April 2006 Archives

Tulsa homeowners need to stick together. We've been getting better and better at it, but the easy progress of HB 2559 and SB 1324 through the Oklahoma Legislature proves we've got a long way to go. And just because we've elected a neighborhood-friendly City Council doesn't mean when can let our guard down. We need to be ready to support our elected officials when they do the right thing and ready to nudge them back on track when necessary.

There's one citywide organization devoted to keeping a watch on zoning and planning issues, and it needs your support and participation. Homeowners for Fair Zoning (HFFZ) is holding its annual meeting this Tuesday night at 7 p.m., at the Brookside Library on 45th Place just west of Peoria. The agenda includes an update on the two aforementioned legislative bills and the status of the Citizens' Commission on City Government, which is looking at changes like at-large councilors and non-partisan elections.

Membership in HFFZ is open to Tulsans who share the organization's aims: "Homeowners for Fair Zoning advocates legislation and support for public officials and political candidates who demonstrate a balanced concern for neighborhood residents and fair government."

If you share those goals, I encourage you to attend and to join HFFZ this Tuesday night.

A recent photo of me with Congressman John Sullivan, taken when he spoke at the Kiwanis Club luncheon on April 17:


The photo was taken by Sullivan's communications director, John Tidwell, who is an excellent amateur photographer. From this photo and some of his other work that I've seen, it's apparent he has a knack for catching people and places at just the right moment in just the right light.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about HB 2559, a bill in the Oklahoma legislature which represents an unwarranted state intrusion on local government control over zoning and land use regulation. (The column also covers the latest BOk Center bids, which put the arena at least $30 million over budget.)

HB 2559 would limit a city's options for handling appeals of decisions made by the city's Board of Adjustment (BoA), which considers variances and special exceptions to zoning requirements. The bill was amended in the State Senate to make it easier to remove historic preservation (HP) zoning from a parcel of land.

Since filing the story, I've learned about a parallel bill which originated in the State Senate called SB 1324. Like HB 2559, SB 1324 is sponsored by Sen. Brian Crain and Rep. Ron Peters. Like HB 2559, it would restrict a city's options for handling BoA appeals. Unlike HB 2558, SB 1324 also grants new powers to a Board of Adjustment:

[The board of adjustment shall have the power to] Hear and decide proposals for accessory elements associated with an allowed building use, where appropriate general performance and design standards have been established which promote greater economic value and provide a harmonious relationship with adjoining land uses by ordinance or by administrative rule or regulation. Such proposals and performance or design standards may include, but are not limited to, such accessory elements as sound, building material, runoff, lighting, visual screening, landscaping and vehicular considerations....

Earlier today I spoke to someone in the Clerk's office of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. My understanding is that HB 2559 is headed for a conference committee, but the conferees have yet to be named. SB 1324, on the other hand, was passed unanimously by the State Senate on March 9 (44-0), and passed unanimously on April 17 by the State House (98-0), but with a very small amendment. If the Senate votes to accept the House amendment, SB 1324 goes to the Governor for his signature. (The House amendment adds the phrase "and subsequent appellate courts" to the section forcing BoA appeals to District Court.) The final vote on SB 1324 is likely to happen this week.

Whatever the merits of BoA appeals and HP regulations, these matters should be handled locally, not dictated from Oklahoma City. Both of these bills should be scrapped.

If you want to make a difference on this bill, you need to contact your State Senator as soon as possible. To find out who represents you in Oklahoma City and how to contact them, click here, input your address, and click "Submit." The result will show you who your representatives are, their district office phone number, and their Capitol office phone number, and e-mail address.

It is amazing that these bills would pass without much opposition. I have to assume that legislators voted for it because they weren't aware of anyone who was against it, not because they had actually studied the measure. The supporters of the bill did a fine job of keeping it quiet so that potential opponents wouldn't be alerted.

It didn't happen this time, but I would hope that in the future, seeing Title 11 (Cities and Towns) on a bill would move legislators to consult with municipal officials in their districts. I would also hope that the City Council would assign a staffer to keep an eye on legislation affecting Title 11. Bills affecting Title 26 (Elections) and Title 60 (Trusts) might also have an impact on City Hall.

With these bills, the Tulsa development lobby seems to have exported our local debate over land use policy to the State Capitol. Until now, Republicans who disagree on local issues have nevertheless been united on state matters like taxation and tort reform. By putting a divisive issue into play at the state level, it may depress grass-roots enthusiasm to help Republican legislators keep the State House and win the State Senate.

I don't often do these, but I found this on the Happy Homemaker's blog and thought it would be fun to try.

Answer the following questions using only the song titles from a chosen musician/band.

Band I chose: Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Are you male or female? I'm a Ding-Dong Daddy from Dumas. (You oughta see me do my stuff!)

Describe yourself. I'm Human, Same As You

How do some people feel about you? Nothing But Trouble

How do you feel about yourself? Too Busy

Describe your ex: Roly Poly; Thorn in My Heart; I Laugh When I Think How I Cried over You

Describe your current significant other: I Married the Rose of San Antone

Describe where you want to be: Across the Alley from the Alamo

Describe how you live: Hubbin' It

Describe how you love: All Night Long

What would you ask for if you had just one wish? Tater Pie

Share a few words of wisdom: Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age

Now say goodbye: When You Leave Amarillo, Turn Out the Lights

Here's my contribution to the meme: Ask and answer your own question with song titles.

Q: Will There Be Any Yodeling in Heaven?

A: There'll Be No Disappointment in Heaven.

I'm not tagging anyone as such, but it would be fun to see what someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music could do with this.

UPDATE: Ol' Blue Eyes answers the questions for Mr. Hill.

I keep thinking that finally we are at the point Tulsa's development lobby will give up on their "rule or ruin" mentality, and will finally sit down with homeowners to work together to build a better Tulsa. They keep losing elections, now that their allies in the media no longer control the flow of information. Isn't it time they gave up on their fantasy of total control and joined in the give-and-take process of governance?

Not yet, evidently. Tuesday's Tulsa City Council committee meeting saw the unveiling of the latest assault of the Build Anything Anywhere (BAA) crowd. Zoning attorney Charles Norman attacked councilors for going to Board of Adjustment (BoA) and Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) meetings to speak on behalf of their constituents' concerns. He claims it is a violation of the ethics ordinance for a Councilor to vote on a zoning amendment after having spoken against it in a TMAPC hearing.

Mr. Norman was City Attorney from 1959 to 1968, through the heyday of urban renewal and the establishment of our current use-based zoning code. He left the employ of the city and has spent the last 38 years making a very nice living representing clients before the TMAPC, the BoA, and the City Council on zoning matters.

In the early days of the City Council, when most councilors saw themselves as rubber stamps, hiring Charles Norman to handle your rezoning was a guaranteed win. Councilors would generally defer to Norman's arguments and would ignore counter-arguments made by the opponents of a zoning amendment, who generally could not afford to be represented by a high-priced attorney.

Over the last few years, councilors have taken a more direct interest in zoning issues, and they are often asked to speak at public hearing s on behalf of a neighborhood association in their districts. Often a councilor is more comfortable with public speaking than a neighborhood leader and has more familiarity with the zoning code and process: The councilor sees dozens of zoning cases, while the leaders of a neighborhood association may be encountering the zoning process for the first time.

Norman's complaint seems to boil down to this: Someone is getting knowledgeable and eloquent representation in zoning cases without paying his exorbitant rates.

Norman seems to forget that rezoning a parcel is an amendment of the zoning code, Title 42 of Tulsa Revised Ordinances, and that a zoning amendment is a legislative action, not a judicial action, and not a ministerial action. It involves changing the rules, not enforcing existing rules. It involves the exercise of discretion. In handling zoning amendments, the TMAPC acts as a committee to the City Council, considering and amending proposals before passing them on to the City Council. It makes sense for a councilor to communicate to the TMAPC that a proposed zoning amendment would have his opposition. This gives the applicant and the TMAPC the chance to rework the amendment to make it acceptable.

I hope the Ethics Advisory Committee will see Norman's complaint for the absurdity that it is. If the ethics ordinance can somehow be twisted to make it say what Norman says it does, it needs to be amended to make it clear that councilors can speak at board and commission meetings.

Scary bypass

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An edited version of this piece was published on April 26, 2006, in Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web on August 18, 2010.

It appears that Tulsa's development lobby, discouraged by the results of the Tulsa City Council elections, has decided to take its fight to the next level. Three Tulsa legislators have sponsored a bill that would interfere with local control of Board of Adjustment (BoA) appeals.

The bill, HB 2559, would require all appeals of Board of Adjustment decisions, whether variances or special exceptions, to go to District Court, with the attendant expenses of attorneys and court costs. The BoA can grant a variance to zoning ordinances if a hardship exists. The BoA can grant a special exception to allow certain uses that aren't allowed by right by the zoning of a piece of property.

In the past, Councilor Roscoe Turner and then-Councilor Jim Mautino have argued that certain BoA decisions should be first appealed to the City Council. While the BoA acts as a quasi-judicial body in many cases, in special exception cases it has the discretion to consider subjective matters like neighborhood compatibility. A special exception can have the impact of a zoning change, and neighborhood advocates argue that the City Council should have the opportunity to review such decisions before the courts are involved.

Under current law, Tulsa's City Council could modify our ordinances to tailor the BoA appeals process to balance the concerns of developers and neighboring property owners. HB 2559, sponsored by State Reps. Ron Peters and Jeannie McDaniel and Sen. Brian Crain, would take away this local discretion over the process and would dictate a one-size-fits-all solution for the entire state.

HB 2559 passed the House on March 8 and passed the Senate on April 19. Because the House "struck the title," the bill must go back to the House for one more vote before it can go to the Governor's desk. All of Tulsa's state representatives and all but two of our state senators supported the measure. (Republican Senators Randy Brogdon and Scott Pruitt voted against.)

An amendment to the bill that would have interfered with local control over historic preservation (HP) overlay zoning was also considered by the State Senate on April 19, but it failed by a 21-24 vote. Of Tulsa's senators, only Judy Eason-McEntyre voted yes.

Five historic Tulsa neighborhoods (and the park around the Council Oak) have special protection under Tulsa's zoning code. Exterior modifications and new construction within an HP zoning district need a certificate of appropriateness from the Tulsa Preservation Commission (TPC) before proceeding, to ensure that the historic character of the neighborhood is maintained. Demolition permits can be delayed for up to 60 days.

HP protection serves the same value-protecting purpose that deed restrictions serve in newer subdivisions. If you buy a home in an HP neighborhood, you can invest in maintaining your home to historic standards with the assurance that your neighbors are subject to the same rules.

But the protection is undermined if someone can easily buy a property in an HP-zoned neighborhood and have it removed from the district. The failed amendment to HB 2559 would have cut the TPC and the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) completely out of the process of removing lots from an HP district.

In contrast, the process of creating an HP district or expanding its boundaries requires a great deal of time, historical research, and public input. As a rule of thumb, HP districts need the support of 80% of property owners in the district to move forward through three separate levels of review. Removing a property from the district ought to require a similar high standard of review.

