Whirled uses ex-councilors to spin Great Plains

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It's cute in a pathetic sort of way that on a day with major world news like the ongoing election crisis in Ukraine, the Tulsa Whirled would use its Sunday edition front page lead story to spin the Great Plains Airlines mess to make the Whirled look less evil.

The message of the Sunday lead story (jump page here) is this: The Whirled wants you to believe that no one (especially not the Whirled, which owned a majority of the preferred stock at the time, but failed to disclose this fact for another two and a half years) deceived the City Council in November 2000 into approving the complex deal to finance Great Plains with city property as collateral. As evidence, they feature the two councilors out of nine who voted against the scheme. Clay Bird, now on Mayor Bill LaFortune's staff, and Randi Miller, now a Tulsa County Commissioner, are quoted as saying, in essence, that because they appreciated the risks involved and voted accordingly, that the councilors who voted for the transaction have no right to claim that information was withheld or distorted.

Remember that in November 2000, Tulsans defeated "It's Tulsa's Time," the second attempt to fund a new downtown sports arena with a city sales tax increase. One of the chairmen of that "vote no" effort was former City Streets Commissioner Jim Hewgley. When the Great Plains proposal was under discussion, Hewgley, who was dismissed as a naysayer by the Whirled, KRMG, Mayor Savage and her machine, and the big shots at the Tulsa Metro Chamber, tried to talk to several of the councilors to explain the flaws and risks in the plan. Bird and Miller heeded the advice of Hewgley and voted against the Great Plains scheme.

The Whirled story says that then-Council Attorney Bob Garner "provide[d] information about the risks of startup airlines." I have a lot of respect for Mr. Garner, and I'm not surprised he thought the deal was a bad idea and told the councilors so.

So why did the other seven councilors ignore the advice of sensible men like Bob Garner and Jim Hewgley? This is the part of the story the Whirled doesn't want to and won't bother to tell.

The voices of the skeptics were drowned out by a powerful chorus consisting of Mayor Savage, the Tulsa Whirled, the Tulsa Metro Chamber bureaucrats, and a gaggle of PR professionals, all singing the praises of this tremendous opportunity to invest in Tulsa's future, an opportunity that we dare not pass by. You will look in vain through the Whirled's archives for any hint of skepticism or dissent about the plan prior to the Council's vote. Whatever warnings were given by Bob Garner went unreported. The financial information and the investor lists, if indeed they were given to the Council, went unreported. Instead, you'll find items like the Whirled's November 28, 2000, editorial, urging the Council to approve the Great Plains scheme:

Expecting to Fly

You don't have to be a frequent flyer to know firsthand what the rise of major airlines' hub systems of operation means in terms of inconvenience and frustration to residents of a non-hub city like Tulsa.

The short hop to Dallas, St. Louis or Denver -- oftentimes the opposite direction to which you're headed -- to fly to somewhere like New York, Los Angeles or even Little Rock makes such trips longer and less comfortable and increases the chances for flight delays, connections cancellations and baggage-handling snafus.

Lack of direct flight service to major cities is more than an inconvenience for local residents, it is a roadblock to economic development. If you're annoyed by flights to or from Tulsa that take seven hours when they ought to take three, think how someone contemplating starting or moving a business here might react.

Now, at long last, a new regional carrier, Great Plains Airlines, promises to offer direct, nonstop flights to the coasts and ultimately to more than 20 non-hub cities in the United States and Mexico.

The Tulsa City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on final approval of a financing package that contains, in addition to private investments and a $30 million loan from the Bank of Oklahoma, economic- development incentives previously approved by the Council and the Oklahoma Legislature.

The vote is the final crucial action required before Great Plains can begin the certification process and acquisition of its stable of new 50-passenger jet aircraft.

Great Plains plans to begin offering multiple daily flights connecting Tulsa and Oklahoma City with New York City and Washington, D.C., by May.

In addition to the obvious benefits, Great Plains Airlines will, over the next decade, create 2,000 new jobs and generate $23 million in revenue to the Tulsa Airport Authority. It represents a tremendous private-public partnership to solve a problem, offer a needed service and boost economic development opportunities.

The City Council already has demonstrated its support for the new airline. Its favorable vote Tuesday will help greatly improve air travel into and out of Tulsa.

The rosy picture was painted on the news pages, too, like this excerpt from a March 4, 2000, article in the business section:

Jack Knight, co-founder and senior vice president of Great Plains, which hopes to begin jet service between Tulsa and New York and Los Angeles in the second quarter, said the state of Oklahoma and the city of Tulsa have been "enormously supportive" of the venture. "The state has extended $18 million in tax credits and training programs through Tulsa Technology Center and the vocational education system, and the city has provided vacant office and hangar space," Knight said. "Thevalue of aid packages provided by the state and local governments is between $45 million and $50 million.

"But it's the private sector that we have to energize -- and we are not asking for charitable donations. I think they will make enormous amounts of money from this investment. It's a tremendous opportunity."

Research by SH&E Associates, an air service consulting firm in Washington, D.C., supports Knight's contention that there is a sizable untapped market in Tulsa for direct jet service. The airline also would operate from Oklahoma City.

I'm sorry that the other seven councilors didn't have the strength of character to say no to the Tulsa Whirled, KRMG, Schnake Turnbo, and the Tulsa Metro Chamber bureaucracy, but that doesn't absolve the Tulsa Whirled from pushing this plan at a time when they owned a majority of the preferred stock without disclosing that fact publicly.

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Once again, the Tulsa World used its front page for self-serving statements on its culpability in the Great Plains Airline scandal. As is usual with the World's articles, one rarely gets a glimpse of the facts through the haze of... Read More

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 29, 2004 12:18 AM.

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