department. The reason appears to have to do with the fact that Expo Square is not in the city limits, so any health issue would come under the jurisdiction of the Tulsa City-County Health Department. They were called, too. Finally, at about 11 pm, long after the last race and after the doors had been opened to ventilate the building, the authorities arrived and still measured between 70 and 130 ppm.

The County's approach to solving the problem is to open doors and roof panels to ventilate the building. That's fine for the spectators, but it subjects neighbors across the street -- most of whom have lived there since long before the first Chili Bowl race in 1987 -- to dreadful noise and vibration. Noise level in one yard were measured at over 80 db with the Expo Building's doors closed.

Here's a telling quote from Susan Hylton's story in the Whirled:

Expo Square officials met with Chili Bowl promoter Emmett Hahn, County Commissioner Bob Dick, the fire marshal and representatives from the health department and the HAZMAT team Friday morning.

Hahn said he had no idea if the carbon monoxide levels were too high Thursday night and referred questions to Tuttle.

Rouse said the fire department could close down the event, but he thought "everybody was pretty much satisfied with the corrective action that was going to be taken."

Note that no one from the nearby neighborhoods were included in the discussion, despite the impact of the event. If they had included neighbors, I doubt they would have been "pretty much satisfied" with the conclusion. And I doubt most of the spectators are aware of the risk they are taking with their own health. This is just one more example of how the majority of our County Commissioners are more concerned about generating revenue at the Fairgrounds rather than operating it in a responsible way to serve the interests of the public.

By the way, the outdoor races at Fair Meadows by the same promoter were approved by the Fair Board in November 2002, at a time when the surrounding neighborhoods lacked representation on the County Commission. The contract with the promoter required mufflers on the cars and keeping within a specified decibel limit. The limit was exceeded -- sound levels of 82 db were measured nearly 1/2 mile away -- but the County and Expo Square management did nothing to penalize the promoter for breaking his contract.

Expo Square, and the Expo Square building in particular, weren't built for auto racing. They were built for fairs, expositions, and trade shows. Let the Chili Bowl races be held in a facility suited for the purpose, where spectators won't be endangered and neighbors won't be bombarded with noise.

Congrats, Pam Peterson!

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The results are in! Congratulations to Pam Peterson for a resounding victory in the Oklahoma House 67 special election -- 69% in a winner-take-all primary in this heavily Republican district. No Democrat filed, so by winning the primary Pam becomes a Representative-elect.

Pam received 69% of the vote. Her nearest opponent, Tommy Thompson, received only 14% despite (or because of?) the Whirled's endorsement and a last minute phone call from Thompson's campaign attacking her.

The factors underlying this big win: a great candidate, first and foremost, and a great match for the district; her many hours going door-to-door and making phone calls to meet the voters; support from grass-roots activists and elected officials; and a great campaign team headed by campaign manager Terri Cleveland.

Best wishes to Pam as she starts her rookie session at the State Capitol.

Pam Peterson for House 67

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The choice to replace Hopper Smith in the Oklahoma House is an obvious one. For a legislator, you want someone who shares your values, who can work effectively with other legislators, and who will keep in touch with the district.

I've known Pam Peterson and have worked with her in local Republican activities for many years. She has served the Republican Party as a delegate to the national convention, Vice Chairman for the 1st Congressional District organization and most recently as Chairman of the Tulsa County party. If voters in House District 67 have the good sense to elect her, she won't need to build relationships with other elected officials. Through her involvement in the party and in their campaigns, she already has a great working relationship with the other members of the Tulsa County legislative delegation and with our representatives in Washington and with many other local and state officials. They know her as someone who understands the issues, and someone who is easy to work with.

Pam has solid conservative values, and it is her values that motivate her involvement in politics and in other activities. As one example: She serves as a board member for Mend Crisis Pregnancy Center, an organization that supports women who are facing an unexpected pregnancy, giving them the support they need to choose life for their unborn children. She has two children and has been actively involved in their education; this year her youngest child will graduate high school, while her oldest just finished college. Her husband Paul, a surgeon, shares Pam's values and concerns for our state's future, and encouraged her to pursue the opportunity to run for public office.

Politics can bring out the worst in people. It is hard to be genuinely friendly, to be alert without being paranoid, to be determined without being pushy. It is easy to develop delusions of grandeur, to become paranoid or embittered.