Tulsa's development lobby is used to getting its way 100%. Rather than sitting down with other Tulsans to develop a land-use system that will serve the needs of everyone, they have tried and failed to recall two councilors from office, tried and failed to dismember three City Council districts and replace them with citywide supercouncilor seats, and tried and failed to pack the Council with people they can control. In a move akin to plugging your ears with your fingers and singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," they excluded then-Councilor Chris Medlock from their mayoral candidate forum.

I was hopeful when I learned of the departure earlier this year of Josh Fowler from his post as the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa's executive director. I was hopeful that the development lobby had finally recognized that the pit bull tactics he epitomized were no longer working. I was hopeful that the developers were ready to take a more conciliatory approach to public policy. This legislative end-around shows that my hopes weren't well-founded.

Frustrated by the fact that ordinary Tulsans are paying attention to City Hall, Tulsa's development lobby is now trying to dictate local land-use policy from Oklahoma City. Whatever the merits of BoA appeals or of moving parcels in and out of HP districts, those are local matters that should be settled locally.

We need to let our state legislators know that HB 2559 is unacceptable. Homeowners and other property owners should object to local decisions being made a hundred miles away, where it's harder to keep an eye on things. Our City Council and municipal officials across the state ought to object loudly to this infringement on their prerogatives.

In his 2000 campaign book, A Charge to Keep, George W. Bush wrote that he is a conservative because he believes that government closest to the people governs best. I expect to see my fellow Republicans at the State Capitol uphold this fundamental Republican principle, and I expect them to defeat HB 2559 when it comes back to the State House of Representatives for a final vote.

In other City Hall news:

Last Friday the latest round of bids on subcontracts for the construction of the BOk Center were opened.

This was after a two-week delay to give bidders "more preparation time," according a report to the Tulsa World. Despite reassurances that all was well, there was good reason to assume that the delay was because of concerns that bids were coming in way over budget.

As it turned out, the lowest bids on each item exceeded budget by $32 million, about a 50% overage. The total of all five bid packages, plus the cost of land acquisition, plus the amount paid for architectural, project management, and other professional services comes to just shy of $150 million. The remaining bid packages are budgeted at around $30 million, which would bring the total for the arena alone to $180 million.

Remember that the Vision 2025 package allocated $183 million of that sales tax to pay for both the construction of an arena and improvements to the Convention Center, including the conversion of the existing arena into ballroom space. It looks like we won't have anything left to fix the facility that, we have been told again and again, is crucial to bringing outside dollars into the local economy.

When Councilor Chris Medlock raised concerns last fall about money being shifted from the Convention Center to the arena, he was shouted down by the monopoly daily paper and even by members of the overview committee who are supposedly keeping an eye on project finances on behalf of us taxpayers.

Back during the mayoral campaign, Democratic candidate Don McCorkell said he would stop work on the arena in order to get a handle on how much the facility would cost to complete and how much it would cost to operate and maintain. If the cost is going to exceed the budget by a wide margin, Tulsa's voters ought to decide whether or not it's worth proceeding. McCorkell's idea looks better all the time.

The fact that we've already put tens of millions into the arena doesn't mean it makes sense to throw good money after bad. (See "sunk costs, fallacy of.")

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Randi Miller, who had been mum about potential overages, not wanting to jeopardize renewal of the County's 4-to-Fix-Tax, now seems to be trying to recast herself as a taxpayer watchdog.

Some of us can remember when she was asked by Republican leaders, back in 2003, to make the arena a separate item on the Vision 2025 ballot, to give the voters a clear opportunity to vote against the arena without having to vote against the higher education improvements that were tied with it.

Miller stood by and did nothing at the time. She continued to go along to get along, voting with the other commissioners to sole-source the Vision 2025 financial contracts to favored vendors. After Vision 2025 was approved, when Medlock raised concerns about oversight and governance, Miller was silent.

On the other hand, Miller was more than happy, back on March 20, to grant a Murphy Brothers a 10-year exclusive contract to operate the Tulsa State Fair midway, despite complaints about rising prices and declining quality of the Murphy Brothers operation. The midway contract was not put out for competitive bids. Miller's support for the sweetheart deal with Murphy Brothers came after her mayoral campaign received a $5,000 contribution from Loretta Murphy, wife of Murphy Brothers owner Jerry Murphy.

Medlock, a genuine taxpayer watchdog, is continuing to keep an eye on arena expenditures at his blog, medblogged.blogspot.com.

There's a bill making its way through the Oklahoma Legislature which would take away a degree of local control over land-use regulation.

HB 2559 appears to represent a new line of attack by Tulsa's development lobby, which lost control of the City Council in 2004, failed in their attempt to regain control by means of the recall of Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino in 2005, and failed to regain control in this year's election.

The previous Council wasn't anti-growth or anti-development, nor is the new Council, but they were and are devoted to making the land-use process fair to all concerned, homeowners as well as developers, and to putting Tulsa's interests first, ahead of the suburbs. This is frustrating to the development lobby, which was used to getting its way all the time. Since they can't control local officials any more, they are using allies in the State Legislature to limit, restrict, and interfere with the ability of local officials to set zoning policy.

HB 2559 would require any appeals from a Board of Adjustment to go directly to District Court. This would prevent the City of Tulsa from allowing certain appeals to go first to the City Council, an idea that Councilor Roscoe Turner and then-Councilor Jim Mautino have advocated.

While the BoA acts as a quasi-judicial body on cases involving variances, in other cases, involving special exceptions, they have a good deal of discretion to consider issues like neighborhood compatibility. When the subjective element is present, when neighborhood compatibility is under consideration, it seems reasonable to allow the losing side on such a case to seek review by the City Council before lawyers and legal fees are involved.

But whatever the merits of the idea, HB 2559 would prevent Tulsa from even considering it. It is an unwarranted interference in local control of local issues, and such a bill should never pass a Republican-controlled legislative body, since Republicans believe that government closest to the people governs best.

But it did pass. It passed the State House on March 8 by an overwhelming margin. The Senate Judiciary Committee then added an amendment that would make it easier to remove property from a Historic Preservation (HP) overlay zoning district, another bit of unnecessary meddling in local control of local matters. The Senate passed the amended bill last Wednesday, April 19. It now goes back to the State House.

The bill is sponsored by Ron Peters (R) and Jeannie McDaniel (D) in the House and by Brian Crain (R) in the Senate. I am not sure who is responsible for adding the HP amendment in the Senate.

If you object to this attempt by the development lobby to bypass City Hall and to dictate local land-use policy at the State Capitol, you need to let your state representatives know as soon as possible. The toll-free number for the State House is 1-800-522-8502. And here is an alphabetical list of members' names and e-mail addresses.

Here's the text of HB 2559 as passed by the House. Here's the version that was approved by the Senate, with the amendment concerning HP zoning.

Neither rare nor well done


Dave Winer answers Scott Karp's question about Media 2.0: "But what happens if big company brands realize that they no longer need a media middleman to connect with consumers?"

Why do you think they call it media?

They're middlemen.

In the future we won't need middlemen.


Because the Internet disintermediates.

Which is a fancy word for "gets rid of the middlemen."

Or, if you prefer, "gets rid of the media."

Via Euan Semple at The Obvious?

It's been a busy but fun couple of days.

Friday was "Oklahoma Day" for my son's grade -- they spent the day at a little farm in the south part of town, reliving the days of early Oklahoma Territory. There was a re-enactment of the 1889 Land Run, complete with covered wagons.

When my 3rd grade class had a land run (34 years ago, on the football field at Holland Hall's 26th and Birmingham "Eight Acres" campus), it was every man for himself. Chip McElroy had a motorized covered wagon, which he built with his dad. I think I pulled my little red wagon.

My son's school was much better organized. They put the students together in "families" of three or four. My son's "family" staked one of the nicer claims in the territory, a shady spot for the picnic. The girl in the "family" was supposed to be his pretend wife, but she opted to be his pretend daughter instead, which was fine with him. (The opposite sex is still cootie-infested at that age.) The girl had an era-appropriate explanation for the lack of a mother in the family: "She died in childbirth."

After a dinner out with my in-laws, in honor of my wife's recent birthday, the in-laws headed back out of town, and our family headed up to the Osage Casino north of Sand Springs to hear Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, one of a series of free Friday night concerts. Even though kids aren't allowed in the casino, they were allowed at the concert, and I was happy that my kids got to see these legendary performers in person.

It was mainly the same line-up that played the Bob Wills' Birthday Bash at Cain's Ballroom back in March, headed up by vocalist Leon Rausch and guitarist Tommy Allsup. (Here's Leon Rausch's tour schedule for the rest of the year.)

The steel guitarist this time was Bobby Koefer, who played with Bob Wills in the '50s. (If you've seen some of Wills' musical short subjects from 1951, that's Koefer on steel. I googled and found this comment on Koefer's style: "The amazing Bobby Koefer plays bare fingered, with an odd shaped bar.")

It was a thrill to get to see and hear Koefer play. Because I was holding a baby, we were allowed to sit right on the front row. My wife was concerned about the speaker volume at that distance so before long she and the baby sat in back while the big kids and I sat up front. It was fun to watch my kids' smiles as they recognized the intros to familiar tunes (familiar in our house, anyway) like "Cherokee Maiden" and "San Antonio Rose".

As old as some of these fellows are, they still have a lot of energy to put into their music. It was a wonderful performance. It was a hoot to hear Bobby Koefer sing "Hawaiian War Chant" -- he really threw himself into it.

This morning I fulfilled my duties as one of about 400 members of the State Committee of the Oklahoma Republican Party, as we elected a new State Chairman to replace Gary Jones. Former State Auditor Tom Daxon won out over State Reps. Doug Miller and Forrest Claunch. The consensus seemed to be that there were no bad choices in the bunch.

The State Committee is made up of the chairman and vice chairman of each county party, plus a state committeeman and committeewoman from each county, and every elected Republican who serves at the State or Federal Capitol. Miller seemed to have the support of many legislators, but Daxon evidently had the support of the grassroots party officers.

Over the course of the meeting, we heard speeches from Sen. Jim Inhofe, the many candidates for the 5th Congressional District, and several candidates for the legislature. There was a gubernatorial debate at lunch between U. S. Rep. Ernest Istook, State Sen. Jim Williamson, and Tulsa businessman Bob Sullivan -- more about that tomorrow.

One of the pleasures of the meeting was getting to reconnect with fellow activists, including several folks I got to know through the 2004 Republican National Convention. (Today I wore my official 2004 delegation blazer -- navy blue with the Oklahoma Osage peace shield on the breast pocket.)

After the meeting I reconnected with Charles G. Hill of Dustbury fame, and we had a pleasant and wide-ranging conversation, as you would expect if you're a regular reader of his blog. (If you're not a regular reader of Dustbury, you're missing a treat.) Our chat made this week's Saturday Spottings, his regular roundup of observations around Oklahoma City.

