Mayor Bill LaFortune afoul of ethics rules

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Last Tuesday, December 27, Councilor Jim Mautino notified City Clerk Mike Kier that Mayor Bill LaFortune appears to be in violation of the city's ethics ordinance, because he is a member of the board of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, which is a contractor to the City of Tulsa. While a member of the Chamber board, LaFortune has approved and signed contracts on behalf of the City with the Chamber.

Two days after Mautino's letter, City Auditor Phil Wood sought City Attorney Alan Jackere whether a violation of the Ethics Code has occurred. Wood points out that LaFortune, as a board member of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, "appears to have an Organizational interest," which is defined by section 601 of the ethics ordinance as existing when "a City official is a director or member of a board which establishes policy and/or budgetary decisions for the entity." Wood goes on to cite section 603, which states that "no City official shall participate in any City business in which they have an organizational interest." Wood then cites an contract renewal between the City and the Chamber, worth $1,901,000, which the Mayor approved on August 29, 2005, saying, "This appears to be City business in which he has an organizational interest." (The City Auditor is designated by the ordinance to handle ethics complaints regarding the Mayor.)

The following day, December 30, the Mayor's Office issued a press release requesting a "clarification" of the ethics ordinance. In the release, the Mayor's membership on the board of the Tulsa Metro Chamber is compared to his membership on the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, the Tulsa Airport Authority, and the Indian Nations Council of Governments. The difference is that the Chamber is a private organization with its own interests, while the two authorities are public trusts established to own property and enter into multi-year contracts for the benefit of the City of Tulsa. By law, the Mayor is an ex officio member of the two authorities and appoints the other members, subject to Council approval. INCOG is a "voluntary association of local governments," established by agreement of the governments involved. The City of Tulsa is a member of INCOG.

The Tulsa Metro Chamber and its defenders seem to think of the Chamber as an official branch of City Government, but it is a private organization, established to serve the interests of its members, which sometimes may coincide with the best interests of Tulsa's city government, but sometimes may not. That's why it's a conflict of interest for an official approving City contracts for the Chamber to also sit on the Chamber's board. It's revealing that this press release issued on LaFortune's behalf doesn't distinguish between governmental agencies and the Chamber.

Below are links to PDF files of the relevant documents, each about 30 KB in size:

Councilor Mautino asked the City Clerk's office for a copy of Bill LaFortune's ethics disclosure statement, which is required by the ordinance. Mautino was told that LaFortune had not filed such a statement. Mautino has asked for a letter from the City Clerk confirming that fact, and he was told it would be forthcoming.

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David S. Author Profile Page said:

Although a loophole will surely be found, it did bring a short smile.

The mayor's press release sounds a bit like the excuses of a small child.

“No fair this rule is new...I didn't know, besides city council approved the contract too. I’m not sure I broke this rule…I want a do over.”

Joseph Wallis said:

Well, the City Attorney is in the mayor's back pocket, so the auditor asking the CA for a clarified opinion is an oxymoron. The CA already helped the mayor out of the BOK debacle....I don't see the status quo changing.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Have you forgotten the good Mayor's profession. a press release with so many defenses would have cost a client of his $300-600 bucks.

If he has formally resigned, this is a dead issue, politically. For how ever it looked, he has the ultimate "legitimate" excuse: he resigned as soon as he was advised there may have been an issue. Out of an abundance of caution, of course. The Lorton Daily, can (will) make him a hero for it.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

p.s. You might look to the Tulsans for Badder Governments' website to see the short list of Board candidates to replace Mr. LaFortune.

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