Despite her long involvement in politics, Pam Peterson remains kind-hearted, unpretentious, and friendly. She has a great sense of humor and doesn't take herself too seriously. The reality of her Christian faith is evident in her dealings with others.

I don't know any of the other candidates in the race, but I know Pam Peterson and I can heartily recommend her to the voters of House District 67. On Tuesday, January 13, please vote for Pam Peterson and tell your friends to do the same.

That Stratton Taylor letter

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Here it is, courtesy of a kind reader of this site. Click here for the letter itself, or follow the link below for a text version.

Thank you, Senator Taylor, for bringing frivolous lawsuit reform front and center in the political debate.

Something that amuses me about this letter -- the helpful note that Taylor's firm has an office just across the border from Texas in Durant. As you drive across the border into Arkansas, you find tattoo parlors, a service illegal in our state. Drive north into Kansas and border convenience stores sell lottery tickets to Oklahomans, unattainable in their hometown. And the first thing to greet your eyes as you cross the Red River into Texas on I-35 is a shop that appears to be designed to attract Oklahomans in search of literature and paraphernalia not legally available in the Sooner State. So now lawyers will set up "hot tort" shops in Oklahoma border towns, luring Texans across the Red River with promises of big settlements, the kind they can't get in Texas anymore.

Enough of that -- here's the letter.

Stites guarding the henhouse

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Chad Stites was back in the news (jump page here) this weekend. He's received a $600,000 contract to oversee the appraisal of homes for HUD in a six-state region.

The story reminds us about one of the things Chad Stites did to get himself in trouble:

Stites appraised foreclosed properties for Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, and records show in six cases Stites had a role in the purchase of properties that he had appraised. Glanz fired Stites as an appraiser after the purchases were revealed.

A state audit found six cases in which Stites, his relatives or his company purchased property at sheriff's auctions that Stites had appraised. The audit concluded that state laws against conspiracy and obtaining property by false pretenses may have been violated.

The story goes on to say that HUD is hiring someone to oversee appraisals is the possibility of an unscrupulous appraiser abusing the system, and that one of Stites' companies was targeted for special scrutiny:

The contracts are not the first work Stites has done for HUD. Another company operated by Stites, Appraisers of Tulsa, appraised more than 3,200 properties for HUD between 1995 and 2000, ranking fourth nationally in the number of appraisals, according to a 2001 audit by the agency.

The audit by HUD warned that "the appraisal process is inherently vulnerable to abuse and should be closely monitored." It states that the agency's single-family appraisal process "had received virtually no HUD oversight."

The audit was prompted by problems with HUD properties in Philadelphia that had no connection to Stites' company but reviewed national data on appraisals of other HUD properties. It found "alarming trends" in the difference between the appraised value and the actual sales price of the property.

The audit highlighted Appraisers of Tulsa as one of the appraisal companies that should be monitored, given the difference between appraised value and purchase price, nearly 15 percent.

"Appraisal monitoring and quality assurance efforts might best be focused on these companies," the audit states.

Robert Pinney rightly refers to the situation as the fox guarding the henhouse, and points out that his complaint about Stites to the Real Estate Appraiser Board, filed 15 months ago, has yet to be acted upon. In response, Stites displays the "even-keel temperament" and sound judgment that prompted the Tulsa Whirled to endorse him in a special state house election in 2002:

Pinney filed his complaint more than 15 months ago alleging that Stites violated numerous ethics codes that appraisers are required to follow. He said he has received no explanation about why the board has not acted on the complaint.

"Their failure to address my complaint filed over 15 months ago certainly proves their value as a regulatory agency. They've failed their primary reason for existence, which is to qualify persons for federal contracts."

Stites described Pinney as "a sore loser."

"Robert Pinney probably needs to get a life."

And this is the person the Tulsa Whirled told us was best qualified to replace John Sullivan in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

On the ski trail

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I had a free day yesterday and decided to go cross-country skiing. I had enjoyed the sport a couple of times in college, but had never had the opportunity since. Western New York has several ski resorts that take advantage of the hilly terrain and lake-effect snows. I headed to the Holiday Valley resort near Ellicottsville, New York, about an hour and a half south of Buffalo. The drive took me through beautiful country and pretty villages -- places built when people took pride in what they built, places preserved by their successors who could appreciate the value of what they inherited.