Bids are in on the bulk of the cost for the new arena (BOk Center). Chris Medlock has details. Will there be any money left for the convention center?

We had a late little league game tonight. Our boys won, beating a previously undefeated team by a huge margin. My boy struck out in his one at bat, but he handled his one defensive opportunity just as he should have and prevented a run from scoring. Good game, and nice weather for it, too. Back to springtime after several days of dry, dusty, windy, 90-degree-plus weather.

Between baseball, my wife's birthday, getting the taxes filed, getting my column written, and celebrating Easter Sunday at church and with family, it has been a busy several days. Tonight I had planned to relax -- sort and fold laundry and watch Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, which I checked out of the library today.

I haven't seen it in years, but I've been thinking about that movie ever since reading this intriguing blog entry, which brought to mind General Ripper's concern about precious bodily fluids: "I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence." I have been following that entry and its several followups, extensive comment threads, and rebuttals on other blogs, and hope to post some thoughts of my own Real Soon Now from a perspective that hasn't yet been heard from. But not tonight, dear; I have a headache. Rest assured that any of my emissions on the subject (likely nocturnal; I don't usually blog during the day) will be properly deposited here and not wasted elsewhere.

Anyway, I got a phone call right at 10, and it completely changed the direction of my evening. So this is all you're getting tonight, except I did update the link to my latest Urban Tulsa Weekly column, which is about what I would do if I were Tulsa's zoning czar.

Meanwhile, if you're a Tulsan, go visit Chris Medlock's blog -- several new entries, all worth reading, including this funny anecdote from his last day at City Hall.

If you're not a Tulsan, or if you are but don't feel like reading about Tulsa, visit Julie R. Neidlinger's Lone Prairie Blog for some pointed, witty takedowns of modern fads in evangelical church growth circles. Her latest has to do with churches that marginalize children, and it's called First Church of the Millstone.

Good night.

I originally posted part of this as a comment on Catholic Ragemonkey in response to Fr. Shane Tharp's mentioning that he's in Wichita:

Wichita is a nice place to visit. I took several business trips there in the not-too-distant past, and I always found time to get out and explore a bit.

If you're much of a meat-eater, Wichita has a great barbecue buffet in the most unlikely place. It's called B&C Creations. The front part sells antiques, gift, and art; the buffet (lunch only) is in the back. You pay a laughably low price and get all you can eat of the some of the best smoked ribs and pulled pork you'll ever have. They have garlic coleslaw, too, which is amazingly good. It's on the eastern edge of Old Town, 355 N. Washington.

Watermark Books on East Douglas is an independent bookseller with a cafe and free WiFi. Exploration Place, the science museum across the river from downtown, is a lot of fun, and you're just an hour away from the second-biggest collection of spacecraft in the world -- the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson.

The spectacular neon marquee of Wichita's Orpheum Theatre

I neglected to mention the Orpheum Theatre, a classic downtown movie palace which is under restoration. I went there to see Reefer Madness, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and The Terror of Tiny Town during one of my trips. I even got a tour of the projection booth.

Wichita is a nicer place to visit than you might think. The key is to get away from the main highways. Driving the length of Douglas east to west is a good way to see the most interesting parts of town, including downtown, which hasn't been as devastated by parking lots and urban renewal as Tulsa's downtown has, and the old village of Delano, just west of the river.

An edited version of this column was published in Urban Tulsa Weekly on April 19, 2006. Posted to BatesLine on March 10, 2010. The archived column is no longer available on the UTW website.

Zoning Czar
By Michael D. Bates

Toward the end of his late campaign for re-election as Mayor of Tulsa, Bill LaFortune was looking for a bold, concrete way to demonstrate that his pledge to change direction in a second term as mayor was in earnest.

One possibility was to withdraw two pending reappointments of longtime members of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC). The idea was that, in their stead, LaFortune would submit nominees who would bring new perspectives to the TMAPC, which is dominated by members who are connected in some way to the development industry. Mine was one of three names that were discussed to fill one of these unpaid positions.

When the monopoly daily newspaper got wind of it, their editorial writers went ballistic. In a March 28 editorial, they wrote, "If [LaFortune] does place Bates on the planning commission, then the city might as well erect billboards at the edges of the city instructing developers to just keep on moving to the suburbs.

Developers already were leery of trying to develop in Tulsa because of the anti-development attitude that has taken root here in recent years -- including in some officials' offices."

It's funny: The last three times I've appeared before the Board of Adjustment (BOA), the TMAPC, or the City Council on a land use matter, it was in support of a development.

For example, last fall I spoke to the City Council in support of the Eastbrook townhouse/office development, going in on 35th Place east of Peoria. The development was opposed by a number of Brookside homeowners. I argued that the Council should strictly apply the Brookside Infill Plan, which had been developed jointly over several years by homeowners, business owners, and the City, and had been incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan. If the plan were set aside in this one case, it would leave both developers and homeowners uncertain about whether it would be honored in the future.

Even if I were named to the TMAPC, I'd only be one vote among eleven, so even assuming I were anti-development, as the World claims, my lone voice shouldn't be enough to deter builders and investors.

But even if I were named Zoning Czar of Tulsa and could redesign Tulsa's land-use planning and regulation policy single-handedly, developers would in time see me as a benevolent zoning despot. The system I'd design would Make Life Better™ for homeowners, developers, real estate investors, building managers, tenants - in short, for everyone who lives or does business in Tulsa, because it would decrease risk and uncertainty while improving quality of life.

What would my ideal land-use system look like?

1. The aim of an ideal system would be to protect the investments of all property owners. That means homeowners as well as investors and developers.

2. My ideal system would be predictable. Before you invest in a piece of property you should be able to know with a high degree of certainty what you can and cannot do with your property and what your neighbors can and cannot do with theirs. If permission is dependent on the whim of city officials or on hiring a sufficiently expensive zoning attorney, the system isn't working as it should.

3. My ideal system would regulate what matters and leave the rest alone. Too often, our zoning code "protects" us against situations that really aren't problems, getting in the way of creative ideas that would enhance a neighborhood, while blithely permitting situations that are harmful to the neighborhood and the city as a whole. A good system allows as much freedom as possible, while not losing sight of the fact that what I do with my property affects the value of my neighbor's property.

4. My ideal system would accommodate a variety of neighborhood and development types in order to meet the variety of needs and interests in a city as big as Tulsa. There needs to be a place in Tulsa for an urban, densely developed downtown, as well as for big-box retail. There needs to be a place for both mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods where car-free living is possible, and for auto-oriented development with big-box stores and residential-only neighborhoods.

5. My ideal system would be clear and straightforward. The fewer and simpler the rules the better. Extra points for expressing those rules visually, to make it apparent to developers and homeowners alike what is allowed and what is not.

The present use-based zoning system fails all those criteria. Our current system is based on the assumption that what goes on inside a building has more of an impact on the neighbors than what's true about the outside of the building -- how big the building is, where it sits on the lot, how big the parking lot is.

Our current system follows the post-World-War-II assumption that homes and shops and offices have to be segregated from each other, despite centuries of experience that in the right sizes and proportions they can work together to make a great neighborhood.

Our current system ignores our thirty-year-old Comprehensive Plan as often as it honors it. More often than not, the Comprehensive Plan is amended after a parcel has been rezoned in a way that is contrary to the plan. It is not a reliable guide to homeowners or developers.

Our current system is one-size-fits-all. The same rules apply to Cherry Street and to 71st and Mingo. There's no recognition that development that would fit an auto-oriented strip of new development would not be appropriate as infill in a pedestrian-oriented traditional neighborhood. Under our current code, commercial is commercial - a Wal-Mart Supercenter is no different than an independent coffee house.

To make the current system work, exception after exception and patch upon patch have been added to the zoning code. In choosing to grant or deny a development, much weight is given to "neighborhood compatibility," but what that phrase means is left to the whim of the TMAPC and the City Council. Infill plans like Brookside's are the first attempt to define what neighborhood compatibility means, but for now those plans are not binding, only advisory.

The first steps have been made toward a new and improved system. The previous mayor and council approved work on a new Comprehensive Plan. Mayor Taylor called on her campaign website for the development of a form-based land-use code, which puts the emphasis on the size, shape, and position of buildings, rather than on what happens inside.

Before the election, Mayor LaFortune did withdraw the reappointments of Mary Hill and Brandon Jackson but didn't name any replacements. Mayor Taylor has the chance to name two new planning commissioners who will be fair in their application of the existing system, but who also have the vision and wisdom to help the city through the transition to a new and better system.

The best choices would bring a homeowner's perspective to the table - developers and associated industries are already well-represented on the TMAPC - but would have significant experience and knowledge about zoning and planning. We need new planning commissioners who are aware of Tulsa's zoning practices, but are also students of best practices elsewhere.

The Tulsa World likes to fearmonger about NIMBYs, but the so-called neighborhood naysayers that I know want nothing more than a fair system consistently applied. The World seems to want a system where the most expensive development attorney always wins.

I don't expect I'll ever be named to the TMAPC, much less be named the Pope of Planning, but if it were to happen, the City of Tulsa should erect billboards at the city limits saying, "Tulsa offers a fair, transparent, and up-to-date land-use system that maximizes freedom while protecting the investments of all property owners and our city's quality of life. Tulsa welcomes developers who will work with us to build a better Tulsa."

Of course, signs that wordy would probably violate some ordinance or another.

If I ruled the world...


... or if I at least ruled the TMAPC, here's what land use regulation (aka zoning) in Tulsa would be like, as summarized in my column in this issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The Tulsa Whirled editorial board wrote that if I ever was appointed to the TMAPC, "the city might as well erect billboards at the edges of the city instructing developers to just keep on moving to the suburbs." Here's what I wrote in response:

I don’t expect I’ll ever be named to the TMAPC, much less be named the Pope of Planning, but if it were to happen, the City of Tulsa should erect billboards at the city limits saying, “Tulsa offers a fair, transparent, and up-to-date land-use system that maximizes freedom while protecting the investments of all property owners and our city’s quality of life. Tulsa welcomes developers who will work with us to build a better Tulsa.”

Click the link above, and read the five characteristics that a Michael Bates-designed planning system would have.

(Added on September 30, 2006, to fill in the gaps in my Urban Tulsa Weekly column archive.)

Just heard this by phone -- it isn't on the OSCN case file yet. Judge Doris Fransein has ordered a new election for Tulsa City Council District 5 between Bill Martinson and Jon Kirby. There were more votes cast by ineligible voters than the 21-vote margin of victory, so there is no way of knowing who would have won if those ineligible voters hadn't voted.

The last time this happened was in the 2004 District 3 Democratic primary. In that case, the order came down on March 12, and the new election date was set for April 6. It would be possible for this revote to be held on May 9th, at the same time as the 3rd Penny vote.

I'm told that through the recount and irregularities process, Martinson has had the support of his fellow politicians who are clients of campaign consultant Jim Burdge: Paul Prather (lost the District 2 primary), Jeff Stava (lost the District 9 primary), and Sam Roop (former District 5 Councilor).

