Notes from the candidate forum


I was one of about 30 people that assembled Monday night at Fellowship Congregational Church to hear 10 of the 12 candidates at a League of Women Voters forum. If you had been there, you would have gained some insights into the candidates, and it grieved me to think that for most voters, their only knowledge of this event would be mediated by the Tulsa Whirled. Tami Marler of KOTV News was the moderator, so I'm surprised that no TV cameras were there. I wonder if the League attempted to get one of the talk radio stations to broadcast this.

I missed the first half of the program, but several people told me I didn't miss a thing -- about as substantive as the Q&A at a beauty pageant. The second half of the program featured questions and answers from the audience -- one set of questions about public safety, another group about zoning and land use. The zoning questions -- about the council's power to confirm planning commission appointments, about campaign contributions from planning commissioners, about strip clubs, and about the protest process -- were very revealing.

Whirled reporter P. J. Lassek probably owes me lunch, because a question I submitted gave her a lead for her story in Tuesday's paper. She did a nice job of selecting verbs and modifiers to make Chris Medlock's mild, careful comments look radical and contentious, which I believe is required by the Whirled's stylebook.

I asked the candidates a two-part question: Of the current members of the TMAPC, whose reappointment would you support and whose would you oppose? And have you received any financial contributions from members of the TMAPC?

Arch-bureaucrat Tom Baker, incumbent in District 4, was the first to get the question and he dodged it completely. He said he would consider whatever appointments were presented to the Council by the Mayor. And he said that his contributions were a matter of public record, and you could get the information from the City Clerk's office. So he avoided telling the crowd that he had received $500 from TMAPC chairman and developer Joe Westervelt.

Chris Medlock said he would not vote to reappoint Westervelt, citing Westervelt's verbal attacks in a recent TMAPC work session and Westervelt's rude treatment of citizens who who came to speak to the commission about the zoning protest process last Wednesday. Medlock said he has not received and would not accept any money from TMAPC members. The Whirled characterized this as an "attack":

Medlock, who represents District 2, criticized Westervelt's treatment of him and concerned residents at a recent commission meeting when an item about zoning protest petitions was removed from the agenda.

Medlock's attack came in response to a question to the candidates about whom they would reappoint to the Planning Commission and whether they received campaign money from a planning commissioner.

Note that the Whirled characterizes a direct answer to the question as an attack, and makes Medlock's concern for the residents who were turned away at the TMAPC meeting sound self-centered, by inserting the words "of him".

Sam Roop pointed out that he was the lone vote against Westervelt's reappointment to the TMAPC in 2002. (Medlock was not on the Council at the time.) Roop said he would vote against Westervelt again. And he mentioned that he proposed a charter amendment to give the Council some power to directly appoint members of the TMAPC, City of Tulsa Board of Adjustment, and Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (which handles city water and sewer). He seeks balance on these boards. He has not and would not accept contributions from TMAPC members.

Art Justis said he will support anyone the Mayor sends to the Council, unless it's a child molester or someone who would be antagonistic. (I think he said antagonistic -- he stumbled over the word.) That juxtaposition suggests that Justis believes that anyone who asks tough questions, has strong convictions, and argues for those beliefs is a disqualification on the level of extreme moral turpitude. He admitted to having received quite a bit of money from several members on the board, but scoffed at the idea that his vote could be bought. He said that his price was $5,000,000.

The point is not whether a councilor's vote is for sale to the highest bidder. It says something that the most vehemently anti-homeowner member of the planning commission thinks highly enough of a Councilor to give him $500. Said Councilor is likely to remember this kindness when the planning commissioner is next up for reappointment in 2005. And a campaign contribution is likely to curb any enthusiasm the Councilor might have for exercising oversight over the commissioner's comportment.

Susan Neal was offended by the question. She mentioned that several commissioners live in her district, and she wouldn't be ashamed to take money from TMAPC members, and that she has "as much respect for their service as [she does] for [her] constituents." (Neal was well-funded in the 2002 election by developers and people connected with F&M Bank; she raised over $40,000.)

Mautino also said he wouldn't take money from TMAPC or Board of Adjustment members. He wants to see balance on these boards, and he would oppose the appointment of members who have business before their own boards, which is often the case.

Darla Hall gave an interesting non-answer: She said that campaign contributions would not buy any votes. I inferred that she had received controversial contributions. (Indeed, on KFAQ Wednesday morning, she acknowledged receiving $1,000 from people connected with F&M Bank.) And instead of saying who she'd keep or fire on the TMAPC, she told a story about when she suggested a golfer ought to be on the park board, instead of the person Mayor Susan Savage had appointed.

In response to an earlier question, about strip club zoning and whether strip clubs were a problem, Susan Neal said "It would depend on who you ask, I guess."

Baker said that the City has done all it can do about strip clubs, that it should have been done sooner and it wasn't for various reasons. (The "various reasons" are that Baker, chairman of the Urban and Economic Development subcommittee, let it fall through the cracks when the TMAPC proposed an ordinance change in November 2002.) Baker went on to dismiss concerns about the clubs, by saying, "If they didn't have customers, they wouldn't be in business." The same could be said for whorehouses and meth labs; I hope Baker doesn't apply the same logic in those cases.

Medlock said the City Council does have more to do on this issue. There needs to be pressure on TMAPC to place strip clubs in a "use unit" that requires a getting a special exception from the Board of Adjustment (that involves a public hearing). Medlock is also pushing for the City to review the issue every four years, mapping where sexually-oriented businesses are permitted by law, and amending the law as needed to handle changing circumstances and unintended consequences that might allow a new SOB to crop up in an unexpected location.

The final question was about the zoning protest process, and restoring civility and justice to land use planning. Medlock stressed the importance of having well-defined rules ahead of time, rules that the City Attorney's office can't change in the middle of the process. Roop and Eric Gomez echoed these thoughts, with Roop calling the situation with 71st & Harvard a "grave injustice as relates to process". Roop also said that the City Attorney's office reversed itself on some key questions in that case.

Andrew Phillips, Roop's opponent said the city can't ignore the concerns of citizens and neighborhoods, and that the zoning process is not addressing the needs of the community.

Tom Baker, who voted to prevent the neighboring homeowners from making the case to the Council about the injustices they endured, said that in some people's mind there needs to be a restoration of integrity, and that the Council has a process to review the entire development process and any change regarding protest petitions should be in that context. His answer demonstrated how deeply ingrained the bureaucratic mindset can be. He used a "Clinton clause" to avoid telling us whether he thinks there needs to be a restoration of integrity to the process, and he avoided offering a concrete solution to the problems with the zoning protest process, by saying that the question would be addressed by another process.

Art Justis gave a mind-boggling answer: He said that the 71st & Harvard neighbors should have taken the protest issue to court before the issue reached the Council.

Talk about passing the buck. The neighbors believed that if they were treated fairly, they wouldn't have to bear the expense of taking this to court, and the neighbors felt sure that the Council would see that the rezoning was inappropriate. They hoped that the Council would protect their property values by denying the rezoning, and they gathered names on a protest petition to force a supermajority for approval. They had the necessary three "no" votes to block the supermajority. A court would have told them that they didn't have a cause of action until the rezoning was approved.

Susan Neal said she doesn't see our entire system as totally broken. She called the 71st & Harvard situation unique to that corner.

Neal went on to say that she proceeds on the assumption that everyone is operating in good faith. Naive or disingenuous? You make the call.

Neal came over to talk to me after the meeting, but I'll save the details for my endorsement entry for that race, which should be up tomorrow noonish.

That's all for now.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 4, 2004 12:33 AM.

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