The resort's parking lot was packed. It was evident that the resort, probably the largest in the area, was geared for downhill skiing and snowboarding, with cross-country accommodated but not emphasized. When I asked a staffer where I could ski, the staffer had to find someone else to answer the question. I could take a lift to the top of the mountain and ski along the ridge trail, then take a lift back down, or I could go down to the golf course, which serves as a cross-country course during the winter.

I opted to avoid the crowds waiting for the lift and headed to the golf course. I had the place to myself. It was wonderfully quiet, with a light snow falling. I spent about an hour and a half, a good workout, but not so much that I'd be racked with pain the next day.

Why not downhill? I tried it once, at Keystone, about 10 years ago. It took three days to get boots that didn't kill my feet. (I have a high tolerance for pain, so that's saying a lot). It was only on the third day that I finally got all the way through a lesson, and I decided to go ahead and go with my wife up the lift and down an easy slope. I still didn't have the hang of controlling my speed, got moving too fast, so I sat down. One ski didn't pop off and I wound up with a sprained MCL. It might have been better this time, but with only part of a day to spend, I thought I'd better do something with less of a learning curve and lower odds of injury.

The Tulsa Whirled editorial board has revealed their pick in next Tuesday's winner-take-all Republican primary to fill Hopper Smith's place in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for District 67 in south Tulsa. To no one's surprise, they passed over the best candidate, the candidate with the best working relationship with elected officials and grass roots Republicans -- about her, more later.

The Whirled editorial board, which consists of pro-abortion, pro-corporate-welfare liberals, made their endorsement. I don't know if their chosen candidate shares their views on contentious social and economic issues -- sometimes the Whirled endorses good people, like Steve Largent and John Sullivan, even if they seem to be biting their collective tongue as they do. (In my interview with the board, I was assured that they sometimes endorse "anti-choice" candidates.)

The Whirled editorial cites their candidate's ties to local minor league sports, public schools, and the Chamber of Commerce as the major selling points. It's interesting that he is not described as a conservative.

Should Republican voters trust the Whirled's endorsement?

Let's look at a very similar election nearly two years ago: The race to replace John Sullivan in House District 71. This race also featured a crowded Republican field in a strongly Republican district. Two of the candidates were party activists, well-known to the grassroots. The primary wasn't quite winner-take-all -- a Democrat filed -- but winning the primary in District 71 is tantamount to winning the election.

The Whirled endorsed Chad Stites in their March 8, 2002, edition. If you believe the Whirled carefully investigates the candidates before making an endorsement, read the second paragraph carefully:

Stites, 44, is a native Tulsan, graduated from Claremore High School and attended the University of Tulsa and Southern Nazarene University. He owns Appraisers of Tulsa, a statewide real estate appraisal service. He is a family man, active in church and community.

Like the other candidates in the race, Stites shares the solid conservative values that are so important to Republican voters. In addition, he has the even-keel temperament needed to work with legislators on both sides of the political spectrum.

I love the assurance that Stites is a solid conservative. Keep in mind that Janet Pearson frequently makes the following argument, frequently enough that I call it Pearson's Syllogism: Nixon favored X, Nixon was a conservative, therefore conservatives are inconsistent and hypocritical if they don't favor X, too.

Stites won a narrow victory, getting only 34% in the first-past-the-post primary. In all likelihood, the Whirled's editorial moved enough undecided votes to tip the election his way. A few weeks later, the Whirled went on to endorse Stites against Democrat Roy McClain (April 2, 2002):

Both Stites and McClain are attractive candidates -- bright, articulate and well-versed on issues of interest to voters. Stites' experience, which includes operating a small business and being actively involved in community and church, makes him the best choice. He has all the tools to be an effective legislator.

Not many months later we were treated to an audio clip of Stites' even-keel temperament on display in a career-ending phone call to a city employee. The Whirled was kind enough to post the clip on the free part of their website, although I don't believe they ever apologized for steering Republican voters wrong in the special election.