UPDATE: Here's a KTUL story about the judge's order.

Tonight I've come across a few interesting links about Jewish history in Oklahoma. In honor of Passover, which began Wednesday night, here they are.

The quote in the title is from a brief history of Congregation B'nai Emunah (PDF format), and it's a reminiscence of the mid-1930s:

Mrs. Harry Cohen, recalls [1966] the sign which hung in womens balcony of the old Synagogue which read in Yiddish: Der Kommitet bet men zol rayden vayneeger oon davenen mehrer! (The committee requests that you talk less and pray more!) The womens minds were not on the davening, for the Cantor, below, could not be heard well in the balcony. Other noises competed: children running up and down the stairs, sliding down the banisters, and cracking of peanuts. When the noise got unbearable, the Cantor would lose patience and stare at the balcony. Finally, with the palm of his hand, he would pound on his siddur and shout: Sha, sha!

Going further back to the 'teens:

Far to go to a butcher shop for the kosher meats in those day? Not really, since one had a choice of shopping at Max Feldmans store (brother of Robert A. Feldman) located at the corner of Haskell and Main-Boulderor at M. Greens store on 9th Street between Cincinnati and Detroit. Both stores also had customers in the small northeastern Oklahoma towns to whom they sent their wares. Tulsans were very observant Jews, very religious and very congenial. This was the immediate reaction Mrs. Alfred Aaronson had when she arrived here in 1915. In general, she says, my first impression of the orthodox community here were of a close-knit and happy group.

B'nai Emunah began as an Orthodox congregation, but is now Conservative, while Temple Israel is Reform. Tulsa also has a Chabad House, part of the Lubavitcher movement.

Tulsa has the finest museum of Jewish art and culture in this part of the country. It's the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, just north of 71st Street and a bit west of Lewis on Wallenberg (Wheeling) Ave.

The museum has an exhibit of photographs about the Jews of rural and small-town Oklahoma. It's called the Prairie Landsmen Project. The website has thumbnails of photos from the museum's collection, by David Halpern: "In these photographs, I have chosen to examine some of the families and individuals in the smaller cities and towns [of Oklahoma]. They may be the last bastions of a shrinking non-urban population. Unlike the European communities from which their ancestors fled to escape bigotry, the forces that influence their futures are likely to be the same as those that affect their neighbors."

Then there's this article from the magazine Aufbau from 2002 about the Jewish community in Oklahoma. In addition to religious leaders, they talk to then-State Treasurer Robert Butkin, who grew up in Duncan. The article talks about the migration of Jews from small towns to the two major cities.

I am a brother of Zeta Beta Tau, a fraternity that was founded in 1898 to serve Jewish college students, who were at the time excluded from most Greek-letter societies. Although ZBT had been non-sectarian since 1954, when I pledged Xi Chapter at MIT in 1981, about a third of the brothers were Jewish.

Although I had Jewish friends and classmates growing up, it was fascinating to see Jewish life on a daily basis and to observe the range of observance and devotion, from a laid-back agnostic from California, who kept the High Holy Days but not much else, to a devoutly orthodox Long Islander who strictly observed the Sabbath and the kosher dietary laws. Many if not most of my Jewish fraternity brothers became more observant and more attached to their heritage over the course of college.

Our house was one of two MIT fraternities in the town of Brookline, a suburb surrounded on three sides by Boston. Brookline was home to a large Jewish community, mainly composed of several generations of immigrants from the old Russian Empire and their descendants. A few blocks from the house was Harvard Street, home to a glatt kosher butcher, a fish shop, a Jewish bookstore, a bagel shop (Kupel's -- one of the brothers served as the fraternity's bagel chairman, and it was his job to bring back fresh bagels from Kupel's every Sunday morning), and a number of kosher delis and restaurants.

If you want to keep a strictly observant Jewish home, Brookline has the necessary support system. (As a city of older, traditional mixed use neighborhoods, Brookline not only passes the popsicle test, it also passes the Sabbath test -- plenty of places to live within Sabbath walking distance of a synagogue.)

Since coming back to Tulsa, I've wondered if it's easy, or even possible, to keep kosher here. Where would you buy kosher meat? Are there any kosher restaurants here? Every March or April, I see matzoh and related kosher-for-Passover products for sale in the supermarkets, so that level of observance at least must be common here.

More importantly for a non-observant Gentile like myself, I wonder whether kosher-for-Passover Coca-Cola can be found in Tulsa. I remember how amused I was the first time I saw Hebrew lettering stamped on top of a Coke can. The letters, I later learned, indicated that the product was OK for consumption during Passover, when corn products, and therefore the high fructose corn syrup used in soft drinks, are forbidden. That meant that for a small window of time each year, you could drink Coca-Cola as Dr. Pemberton intended -- made with real sugar. (OK, not exactly as Dr. Pemberton intended; it still had caffeine instead of coca extract.) Coke with real sugar had more of a bite. I've heard you can get KP Coke in New York and Boston, but I wonder if it's available anywhere in this part of the country.

If you live in Tulsa and keep a kosher home, I'd love to hear how you manage it. Please drop me a line at blog at batesline dot com, or leave a comment below.

I had the pleasure of being Gwen Freeman's sidekick this morning on 1170 KFAQ.

Michael DelGiorno was at home, part of a reality TV segment that will run on NBC's Today later this month -- his pregnant wife is being pampered at a hotel, while Michael wears a pregnancy prosthesis and takes care of his toddler twin girls alone. (There are some photos of Michael in the fat suit on the KFAQ website.) We talked by phone to Michael and to his wife Andrea. He sounded helpless and beleaguered.

This morning we talked about the city budget crisis and the new mayor's staff.

We also talked to Congressman John Sullivan and national and local representatives of the "fair tax" movement, the effort to replace the federal income tax with a tax on new retail goods and service. The idea has a lot of appeal; click that link to learn all about it.

Valeska Littlefield, head of Life Network of Green Country, came in to help us celebrate the impending departure of Bernest Cain, a Christian-hating State Senator, who has been, as Chairman of the Senate Human Services Committee, the single biggest roadblock to pro-life legislation. Cain's ability to be that roadblock is thanks to existence of a Democratic majority in the State Senate.

The show will be repeated online all weekend. Here's a direct link to the KFAQ audio feed that works with Windows Media Player.

UPDATE (4/21/2006): There has been some reaction (see comments below) about the excerpt of Cain's 2003 comments, which are linked above -- specifically, that my characterization of Bernest Cain as anti-Christian or a Christian-hater is unfair. Here is a report from OCPA that gives more of the context of Cain's 2003 speech. I'm putting it here in its entirety just in case it disappears from the web. The full transcript of Cain's remarks and Charles Ford's reply was on the KFAQ website in May 2003, when I first saw them, but they don't appear to be on the site any longer.

Liberal Tolerance Watch
by Brandon Dutcher

Intolerance and Prejudice at the State Capitol

Living in the Bible Belt, and working as I do in the public policy arena, I see it all too often. People, often with good intentions, try to use the political process to impose their views on everyone else. They are intolerant of other viewpoints, they try to stifle diversity, and sometimes they can be downright bigoted.

Im telling you, the left is really bad about this.

Consider, for example, the issue of school choice. As Cato Institute scholars Marie Gryphon and Emily A. Meyer pointed out in a recent study, America has a grand tradition of educational freedom. In fact, its a tradition that predates and is longer than our current tradition of delivering education through a government-owned-and-run monopoly. Many people today are trying to regain a measure of that freedom, mainly through policies which empower parents to choose the safest and best schools for their children, whether those schools are public or private.

These school-choice advocates celebrate diversity. They want parents and children to be able to choose from charter schools that emphasize core knowledge, specialty schools that focus on the arts, magnet schools that specialize in science and engineering, and more. Let a hundred flowers bloom. After all, students have unique needs and preferences.

Whats more, school-choicers celebrate religious diversity. They want to empower parents to choose Jewish day schools, which provide a rigorous faith-based education and help preserve Jewish continuity. Or classical Christian schools, which begin Latin in the third grade and logic in the eighth and equip children to love the Lord their God with all their minds. Or inner-city Catholic schools often more racially integrated than their public counterparts which turn at-risk kids into scholars.

The nations 27,000 private schools (nearly one in four U.S. schools) by definition help fulfill the ideal of pluralism in American education, says the Council for American Private Education. They serve diverse populations, and are multi-ethnic and multi-cultural.

But the left, for all its professed tolerance, cannot tolerate this sort of diversity, especially religious diversity. The defenders of the status quo prefer secular uniformity. Indeed, they insist upon it religiously. For some reason, school choice is OK for 18-year-olds (Pell Grants at Notre Dame, federal SEOG grants at Oral Roberts University) but not for 17-year-olds.

One journalist, a member of the religious left here in Oklahoma, is particularly hostile to school choice. He often puts derisive quotation marks around Christian when referring to Christian schools, and once lambasted a pro-school-choice governor, saying his tortured rightwing brain is all too typical of brown-shirted rich kids privately educated.

Remarkably, this ugliness goes unpunished. Indeed, the National Education Association has given its highest award to this man who calls Thomas Sowell a disgrace to the human race, and he is still a popular speaker at education workshops and conferences. One essay, in which he sniffs at mantras and Hail Marys and warns of ominous attempts to construct new forms of theocratic education, is featured on the welcome page of the Oklahoma Education Associations web site.

I suppose none of this should surprise us. After all, Gryphon and Meyer remind us, it was religious prejudice specifically, anti-Catholic prejudice fueled by an influx of immigrants in the 1830s and 1840s which inspired the establishment of public schools in the first place. In addition, state constitutional Blaine Amendments, adopted during the rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment in the 19th and early 20th centuries and now enshrined in some three-fourths of state constitutions (including Oklahomas), prohibit tax money from flowing to sectarian schools. The left, apparently without embarrassment, defends these amendments heartily, as they are among the most significant barriers to school choice in the states.

The Arizona Supreme Court pronounced that states Blaine Amendment a clear manifestation of religious bigotry. Justice Clarence Thomas has opined that hostility to aid to pervasively sectarian schools has a shameful pedigree that we do not hesitate to disavow. This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now.

Many of our friends on the left are working tirelessly for a more just and tolerant America, one that respects diversity. They would do well to recognize that educational freedom, as Gryphon and Meyer say, is critical to an intellectually diverse and tolerant society.

Rhetoric Insults Thousands of Oklahomans
In last years legislative session, Senator Scott Pruitt (R-Broken Arrow) co-authored a tort reform bill for teachers. When the bill was being considered in the House, a Democrat attached an amendment which would require a disclaimer to be placed in all textbooks in which evolution is discussed. The disclaimer would state in part that evolution is a controversial theory which some scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things, although no one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about lifes origins should be considered as theory, not fact.

