"Grilled" Schuller?


UPDATE 8/9/2004: After viewing the complete segment of the hearing on TGOV 24, I've added some detail and reorganized this entry somewhat. The conversation between the Council committee and Stephen Schuller was so bland, so calm, and so brief that it makes the Whirled's hysterical editorial look even more ridiculous. Just as C-SPAN began to destroy the mainstream media's monopoly on coverage of Congress, TGOV (channel 24 on Cox Cable) gives Tulsa citizens the chance to see for themselves how the Council is conducting itself and to compare reality to the Whirled's spin and bias.

UPDATE 8/16/2004: Received an e-mail from J. Scott Dickman, who is mentioned below, with a correction about his employment.

Your comments dated August 9, 2004 stated that I am the Chief Financial Officer of Avalon Oil plc ("Avalon Oil"). Please be advised that I resigned as an officer and member of the board of directors of Avalon Oil effective June 30, 2001. I remain Of Counsel with the firm of Titus, Hillis & Reynolds as well as Chairman and C.E.O. of Pinnacle Packaging Company, Inc. here in Oklahoma and Oracle Packaging Company in North Carolina, Georgia, Illinois & Ohio.

I have made appropriate changes below.

"Appointee grilled by city councilors" was the headline over the Whirled's Wednesday story about Tuesday's Council Committee meeting, in which attorney Stephen A. Schuller was presented to the Council for reappointment to the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy, which handles trash collection in the northwestern part of the City and oversees operation of the controversial trash-to-energy incinerator on West 21St Street. He was first appointed in November 2002 by Mayor LaFortune. Schuller is a zoning and real estate attorney who appears regularly before city boards representing clients seeking zoning relief or amendment.

From what I saw of the committee meeting, the Councilors asked a few questions about Schuller's background. Here's the way it was recorded in the meeting notes on the Council's website. (No way to link directly, but search agendas for "Schuller" and you'll find it.)

CM [Chris Medlock] asked about Schuller's specilization as an attorney. Real estate and international law was the answer. He was also asked about the scope of the TARE. Supervises in the trash collection of the NW quadrant of the City. Contract for renewal for energy expires soon. He gave a brief operational history. Positive comments were made as well as a remark on his attendance. Bankruptcy issue in the past has been resolved.

The positive comments came from Councilor Randy Sullivan, who spoke of his personal knowledge of Schuller. Christiansen made the comment about his attendance record, missing only one meeting since his appointment. "Bankruptcy issue" refers to the bankruptcy of the company operating the trash-to-energy plant.

The Whirled's story adds that Schuller was asked about "a specific client of the law firm for which he works." I'm not sure why the Whirled story omitted this detail, but the question was from Councilor Roscoe Turner, and it was whether Schuller's law firm still represented the Tulsa Whirled. (See below.) Schuller replied that the attorney who represented the Whirled left the firm about the time Schuller joined the firm in 1998.

The Council didn't reject Stephen Schuller's reappointment, the first presented to the Council under their new rule for appointments. They've just asked some questions. No one's voice was raised. No accusations were made. Medlock said that the Council may want to have Schuller reply to written questions, in accord with the Council's new approach to vetting appointments to and authorities. Schuller replied that that he'd be happy to answer further questions. The agenda item was complete in about 10 minutes. No one was upset or distressed.

The facts don't provide any justification for the use of the word "grilled" in the headline, nor does the text of the Whirled's own story, but that doesn't stop the editorial board from fulminating about a "witch hunt" in the following day's lead editorial:

The latest outrage was on Tuesday, when two members of the Gang of Five needlessly and shamelessly grilled an authority member about his work and background for no good reason. The latest witch hunt comes on the heels of the councilís 5-4 rejection of two long-time authority members who were treated in a similarly contemptible fashion....

If there were some reason to suspect Schuller is unfit to serve on the TARE board, that would be one thing. But there is not. In fact he, like the two others receiving shabby treatment in recent days, has served respectably and honorably.

So from the Whirled's perspective, asking polite questions about an appointee to a board -- an important city board which regulates trash rates and will soon be deciding whether to renew a contract with the operator of the trash-to-energy incinerator -- is needless, shameless, and contemptible. As we know, the Whirled's standard for the ideal city councilor is a lobotomized monkey, wired up to be controlled from the Whirled's offices.

The Whirled also treats an appointment to a board as a right -- from their perspective, the burden of proof should be on those who wish to take it away. Instead, the burden of proof ought to be on the Mayor to make the case for any appointment he presents to the Council. The Council should diligently inquire about a nominee's business interests and look for any potential conflict of interest regarding the nominee's interests or those of his partners and associates. In fact, the Council, on July 29th, amended their rules to lengthen the time between when the Mayor presents a nominee and when the nominee may be considered by the full Council, so that there is time to vet a nominee properly.

The Whirled maintains that Schuller, Reynolds, and Coleman have served respectably and honorably. Perhaps they have, but do they expect the City Council and the people of Tulsa whom they represent to accept that assertion as fact?

The Whirled's hissy fit about this is suspicious. At the very least, this is part of a campaign to discredit and defeat the members of the Council's working majority in 2006, and also to discredit any results from the Council's investigation of the Tulsa Airport Authority.

SO who is Stephen Schuller?

Mr. Schuller has some interesting connections: Mr. Schuller is with the law firm of Boone, Smith, Davis, Hurst & Dickman. The late Byron V. Boone, whose father founded the firm, was a partner in the firm and was also for 30 years the publisher of the Tulsa Whirled. The "Dickman" in the firm name is J. Jerry Dickman, who is the father of J. Scott Dickman, who is of counsel with Barkley Titus Hillis and Reynolds, the current law firm which represents the Tulsa Whirled. J. Scott Dickman was (prior to June 30, 2001) also Chief Financial Officer of Avalon Oil Plc, of which Council Chairman Randy Sullivan is CEO. It's a small world.

Schuller is a former law partner of Brent Mills and together they incorporated Spartan Aviation Industries, which now owns Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology (formerly Spartan School of Aeronautics). Mills is Spartan's chief operating officer, is registered agent for Spartan Housing Industries, LLC, and was a classmate of Councilor Susan Neal in Leadership Oklahoma Class XV.

Schuller represented the Guier Woods neighborhood in F&M's 2001 attempt to get zoning approval for a branch at 71st & Harvard. He was a planning district co-chairman back in the early '90s and represented some of his own neighbors to stop Southwestern Bell from installing a cell tower in the bell tower of Southside Christian Church.

The TARE board is very important. Decisions by previous boards have resulted in big trash rate increases in recent years, and the upcoming decisions on the trash-to-energy plant will have an impact on Tulsa's fiscal health and environmental quality for decades to come. The Council should continue to do what we elected them to do back in March -- ensure that the people running our city agencies are doing so with the best interests of the citizens at heart. There's no harm in asking and answering some polite questions.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 9, 2004 12:14 AM.

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