The Whirled editorial board seems to listen to a very select subset of Republicans, and the people they listen to -- people like former City Councilor John Benjamin -- aren't in touch with the grassroots any more, if they ever were. Despite this, the Whirled's endorsement still pulls weight with some voters -- people who aren't engaged in the political process, but they vote religiously, and when in doubt they will vote the way the Whirled tells them to vote. In a narrow race with many undecided until the last minute, their influence could tip the balance.

So, you conservative Republicans who live in House District 67, do you trust the Tulsa Whirled editorial board to tell you who can best represent you and your views in Oklahoma City?

UPDATE: Chad Stites is back in the news.

The headline is a bit misleading. The Chamber of Commerce function I attended was sponsored by the East Aurora, NY, Chamber of Commerce. Thursday night was President Millard Fillmore's 204th Birthday Party, held at the historic Roycroft Inn. I'm in the area on business, and I met up with a friend and joined the festivities.

The event was graced with the presence of the birthday boy himself (bearing a startling resemblance to the editor of the local newspaper), fresh from his resting place at Forest Lawn in Buffalo. The 13th President delivered some choice remarks on local and national politics. For example, he recently visited Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to see how he was settling in to his new job. The new governor reports that he has his hands full....

It was rather relaxing and amusing to hear about local political intrigue in which I have no involvement whatsoever. But local politics are the same everywhere -- developers and preservationists battle for control of the village council, governments face tough decisions on controlling spending, political rivalries mutate into personal vendettas.

So in this lovely hotel in this charming village east of Buffalo, we drank Teetotaler Cider, ate Know-Nothing Stew and Politically Correct Corn Bread ("nicely presented and easy to swallow," according to the menu), and sang the ballad of Millard Fillmore, by Carol Sturdevant, to the tune of "Davy Crockett":

Some folks wanted to invade Peru And make their forunes with rare bird doo. But they couldn't convince Millard Fillmore So he got credit for averting a war.

Millard, Millard Fillmore, least known prez of all!

Chairman Miller

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Congratulations to County Commissioner Randi Miller, who was unanimously elected on Monday as Chairman for 2004, the first person ever to have served as chairman of the Tulsa City Council and the Tulsa County Commission, holding both posts within a 12-month interval. There was some speculation on my part that she might be passed over, given that the other Commissioners seemed to be quite happy to make decisions without her input. But convention was upheld -- it was District 2's turn -- and Miller got the nod.

The question now is whether she will be able to make effective use of this position to work for reform. The dynamics of a three-member commission are much different than those of a nine-member council. It's hard to build alliances and support for new initiatives when you can't legally discuss county business with even one other commissioner outside of announced meetings.

One of the chief powers of the Chairman is to make appointments to county boards and commissions, and it will be interesting to see what Miller does with this power. She will have her first opportunity this month, when Wesley Harmon's term on the TMAPC expires. Miller could appoint a replacement who will represent the concerns of homeowners. There are any number of zoning savvy neighborhood leaders in her district who would do a great job on the Commission. A few that come to mind -- not an exhaustive list: Pam Deatherage of Brookside, Jim Graham of Riverwood, Fran Pace of Renaissance (a former planning commissioner), Maria Barnes of Kendall-Whittier, and this writer. All these people would be fair to developers and homeowners, but would work to address the problems that frustrate everyone involved in the process.

The easy, but wrong, choice would be to appoint yet another member with connections to the development industry. It would be a tempting choice for Miller, who is up for election to a full term this year and will have to raise a pile of money to handle a primary challenge as well as a general election.

Miller should also have opportunity to replace a member of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority. Besides the three commissioners, there are two other members, Bob Parmele and Jim Orbison, both deeply entrenched in the county crony network. Whoever is up to be replaced should be, preferably with someone who lives within 1/2 mile of Expo Square and will ensure that the pursuit of profit is balanced against the concerns of nearby property owners. In the Bell's roller coaster dispute, neighbors proposed a number of creative alternatives that would have allowed the coaster to be built with less impact on the surrounding neighborhoods, and I'm sure they'd apply the same creativity and fairness to other Expo Square issues. There are dozens of people I know who would do a fine job -- for example, my neighbor and Midtown Coalition treasurer Margaret Perrault, who is an attorney. (And yes, I live within 1/2 mile of Expo Square, too, and would be honored to serve on the board.)