The amended bill passed the House by a vote of 92-9, and was being reconsidered on the Senate floor May 6. Sen. Bernest Cain (D-Oklahoma City), a Unitarian with a graduate degree in theology and a prominent member of Oklahomas religious left, was offended by the bill and argued against it. According to a transcript posted on the Web site of KFAQ, a talk radio station in Tulsa, Sen. Cain made the following remarks:

I just resent people continually, every time they bring a bill out here, trying to force their religion down other peoples throats. Now, this is what this is coming from. Because he [Senator Pruitt] believes, basically, that his religion ought to be the dominant religion and that his religion ought to say to the rest of the religions what should be in the textbooks of our public schools. We should not continue to let this religious, far religious views, try to force their way down on us.

I got a quote the other day that I got from Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler. And I dont have the exact words, but heres basically what it says. He says, in our government we are going to put Christians in key positions of responsibility because there has been too much liberal access going on out there and we are going to straighten up and make sure that the Christian culture is back in control. Now folks, they took Jewish people and they took them out and they strung them apart, they killed them, they mass murdered some of those people, and all of the ideas that were behind that were, and they were doing this while they were having Christian music going on, while they were having hymns. They killed thousands of Jews while they were doing hymns. That is what happens when you let the right wing of the Taliban come in and try to dictate to the State how we should run our business.

We should try as much as possible to keep ourselves separate from the religious group. I am telling you, we have got this new mindset that you can be a Taliban, you can be a religious fanatic, and you can bring it to the Senate, you can bring it to the House, you can bring it to the government, it doesnt matter, its all right, we just turn our heads, its not that bad. Thats what they did when Hitler came along. They let him come in and he brought in his ideas, he said were bringing Christian values back. But was it all Christian values? No, it was everything against Christian values. And that is what I am afraid of from these extreme right-wing religious fanatics who want to bring their religious viewpoints and bring them into the Senate.

But no, this is another one of Senator Pruitts bills trying to take the religious idea and force it down on the rest of us. I say we ought to reject this thing and say it right now, were not going to let extreme, extreme religious groups come in here and run our government.

Dont you just love it when liberals engage in nuanced, responsible discourse? Theyre always so careful to be tolerant of the viewpoints of others.

Its interesting to note that the amendment was not ambitious at all. It merely said evolution should be taught as a theory. It did not mandate the teaching of intelligent-design theories or creationism.

After all, we cant have extreme, extreme religious groups come in here and run our government. And certainly Sen. Cain, known for his mainstream views, can recognize an extremist when he sees one. An extremist is one of those far-out people the right wing of the Taliban, if you will who actually believes a Creator made the world. Fortunately, according to a Tulsa World-sponsored poll in 2000, this fringe element is limited to: a majority of whites, blacks, and Hispanics; a majority of people in every income level; and a majority of liberals, moderates, and conservatives. A strong majority of the state believes in creationism, the Tulsa World reported. The poll showed that support for creationism was solid in almost every political and demographic subdivision. Indeed, belief in creationism was higher among registered Democrats than registered Republicans.

Nevertheless, if youre one of those fanatics whose religious convictions lead you to a particular view about abortion, or the death penalty, or the lottery, or taxation, or sex education in the classroom, dont bother bringing your religious viewpoints into the Senate. Unless youre a member of the religious left.

Hows that for tolerance?

Starbucks' frivolous claim of trademark infringement against Tulsa's DoubleShot Coffee Company is getting attention around the blogosphere.

See-Dubya, blogging at Patterico's Pontifications:

I bring this up both to tweak Starbucks for being humorless pronks and also to point out that lawyers sometimes sit around with nothing to do and decide to make trouble to prove that theyre worth the salaries they pull down. With intellectual property stuff like this, they have a semi-legitimate concern that they could lose the exclusive rights to their property if they dont enforce it (this is assuming that they actually owned it in the first place, which in this case Im pretty sure they didnt.) But in any big company, Legal ought to always sit down with Marketing and explain exactly what theyre going to do and why they want to do it. Hopefully some of the Creative types could have explained to them that their suit was counterproductive and would tend to make the Corporation look like bullies, and just invite more infringement along with the ridicule.

At Overlawyered:

A Tulsa, Oklahoma, coffeeshop, Doubleshot Coffee, however, has received a scary-lawyer letter from Starbucks, claiming that Starbucks has an exclusive right to use the term "double shot" in relation to coffee.

I like the phrase "scary-lawyer letter."

At blogcritics:

Wal-Mart started as a small mom and pop; Kmart and Starbucks did, too.

But when these companies grow and start to use their strength to crush competition and threaten the very institution of small business that drives this country, then something has to be done.

Stores like Wal-Mart threaten small business through their ultra-low prices and selection, but Starbucks is a great example of a true corporate bully. The way many people view Starbucks as a bully is through it's use of litigation or threat of litigation against its competition....

Fortunately for Star Bock, HaidaBucks, and Charbucks, Starbucks did not win. But that did not stop them from incurring legal fees that nearly bankrupted them.

A small privately owned company with half a dozen employees does not have the money that a company like Starbucks has at its disposal for legal and court costs. Sometimes just the threat of a lawsuit can wield results.

From Begging to Differ:

Common sense dictates Starbucks should not be able to monopolize use of a name that is commonly used in an industry to describe a product or service. That would sort of defeat the purpose of trademark law. Starbucks should not be able to do that. But what they can do is throw their legal firepower and resources at smaller regional shops to drain the resources of the smaller shops. That's exactly what they are doing.

In this instance Im not sure how successful Starbuckss efforts have been. It seems (from looking at DoubleShots blog) that DoubleShot is enjoying the attention generated by this dispute. Especially with a company like Starbucks, alternatives are likely to be started by and patronized by people with anti chain (and anti corporate) streaks. Not the type of people likely to back down. Maybe even the type of people who come up with creative ways to fight the battle.

From Stay Free! Daily, the blog of a Brooklyn-based magazine:

This isn't the first time Starbucks has tried to trademark a common phrase and bully smaller members of the industry out of using it. For example, Starbucks didn't invent Christmas but they attempted to stop the monks of the All-Merciful Savior Monastery from selling a Christmas blend of their Monastery Blend Coffee. I'm glad to see that the DoubleShot folks intend to fight back; I hope it doesn't cost them too much money.

Meanwhile, our doughty entrepreneur has some serious thinking to do:

Time is drawing short and some critical decisions need to be made. Many people have recommended that I just submit to Starbucks and change the name of my business. They have too much money and could squeeze me out of business, right? Maybe I'm an idealist, but in my mind this isn't just about a little caf in Tulsa Oklahoma. This is about what is right and wrong. This is about a corporation trying to live above the rules, and lay claim to words that have been in the coffee industry for a century. I'm not the kind of guy to lay down and let the schoolyard bully push me around.

The response to the attorneys will happen this week. Should I press the issue and take a chance of being sued? If I am sued, where will I get the money for a lawyer? Will someone trustworthy of this case work pro bono? If I cannot find a lawyer, can I stand up for myself in court? I know I am right; and I know that I can clearly state the case. If I must have a lawyer for a lawsuit and do not have one, should I play it safe and negotiate backward? There is much to consider.

LaFortune in Laodicea

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This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column is an analysis of the result of the mayoral election, a defeat for Bill LaFortune that was four years in the making. How did he go from having broad and enthusiastic support in 2002 to having no significant base of support in 2006? Special attention is given to the role that the local Republican Party organization might have played in keeping LaFortune connected to the GOP grassroots.

(I don't normally write my own headlines, but I submitted this one, and it was used. I think it's pretty apt.)

The rest of the current issue has a whole bunch of articles by city reporter Ginger Shepherd: on the mayoral transition, the high-rise sprinkler requirement, home security, syphilis, and the PAC's new ticketing system. Pick up an issue today at fine establishments citywide.

UPDATE: If the term Laodicea isn't familiar to you, read this.

As we were leaving Gilcrease after the inauguration, Christi Breedlove took this photo of the whole Bates family, just outside the museum entrance:

Michael Bates and family

The little one was a bit upset. Just before the photo, former Tulsa County Democratic Party Chairman Elaine Dodd had been holding him. He seemed quite content with her until we took him away to take the picture. We will have to keep a close eye on him for any ideological deviationism. :)

Inauguration day photos


Monday afternoon, I pulled my nine-year-old out of school early and we met my wife and the other two kids at Gilcrease Museum for the inauguration of the Mayor, City Auditor, and City Council of Tulsa. We were happy to be there to honor our friends on the Council who were newly elected and newly re-elected.

Everyone was running a little late. Parking was a complete mess. I saw Alison Eagleton, the wife of one of the new councilors, and Councilor-elect Cason Carter pulling their cars out of a full parking lot and into an overflow lot just as the festivities were set to begin. Gilcrease hosted the event two years ago, but that wasn't a mayoral inauguration, so the crowd was a good deal smaller then. The last mayoral inauguration was held outdoors on the Williams Center Green.

The room was packed to capacity. We said hello to Councilors Roscoe Turner and Jack Henderson and their wives as we walked past the VIP section. Jim East offered my wife his seat and my daughter took the empty seat next to it, while I took the baby and his big brother and found a place to stand near the back of the room. My holding a very cute baby meant that there were some smiles in my direction from people who normally wouldn't smile at me.

We wound up standing just behind Ginger Shepherd, UTW's new city reporter, and just in front of Becky Darrow, from South Tulsa Citizens Coalition and Tulsans Defending Democracy. I noticed that the baby was much happier if I held him on my left shoulder where he could flirt with Becky.

Since no one (maybe not even Kathy Taylor) really knows what a Kathy Taylor administration is going to look like, we are all like a bunch of Sovietologists trying to discern the inner workings of the Kremlin based on who is standing next to whom atop Lenin's Tomb during the May Day parade.

The first clue of the day wasn't an encouraging one: Former KRMG morning host John Erling was the Master of Ceremonies. Erling was the radio mouthpiece of the Good Ol' Boy network, finally driven from his microphone last year by declining ratings.

Taylor's speech? Nothing much specific. She talked about her administration representing the diversity of Tulsa. If she really means geographical and ideological diversity, that's great. If she means there's a place at the table for supporters of Chris Medlock and Don McCorkell and Bill LaFortune and even Ben Faulk, that's wonderful. If she plans to look beyond the Midtown Money Belt for appointments to authorities, boards, and commissions, I applaud her. I hope she didn't mean that she'll surround herself with people who think just like she does and justify it because they have a diversity of ethnic backgrounds or political party affiliations.

My five-year-old daughter, who is on the petite side herself, complained after the ceremony that she still hadn't seen the new Mayor's face in person; she could only see the top of Taylor's head over the heads of the people in front of her.

We stayed around for a long time after the ceremony, shaking hands and chatting. I took a few pictures of dignitaries, and I had my son take a few of me with some of the councilors, but I missed a few shots I wanted because my son was busy taking pictures out the Vista Room window of the Osage Hills in bloom. (If you're on the home page, click the "Continue reading" link to see the photos.)

GOP ISO banquet hall

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For as long as anyone can remember, the Tulsa County Republican Men's Club (TCRMC) held their monthly luncheons at The Fountains near 66th and Lewis. But earlier this year, the restaurant was closed for health code violations. The TCRMC had to find a new place in a hurry.

