SMART goals for the Chamber bureaucracy


The Reform Alliance majority on the Tulsa City Council is pressing ahead with efforts to reassert the City of Tulsa's oversight of the millions of hotel/motel sales tax dollars that the City gives to the Tulsa Metro Chamber bureaucracy every year. The money is to pay the Chamber bureaucracy to promote economic development, conventions, and tourism.

Please note the phrase "Chamber bureaucracy". I don't have a quarrel with the hundreds of local businesses that join the Chamber in hopes of supporting local business or networking with other businesses. What's controversial is the Chamber's bureaucracy -- the full-time staff who spend the money that comes from chamber dues and government contracts, like the economic development contract with the city.

As happens with many organizations over time, particularly organizations with paid staff, the Chamber bureaucracy has lost sight of its purpose and seems more concerned with preservation of its perks and power than with providing the services it ostensibly exists to perform.

Mayor LaFortune in his "State of the City" attack address last week did his best to blur the distinction between the businesses that pay dues to the Chamber and the Chamber bureaucracy, trying to characterize the desire of the Council's reform majority to oversee the Chamber bureaucracy as an attack on the integrity of the Chamber's membership. He knows better, and he has whispered plenty of comments, directly and through surrogates, to make reform-minded Tulsans think that he didn't trust Chamber bureaucracy and planned to reform its relationship with City government. But now it appears to serve LaFortune's purposes to make the City's business community think that the Reform Alliance is hostile to their interests. (LaFortune is currently in Germany on a Chamber-paid junket.)

The Chamber's economic development bureaucracy is led by Chamber Senior VP Mickey "No Idea" Thompson, who said last fall that he had "no idea" how to attract the kinds of information technology jobs that we lost in the thousands at WorldCom and Williams.

For over 20 years the Chamber bureaucracy has served as a vendor to the City of Tulsa, providing economic development services, at a cost to taxpayers of over $70 million dollars. During that period Tulsa has suffered two major economic downturns -- the oil bust in the mid-'80s and the tech wreck and aerospace downturn of the last three years. During that period, most of the corporate headquarters we once hosted have slowly drifted away. Some have suggested that it's time we fired this economic development vendor and hired someone who can do the job.

It's funny too that city tax money is paying for a regional economic development effort, which may or may not benefit the City of Tulsa's growth and the growth of its sales tax base. It is interesting that the CEO of the Chamber, Jay Clemens doesn't even live in the City of Tulsa -- he lives in Broken Arrow.

While it may be able to handle the nuts and bolts of wooing businesses, the Chamber bureaucracy has demonstrated an inability to think and act strategically. That's why the Council wants to put the Economic Development Commission, a board appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council, in charge of developing an economic development strategy and coordinating and overseeing the various city-funded economic development efforts.

To the Mayor's credit, he did reactivate the EDC, as required by city ordinance. The Council majority wants to make sure it will have the authority to do what needs doing. Too much money has been spent, to too little effect. The Mayor has seemed strangely reluctant to support the Council's efforts, and in his speech he denounced any reappraisal of the City's relationship with the Chamber bureaucracy, as noted above.

There's a concept called SMART goals -- the acronym stands for Sustainable, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Tangible. It's an approach to goal-setting that focuses on concrete results, not pie in the sky. The Chamber bureaucracy seems to have focused on inputs -- what it has attempted, as opposed to what it has achieved in the realm of economic development. (The lack of achievement, we are expected to believe, is entirely due to circumstances beyond its control.) The EDC should set SMART goals for what the Chamber bureaucracy will accomplish with the taxpayer money it receives. If it can't measure up, time to look for someone else to do the job.

One more thing: The City Council should require a full annual audit of all the Chamber's finances. I have worked for companies that are Federal contractors, and the Federal government has the right to look at balance sheets, hourly rates, and timesheets to ensure that the government isn't paying for work the contractor is doing for other customers. Because money is fungible, and there is the potential for redirecting government funds from the intended government project to something else, the government must be able to look at records for the contractor's entire business. The City should apply the same standard to major City vendors like the Chamber bureaucracy.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 20, 2004 1:38 AM.

Brad Carson is a liberal was the previous entry in this blog.

Carson up by 1%, Bilyeu drops to 2% is the next entry in this blog.

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



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]