Miller ran for office as a reformer, and her position as Chairman gives her some opportunities, through appointments, to carry out those promises. She could still be overridden by Dick and Collins, but even so, making the effort is crucial. It would not only be the right thing to do, but would encourage her constituents that someone at the County Courthouse is on their side.

Among the achievements praised by County Commissioner Wilbert Collins in his "State of the County Address":

The Election Board has added enhancements to its Web page that allow voters to determine their polling places.

The enhancement: The county election board website has a PDF file that shows the name and address of the polling place for each precinct. There is no map of the precincts, however, so if you don't remember your number, you're out of luck. Better than nothing, but only slightly. Wilbert Collins has probably not looked at the website to see this "enhancement" for himself -- I suspect he is like the vast number of elected officials who are still barely tech savvy enough to send and receive e-mail.

There is a lot of data that could easily be put on the web. If the information were available on the Internet it would save government workers a lot of time answering questions from the public. The election board could put detailed precinct maps and maps that show which precincts are in which districts (legislative, city council, school board, judicial, etc.). INCOG could put current copies of the zoning map and the Comprehensive Plan (along with all the subsidiary area plans) online. (In her recent defense of Tulsa's zoning regime, Whirled editorialist Janet Pearson incorrectly stated that this information was already available online.) Most of these things already exist in electronic format. While a lot of money could be spent creating sophisticated interfaces to the information, simply creating and posting PDF files would be an inexpensive way to serve the public.

The county assessor's office has put some very useful maps on the web, including maps of city and school district boundaries, and a map for each township section in the county, showing subdivisions, lots, and block numbers. Each map is a large PDF file. I believe this was initiated under former Assessor Jack Gordon. In any case, the maps have a lot of useful information. It would be great to click on a lot and get the current valuation, the current zoning, history of zoning cases relating to the property, maybe a title history. Someday, but for today this is a great start.

Commissioners pat selves on back

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The Whirled had coverage of outgoing County Commission Chairman Wilbert Collins "State of the County" address on Monday. Collins praised himself and fellow commissioners for "stepping up to the podium" with Vision 2025.

He went on to present some evidence that the County has too much money to play with:

The county's contribution to employee retirement was increased to 10 percent from 8.5 percent, and employees still are required to contribute only $1 a year.

"That's not bad. Very good, very good (benefit) if you ask me," Collins said.

I'm happy for the County's hard working employees, but it seems inappropriate when so many private sector employees in our county are losing jobs and pensions, and when other government entities are cutting back to match declining revenues.

And should the County be in the printing business?

He also noted that Tulsa County is the only county in the state that has an Administrative Services Division authorized to print voting ballots. Many counties look to the private sector for printing services.

This year, the county's print shop earned about $2,500 assisting a Sapulpa company in the bindery work for 190,000 ballots used by the state of California in the most recent gubernatorial race.

Looks like an opportunity for privatization to me.

More about the County Commission meeting in subsequent entries.

County boards back in action

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Please forgive my absence from these pages for the past week. It's been unusually busy for a quiet vacation period, a time to catch up on a lot of things around the house. Expect to hear from me more often as the City of Tulsa's campaign season heats up.

Today the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners has their first meeting of the year, as does the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (aka the Fair Board, which includes the three commissioners). I'd like to tell you what's on the agenda, but the County's website doesn't allow access to the agendas or meeting schedules. I suspect there's some reorganization of the site going on at the moment, and they haven't got all the links working again.

After a bit of poking around, I was able to find my way to the agenda. The meeting is in the usual place, room 119 of the County Administration Building at 500 S. Denver, at the usual time, 9:30 am. Current chairman Wilbert Collins will give a "State of the County" address, and the commissioners will elect a chairman and a chairman pro-tem for 2004. No indication of who will get the nod, but it should be Randi Miller's turn in the normal rotation.

The Fair Board will meet at 2 today in room 119 to consider the Drillers' request for fireworks displays this season. There's also this very vague item:

9. Consider and vote on ratification of Facilities Lease Agreements as listed on attached forms

Of course, the attached forms aren't available on the County's website, so we don't know whether or not they have a lease agreement pending with an air horn tradeshow and convention or plan to host a concert by some band with a name like "Bleeding Ears". The Fair Board has a history of sneaking these things through.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2003 is the previous archive.

February 2004 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

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