They wound up at the Radisson Hotel, which until recently was the Sheraton Tulsa, on 41st Street near Garnett Road. A week from Friday will be their third month meeting at the hotel.

However nice the facilities or the food, this is a spectacularly inappropriate place for Republicans to meet. The general manager of this hotel, Jon Davidson, was the chairman of Citizens for Responsible Government, the 2004-2005 effort to recall two Republican city councilors from office. Despite the change of affiliation from Sheraton to Radisson, the hotel still has the same ownership and management.

Although I have attended both TCRMC meetings at the Sheraton/Radisson, I have eaten elsewhere beforehand, because I don't want to reward Davidson for the damage he did to our city and our party. Until the TCRMC moves elsewhere, I won't buy lunch.

But the TCRMC can't move without options, so I'm asking for your help. If you know of a banquet hall that can seat about 200 people and offers a reasonably priced ($10 or under) lunch buffet and has a decent sound system, please drop me a line at blog at batesline dot com. Other Republican clubs may be interested in using the same facility.

And if you're a TCRMC member and it bugs you that we're patronizing an establishment run by the unrepentant head of the recall effort, you might want to let your club leaders know -- politely -- by e-mail or at the next meeting. (If you are a TCRMC member you've already got the e-mail address and don't need me to provide it.)

UPDATE: In rereading this, I didn't think I made it clear enough that I am not an officer in the TCRMC. I'm just a concerned member, and my aim in posting this is to learn about alternative meeting places that I can then recommend to the TCRMC leadership.

It's no surprise that the Tulsa Whirled continues to spin its revisionist web about the last two years at City Hall as a way to vindicate itself and to try to intimidate the incoming Council. With a little more free time on his hands, recently former City Councilor Chris Medlock does an able job of rebutting the Whirled's assertions with reality.

Unable and unwilling to debate the Council reformers on issues, the Whirled and the entrenched special interests painted a portrait of lies, and through frequent repetition they got their readers to believe it. It's the same phenomenon I described in my Thursday, November 24, 2005, column:

That sort of accusation by implication happens a lot at City Council meetings, but with reform-minded City Councilors as the target. The accusers are city officials who find themselves being asked polite, reasonable questions that theyd rather not answer. To deflect attention from the substantive issue at hand, they complain that theyre being bullied or browbeaten. The daily paper duly reports the baseless complaints, which gives their editorial board a chance to wheeze out a few paragraphs deploring the behavior that didnt happen.

I challenge anyone to point to one example of rudeness from those two men -- name the date and the occasion. I never saw it or anything approaching it.

The Whirled editorial that Medlock rebuts is about Tulsa's water policy. It was the belief of a majority of the City Council that the City of Tulsa should reexamine its policy concerning water sales to the suburbs. Instead, the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority and Mayor Bill LaFortune rushed to commit the city to 40-year sweetheart deals that were not necessarily to Tulsa's advantage. At the same time, suburban developers financed a campaign to break the Council majority through the recall of the two councilors their polling told them were most vulnerable.

Oklahoma City charges outside-the-city customers from 25% to 75% more than inside-the-city customers. Meanwhile, Tulsa sells water wholesale to outside customers at the same price city residents pay -- $1.98 per thousand gallons. Medlock and Mautino and the other councilors thought Tulsa ought to be smarter about how it handles water sales.

Owasso is certainly smart -- they buy water from Tulsa at the same price Tulsans pay, then they mark it up and pocket the profits to pay for municipal services. Owasso's city manager, Rodney Ray, raised a ruckus because some wise Tulsa councilors were talking about doing something for Tulsa's benefit that might cut into his profits.

Someone over on the TulsaNow Forum (currently broken due to Microsoft web server issues) wondered recently about using water revenues to make up Tulsa's likely budget shortfall. Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino wondered about that, too. For their trouble their reputations were trashed, and they and their families were put through a recall ordeal that lasted nearly a year. They've been falsely accused of being rude, mean, impolite -- all adjectives that better fit their accusers. To the TulsaNow forum poster who wondered about that, where the heck were you when these two forward-thinking councilors needed your support? And are you going to be there for the new city councilors when they get flack for thinking outside the box?

As I mentioned earlier, the Whirled's aim with this editorial is partly vindication, partly to warn the incoming councilors not to cross them. This editorial was published for the same reason that King Edward Longshanks had William Wallace's head displayed on a pike on London Bridge -- pour encourager les autres. supplicedusieurfoulon.jpg

There's a mythology surrounding councilors of the past who were savaged (and Savaged) by the political and media establishment. The myth says that those councilors somewhat deserved the trashing and bashing they received -- they pushed things too far or too fast, they didn't choose their battles carefully, they were inflexible, they were unwilling to compromise.

A new councilor will be tempted to think, "If I'm just smart -- like they weren't -- I'll get positive things done for the City, I'll emerge without a scratch, and everybody will like me." Lady and gentlemen, if you do the job you were elected to do, if you faithfully seek the best interests of the citizens of Tulsa, you will get trashed. You will get trashed by powerful and entrenched interests who don't care if a policy is good for Tulsa as long as it's good for them and their cronies.

As for the temptation to distance yourself from the legacy of Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock -- just remember that six of the nine of you were elected because you were more like Chris and Jim than your opponents were. Your opponents got money from the same people who tried to give Medlock and Mautino the boot, and you beat them. Your opponents complained about bickering at City Hall, and you beat them. If you aren't getting any pushback at all from the Whirled, the Chamber, the Public Works Department, or the development lobby, we're going to assume you aren't doing the job we sent you to do.

Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock have a proud record of achievement during their too-short time at City Hall. West Tulsa is getting a new superregional shopping center which will bring in sales-tax revenues from residents of Tulsa's rapidly growing south and west suburbs. For the first time in nearly 20 years of the City's contract with the Chamber, there's real oversight of how that $2 million a year gets spent. We have a city-specific economic development plan. We're going to get a new comprehensive land use plan. We have an ethics ordinance in place, so that conflicts of interest are properly disclosed and handled.

District 6 and District 2 are getting long-overdue infrastructure improvements. Charter changes are now in place to protect homeowners from arbitrary rezonings, to avert another wasted year on a frivolous recall effort, and to ensure that appointees to authorities, boards, and commissions face regular review by our elected representatives.

All of that happened because Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino and their allies were willing to push those issues and to take some heat as a result, but also to compromise enough to get majority support and a mayoral signature. What more might they have accomplished without the distraction of a recall election?

By all means, learn from their mistakes, but don't ignore their many successes. Build on those successes.

Cindy Walker on film

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Well, I'm not going to get time tonight to complete my blog tribute to recently departed songwriting great Cindy Walker, and I may do a series of posts rather than one long one, but for now, here's a great find on (of course) YouTube.

Although Walker made songwriting the focus of her life, all the way to the end, she was also a heckuva singer and could dance a bit, too. Here are three musical shorts featuring Cindy Walker. (If you can't see the video image below, click here to go to video on the YouTube site.) The first one is rather topical:

  • Election Day, with Red River Dave
  • Bearcat Mountain Gal
  • Ti-Yi-Yippee-Ay, with the Red River Boys and Girls

Election Day used to be a lot more exciting.

UPDATE: These little films are called Soundies, which were made in the early '40s. They were short 16mm films projected in a jukebox-like device called a Panoram.

Remember your roots

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I'm off in a few minutes to attend the 2:00 p.m. inauguration of the new Mayor and City Council of Tulsa at Gilcrease Museum, in the Vista Room. The event is of course open to the public, but I was honored to receive personal invitations to attend from three members of the incoming Council.

As an inauguration gift to the incoming councilors, particularly the Republicans, I'd like to present this January 2002 article by grassroots organizer Morton C. Blackwell: Advice to a Just-Elected Conservative Friend. Some key excerpts that contain echoes of the campaign just ended:

If significant political forces which supported your election decide you can no longer be the object of their affection, they will make you the object of their pressure. And when you run into a few troubles, as every elected official does, they won't instinctively jump to support you. They will ask themselves, "Why bother?"

Keep the faith. You can't make friends of your enemies by making enemies of your friends. Learn to live with the reality that some people won't like you if you do what you were elected to do.

No matter what you do, some people will be your enemies. They will never love you, so don't worry about trying to make them love you. You can make most of them respect you, though. If you work at it, you can learn better the art of how to say unpleasant things pleasantly. If you keep your word, you can keep your friends and win at least respect from most of your enemies....

The local, state and national political landscapes are littered with the moldering wrecks of the careers of politicians who won conservative support by giving their word on conservative principles and then broke their pledges....

In a system of separation of powers and checks and balances, most people realize you can't accomplish everything you'd like to. But you must say and do things which prove you are doing the best you can to live up to your supporters' reasonable expectations.

Complete victories are delightful but rare. You should prove yourself willing sometimes to win only incremental victories and sometimes to fight losing battles for good causes.

Curious as it may seem, a politician rarely hurts himself when he fights in a principled way for a cause which loses or against a cause which wins.

To city officials who say that eminent domain is the only way to revitalize cities, look at Anaheim, California:

Anaheim's old downtown was obliterated in the 1970s through past uses of eminent domain and urban renewal. Now, the city (population: 328,000) wants to build a new downtown, and the target location is called the Platinum Triangle, an area of one-story warehouses near Angel Stadium.

Sounds a lot like Tulsa. Our Main Street is all but gone, as is the old Black Wall Street, thanks to urban renewal, so we're looking for substitutes, areas that were left unscathed by urban renewal. Because we destroyed most of our downtown commercial and residential buildings, we're looking to repurpose office and warehouse buildings to create a downtown commercial/residential core where it had never existed before.

In the typical world of redevelopment, officials would choose a plan and a developer, offer subsidies and exclusive development rights, and exert pressure on existing property owners to leave the area.

That is a pretty good description of the approach Tulsa tried to take with the "East Village," the 115 acres bounded by Elgin, the Frisco tracks, the east leg of the Inner Dispersal Loop, and 7th St. Proposals were solicited, and a St. Louis big-box shopping center developer called Desco was given exclusive rights to develop the area, with the city's power of eminent domain as a resource available for assembling property for the private developer. Desco wasn't able to get anything going and their rights lapsed. In the meantime, small property owners had lived in fear of losing their property and weren't inclined to invest in improvements.

Instead, Anaheim created a land-value premium by creating an overlay zone that allowed almost any imaginable use of property. Because current owners could now sell to a wider range of buyers, the Platinum Triangle is booming, with billions in private investment, millions of square feet of office, restaurant and retail space, and more than a dozen new high-rises in the works.

Tulsa's CBD zoning district offers that kind of freedom, and it applies to most land within the Inner Dispersal Loop, although some of that land is in one of the industrial districts (IL, IM, or IH), which restricts less intensive uses. I think this might be the case in party of the East Village and Brady Village. In practical terms, industrial zoning puts hurdles in the way of retail or residential uses.

Anaheim's example deserves closer examination.

(Hat tip to U. S. Rep. John Doolittle's Morning Murmur.)

I had this big music post in mind for tonight, but I am just too tired to write. Here's what other Tulsa bloggers are writing about:

Homeowners for Fair Zoning salutes Councilor Jim Mautino, who is returning to private life, after the Good Ol' Boy network finally beat him on the fourth of four tries.

Brian C. Biggs has a diagram illustrating the way politicians process debate questions.

Tyson Wynn has audio of Bill LaFortune's concession speech and Kathy Taylor's victory speech. And he has posted some election night thoughts.

Michelle has had it with voting. (It's hard to vote when you have to use one hand to hold your nose.)

Dan Paden waited, and waited, and waited for Bill LaFortune to "throw him a bone." What he meant by that phrase was this:

If LaFortune had done just one thing--something, anything concrete--to decisively sever his relationships with the GOB network, I'd vote for him. But instead, it seems to me that his every move has been calculated to leave the possibility of a reconciliation with the GOB elite open.

In the end, it was his trusty reverse barometer, the Tulsa Whirled, that made up his mind:

During all my deliberations, I hadn't asked myself, "Would the Whirled want me to vote for LaFortune, or for Faulk?" That seemed a no-brainer; Faulk is no threat at all to them. LaFortune, on the other hand, if he wins, and if he's true to what he said on KFAQ, would at least not be what they wanted: Kathy Taylor.

Bobby meant to vote LaFortune but his hand had other ideas. He reviews the Council results and urges his new District 9 councilor, Cason Carter, to stick close to fellow newcomers John Eagleton and Rick Westcott. Good advice.

On Wednesday, KOTV's Steve Berg asked me, my friend and outgoing councilor Chris Medlock, and my friend and new councilor Maria Barnes about the makeup of the new council.

Mad Okie says goodbye and good riddance to the LaFortune administration.

Elsewhere in Tulsa:

D. Schuttler says goodbye and good riddance to the TulsaNow forum, where a moderator deleted and edited his entries that were critical of the moderation policy.

Steve Roemerman says hello to a new Tulsa-based and Tulsa-focused discussion forum called The Voice of Tulsa. Check it out.

Steve also reports on the City Council's decision "to sprinkle or not to sprinkle". That's easy -- immersion is the only Biblical mode....

Steve and his family also visited DoubleShot tonight to enjoy some excellent coffee and express solidarity with the oppressed. He has photos. Bobby at Tulsa Topics wrote about the DoubleShot story earlier in the week.

Good night!

Down without Pitney

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'60s pop singer and songwriter Gene Pitney died early Wednesday of a heart attack in Cardiff, Wales, where he had performed the night before. In 1993, Dawn Eden interviewed Pitney for Goldmine magazine; today National Review Online has her reflections on his life and career:

When the hits stopped coming, Pitney knew when to ditch the record-biz merry-go-round in favor of his always-supportive live audiences. He wed his high-school sweetheart, stayed married, raised three sons, invested well, and never wrote a kiss-and-tell tome.

The author of Ricky Nelson's unassuming hit "Hello Mary Lou" never tried to be an Artist with a capital A. He avoided the clichs of 1960s rock stardom at every turn which is why he's so much more interesting, and in many ways more artful, than so many of the performers who replaced him on the charts.

The article includes several anecdotes from her interview with Pitney -- there's a funny one about the sound effects his record label used to create a fake live album. Eden and Pitney agreed that his voice had matured, lost that "high-pitched nasal sound," which made me wonder if he had re-recorded any of his hits later in his career. (He had.) It would be interesting to hear the difference.

In looking for the answer to that question, I was intrigued to discover that Pitney had done two albums with country music legend George Jones, backed by the Jordanaires.

Pitney is one of three songwriters of note that we've lost in the last couple of weeks. Buck Owens was another. The third? You Don't Know her (probably), but you know her songs. Expect a tribute here late tonight. (UPDATE: Come back tomorrow night.)

At the risk of providing Charles G. Hill with another blurb for his list of testimonials, this has to be said: Dustbury is the epitome of a blog -- links to an eclectic mix of web content, each accompanied by a well-selected excerpt that entices the reader to click through, followed by a pithy observation, and topped with a clever play on words. Even the category names are inspired. By comparison, other blogs are mere shadows on the wall of a cave.

Dustbury celebrates its tenth anniversary this coming weekend and Mr. Hill would like your help to mark the occasion:

With the official Tenth Anniversary in the offing, I'm soliciting reactions: to the site, to individual writings, to perceived philosophy, to whatever you might think is pertinent. And atypically, I'm not taking them as comments: I don't want the tenth one received, for example, to be affected by the preceding nine. This will be email only, and a representative selection of the reactions received will be posted here next week. Use this link if possible; if you don't want your name used, say so.

Please note that this is a more sophisticated and nuanced feedback mechanism than the site's original Feedback Form.

An edited version of this piece was published in the April 5, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web August 8, 2009.

For multi-partisan city elections

By Michael D. Bates

Once again, dear reader, you have me at a disadvantage. As you read this, you know who will be the next Mayor of Tulsa. As I write this, the election is still in the future. So let's look together at an issue that will be on the table no matter who wins Tuesday's election: the role of party politics in city elections.

A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from a prominent supporter of Kathy Taylor. He was expressing dismay that Republican leaders were trying to bring the other Republican candidates and their supporters behind Bill LaFortune, the Republican nominee.

I was amused by the tut-tutting about partisanship from the Taylor camp. Shut out as they are from both U. S. Senate seats and all but one congressional district, Democratic strategists are salivating at the prospect of once again having a Democrat as mayor of the state's second-largest city, someone who can attract donations to Democratic candidates for the State Legislature. According to Oologah Lake Leader editor John Wylie, State Rep. Jari Askins said at a recent Democratic fundraiser that "the election of Taylor would be a huge first step in taking back the [State] House and preserving the [State] Senate in 2006" for the Democratic Party.

Even if we strip partisan labels from the city election ballot, politics at all levels are too closely linked to keep the national parties from having an interest and an influence in local elections.

That said, I'm sympathetic to the idea of non-partisan city elections. Twice I proposed a charter amendment that would have eliminated party primaries and replaced them with an all-candidate election, preferably using Instant Runoff Voting (see my March 9th UTW column) or, failing that, a two-round system, with a separate runoff election between the top two if no candidate gets 50% in the first round.

Non-partisan elections are appealing because local political factions don't break neatly along national partisan lines. Chris Medlock says that there are really six "parties" in Tulsa politics, three factions which each have supporters in both national parties.

You have the Midtown old-money elites who are behind the paternalistic plan to replace three of the nine council districts with three citywide supercouncilors; in their view the hayseeds in North, West, and East Tulsa can't be trusted with self-government. Then there are the developers and the Chamber bureaucrats, who look at City government as a way to serve their institutional and business interests and don't want homeowners and small business to have even a seat at the table.

Finally, there are the populist grass-roots - the rest of us - who believe that city government should serve the interests of all Tulsans, not just a favored few, and that Tulsans from all classes and all parts of the city deserve a seat at the table.

There are Democrats and Republicans in all three factions, and they often find more kinship with those who share their outlook on city government than with their fellow Ds or Rs. That's how you wind up with a reform alliance on the city council made up of two Democrats and two Republican, opposed by a status quo caucus consisting of four Republicans and one Democrat.

Because our city primary system follows national party lines, the struggle between the three trans-partisan factions is often settled in the primary, and the general election doesn't offer much of a choice. Also, party labels on a general election ballot can be misleading. You'd think a Republican would oppose higher taxes or that a Democrat would oppose corporate welfare, but that ain't necessarily so. An R or a D doesn't tell the voter with which of the three city factions a candidate is aligned.

Would stripping party labels entirely be helpful to voters? In fact, it gives voters even less information to work with. Labels are helpful aids to memory. You may have trouble remembering the name of the candidates you plan to support, and knowing that you decided to vote with your party in the mayor's race and with the other party in the council race gives you an extra hook to recall your decision.

It's indisputable that non-partisan elections have lower turnout. You see this in judicial and school board elections here in Oklahoma, and it's borne out across the country. The theory is that voters, lacking even the little sliver of information that a party label provides, don't feel they know enough to make a choice and so they stay away.
On the same day that 60,000 Tulsans turned out to vote in our city primaries, only 14,000 Oklahoma City voters participated in their non-partisan mayor's race. That number was inflated above normal levels by the Oklahoma Republican Party chairman urging support for the re-election of Mayor Mick Cornett, a registered Republican. Just shy of 11,000 voted in the 2002 OKC mayor's race.

So how do we change Tulsa's system to expand both choice and information for voters?

Instead of non-partisan city elections, let's have multi-partisan elections. Put all candidates for a city office on the ballot, but instead of stripping away the party labels, let's let candidates apply the label or labels of their choosing. Maybe that would be a major party label, maybe that would be the name of a political action committee (PAC), or even both.

The actual mechanics would go something like this: Candidates would file their petitions for office. (With no primaries to filter candidates, everyone should have to collect 300 signatures in order to run.) Each PAC registered with the City Clerk's office would then have a week to submit to the election board the list of candidates they are endorsing. The county political parties would have the same opportunity if they choose to exercise it. Each candidate would then choose which party and PAC endorsements would appear next to his name on the ballot.

For example, this year the District 6 Council ballot might have looked like this:

  • James Mautino - Republican, Homeowners for Fair Zoning
  • Theresa Buchert - Grow Tulsa PAC, Bank of Oklahoma PAC
  • Dennis Troyer - Democrat, N. E. Oklahoma Labor Council

With at least three candidates likely in every race on the ballot, we'd have to have some form of runoff; Instant Runoff Voting would be the best way to ensure that the winner would be chosen by a majority of voters. (Again, see my March 9th UTW column or www.fairvote.org for details.)

Non-partisan municipal elections would give Tulsans fewer and murkier choices. A multi-partisan ballot with a sound runoff system is the best way to give Tulsa's voters clearer, better, and more plentiful options when we choose our representatives at City Hall.

As someone who was threatened with an intellectual property lawsuit, I can empathize with Brian Franklin, proprietor of Tulsa's DoubleShot Coffee Company:

I sense there has been some confusion. At least, that's what the letter says that I received from Starbucks' attorneys.

It's true. I received a letter last week informing me that I am infringing on a trademark that Starbucks has had since 2001, "Starbuck's Doubleshot." The lawyers advised me to cease using the DoubleShot Coffee Company name, to shut down my website (http://www.DoubleShotCoffee.com), and to destroy everything I have which bears the "DoubleShot" name. Come read the letter yourself-- it's framed and hanging on the wall, over the garbage can.

At first I frowned, then I smiled, then I laughed, then I experienced a little anger and fear, and then I went back to vengeance and irritable laughter. As you know, I don't take kindly to people telling me what to do. After briefly discussing the matter with my lawyer, and a gaggle of other lawyers who regularly patronize DoubleShot (my DoubleShot, not the can at the gas station), I don't think Starbucks has a leg to stand on. Doubleshot is a generic industry term for two shots of espresso. They have no exclusive rights to it. But they will try to scare me and lawyer me out of business if we give them the opportunity.

So today, as a legal clarification, I would like everyone to know that we are not Starbuck's Doubleshot. If we tricked you into coming in here, thinking you could get a can of Starbuck's DoubleShot here, please let me know.

And if you thought that $2 Tuesday was a sale on Starbuck's Doubleshot, I vehemently apologize for the confusion and ask you to please not come in here anymore because stupid people annoy me.

On the other hand, if you are brilliant enough to seek out a pound of fresh-roasted DoubleShot coffee, you will be rewarded today. Come in anytime today for $2 Tuesday, and receive a $2 discount on every pound of oh-so-tasty-coffee you purchase.

We don't have any cans of Starbuck's Doubleshot here, but we do have the freshest coffee on the planet!

Please tell as many people as you can about this outrageous Starbucks chicanery. We figure that the more publicity and public indignation we stir up, the better chance we will have at standing up against this evil corporate empire.

Find out more information about this on the latest episode of AA Cafe (and learn how to get a 15% discount on web orders):
http://www.DoubleShotCoffee.com/aacafe or on iTunes (search for "AA Cafe" in the music store).

I'd be interested to know what Ron Coleman, IP attorney and blawger extraordinaire, thinks about this. Actually, based on this recent item about Marvel and DC Comics trying to trademark the word "super-hero," I can guess. (As general counsel for the Media Bloggers Association, Ron responded on my behalf to the Tulsa World's legal threats.)

I'd think the Swinging Medallions would have a better infringement claim than Starbucks.

If you're a blogger, help spread the word about Starbucks' bullying. If you're a coffee drinker, stop by DoubleShot at 18th and Boston and buy a cup of great coffee to show your support. And stay tuned to DoubleShot's brand new blog for updates on the situation.

My latest column in Urban Tulsa Weekly, which was filed on Monday, before the election, recommends switching city elections from the current primary/general structure to a multi-partisan instant-runoff election. Note that I said multi-partisan, not non-partisan. (I don't write the headlines or cutlines for my stories.) My column explains the distinction and how my proposal gives voters more choice and more information than either the current system or a non-partisan system.

End of the line

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After the polls closed, I stopped off at one polling place (precinct 100) to get a sense of what happened, then drove on to Jim Mautino's watch party at the American Legion hall. There were a lot of good neighborhood activists there, not only from east Tulsa, but from all over town, people who worked for Jim's re-election. The eats were great -- Big Daddy's Barbecue. The result was close but ultimately disappointing. I'm sure Jim and his wife Bonnie are happy to have their lives back. Jim has worked very hard for all of us, and we should be grateful for what he's given to the city.

Steve Roemerman and I left Jim's party and caravaned down to the Mayo Hotel to the LaFortune watch party. The Mayor made a very graceful concession speech.

I'll be on KFAQ in the morning 6:10 trying to make sense of tonight's results. Meanwhile, go visit meeciteewurkor's Tulsa headlines page for links to what other Tulsa bloggers are saying about the results.

KTUL has all the results on a single page.

Election media notes

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I'll be on 1170 KFAQ again with Michael DelGiorno between 6 and 7 in the morning, mainly to talk about the charter amendments (vote FOR all six!) and the Council races in Districts 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9.

Chris Medlock will be on 740 KRMG with Joe Kelley at 6:20 and possibly again at 6:50 to talk about the six charter amendments.

Earlier today, I was interviewed by KJRH's Jaclyn Allen about likely turnout tomorrow. Allen also spoke to TU professor Gary Allison. The story should be on their 10 p.m. newscast on channel 2 (cable channel 9).

BatesLine orientation

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It occurs to me that there may be a few more readers here than normal over the next couple of days, and some new reader orientation is in order.

This blog has been around since May 1, 2003. I started it as a place to note interesting things I encountered on the World Wide Web (the textbook purpose of a weblog), comment on politics, and post the occasional family photo. Tulsa politics has become the central focus of BatesLine, but I still touch on the other topics you see listed on the title image, which was inspired by the famous map of the London Underground. Lately, I've been consumed by the election, but ordinarily you'll find entries about Western Swing music, global news, national politics, Tulsa history, theology, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Over the course of nearly three years of blogging, I've added a lot of content and have tried to find an easily navigable way of presenting it. The masthead, just below the title, provides some convenient links. Over to the left, there's a link to a PDA-friendly version of the homepage -- excerpts from the ten most recent entries with as little ornamentation as possible. Over to the right, distinguished with a white background and red text, is my "spotlight" -- a place to link the current entry to which I most wish to draw your attention.

My blogging led, starting in the fall of '03, to a weekly appearance on Talk Radio 1170 KFAQ's Michael DelGiorno Show. (My normal slot is Tuesday mornings from 6:10 to 7:00, but I will also be on tomorrow morning from 6 to 8 as part of a panel discussing the city elections.) If my regular schedule changes, you'll see it updated on the masthead.

Last fall, I began writing a weekly column for Urban Tulsa Weekly. You'll find a link on the masthead to my latest column, a summary of all my columns with links to each, and a link to G. W. Schulz's profile of me. If you want to get an idea of who I am and what makes me tick, that's a good place to start.

Below the masthead, there's a quick link that will take you beyond the rest of the front matter directly to my latest blog entry. Below that, you'll find the titles of my most recent ten entries with links to each.

Next is the most recent ten entries of my "linkblog". I set this up last October both as an exercise in web programming and as a way to note web items I found interesting, without having to think of a clever title or add a lot of commentary. There's a link to a complete archive of linkblog entries.

Finally, we get to the blog proper. Most entries are presented on the main page in their entirety, but sometimes you have to click a "continue reading" link to read the whole thing. Comments are welcomed, but I reserve the right not to post your comment -- here's a link to the BatesLine commenting policy.

The Technorati tags under each entry give you a way to see what other blogs have been commenting on a given topic. For example, this link will take you to most recent blog entries tagged Bill+LaFortune.

Now to the sidebar: At the top, you'll find my Okie Blog award for Best Political Blog and the cover from the UTW profile (that link also leads you to the profile). Next is my e-mail address, cleverly obscured to defeat spammers. I'm a member of the Media Bloggers Association, an organization of bloggers who comment on the mainstream media. In February 2005, the group helped me deal with legal threats from the Tulsa World.

The Tulsa Bloggers button leads to a page displaying the latest articles from bloggers who write regularly about Tulsa news and politics. Below it is a link to the UTW feature story I wrote about these bloggers in January.

You can advertise on BatesLine! It's cheap -- $10 a week, $20 a month, or $45 for three months. For a mere tenner your ad gets over 10,000 views a week.

I also participate in a free ad exchange called Blog Ad Swap, the creation of Danny Carlton aka Jack Lewis.

Below that there's a tip jar -- your donations help cover hosting fees and research expenses.

The "Best Posts of 2005" button takes you to a collection of excellent blog entries compiled by Jeff Faria aka Mister Snitch. If you've never dabbled much in the realm of blogs, this would be a good place to start.

Below that, there's a button linking to information about this fall's Okie Blogger Roundup, the first-ever large scale gathering of Oklahoma-based bloggers.

The "Blog Ecosystem" section gives you an idea of how BatesLine fits into the grand scheme of things in the blogosphere. I'm a "Large Mammal", which puts BatesLine roughly in the top 1,000 blogs worldwide. Clicking that will give you a list of blogs that links to me. Technorati's "Blogs That Link Here" and "Who Links to Me?" do the same thing, but differently.

(More later.)

BOA corrector

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Something Bill LaFortune deserves, but hasn't received, credit for, is reshaping the city's Board of Adjustment (BOA). The BOA is a quasi-judicial body that is authorized to grant variances from the regulations of the zoning code. The BOA also considers requests for special exceptions, where the zoning code allows a certain use in a certain set of circumstances, but the BOA must weigh neighborhood compatibility before granting the exception.

A variance is only supposed to be granted if a hardship exists -- something about the arrangement land and buildings that would result in an absurd situation if the zoning laws were strictly applied. A hardship can't be self-imposed and can't be economic in nature. By state law, the BOA can't grant "use variances" -- for example, they can't authorize the use of a house for a restaurant in a residentially-zoned area.

Until recently, variances were routinely granted in cases that lacked a legitimate hardship. I remember a case where an outbuilding was approved when it greatly exceeded the zoning code's limits on accessory building size. The BOA found the hardship to be that the lot was large.

Mayor LaFortune's three appointments to the BOA -- Clayda Stead, Frazier Henke, and Michael Tidwell -- have taken a strict approach to granting variances. They understand that, while they may think something should be permitted that isn't, it isn't their place to legislate from the bench.

Council pressure played an important role in the new appointments. Some councilors made it clear that they wouldn't support the reappointment of certain BOA members. In this case, at least, LaFortune respected the Council's wishes and sent down new names.

One final note: I have a great deal of respect for David White, one of the BOA members who was replaced by LaFortune. Although I didn't agree with his approach to the variance issue, I appreciated his fairness, integrity, and availability to answer questions. Dave regularly attended meetings of the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, often right after the conclusion of marathon BOA hearings, and was willing to explain his rationale on controversial decisions and to help us understand factors, such as court decisions and federal law, which the BOA has to weigh alongside the text of the zoning code.

It's not exactly the Federalist Papers, but here's a fascinating glimpse of the intent behind Tulsa's form of government, from the debates that preceded the adoption of the 1989 City Charter.

From the January 11, 1989, Tulsa Whirled, then Police and Fire Commissioner Bob Dick speaks in support of the proposed mayor-council charter which was up for a vote that February 14:

Dick said some people are worried city councilors would argue among themselves.

"What's wrong with that?" Dick asked. "Why shouldn't we hear differing views on the issues that will arise?

"Our form of government tends to chill a little bit of the public debate over some issues," he said. "There is a tendency that if I need something I may not want to attack the street commissioner or the water commissioner because I may need his or her vote.

"I'm not saying that happens all the time. But it can happen," Dick said.

From a debate with Tom Quinn, in the February 2, 1989,

Quinn said the mayor, the chief administrator who would serve a four-year term, would erect a political empire through doling contracts without competitive bidding and through appointments on commissions, trusts and authorities.

"It all boils down to how benevolent the dictator is," Quinn said.

Dick countered that council approval of the mayor's proposed budget is required, as is approval for all appointments, including division heads.

Dick also said the auditor "would be the 'anti-mayor,'" counterbalancing through whistle blowing any abuses of power by the mayor or council.

I'd say Tom Quinn was prescient. His is an apt description of city government during the Savage years, and I suspect we can expect the same under a Kathy Taylor administration. It wasn't until the City Council had members who were assertive enough to "argue among themselves" that the Mayor began to be held in check. We finally have a critical mass of councilors who are assertive enough to buck the Mayor on appointments and other issues. It has helped to have a mayor who hasn't used the office's leverage to keep the Council on a leash.

The Council could be even more effective as a check on the Mayor's power with the passage of Propostition 1, which would give the Council the right to employ an attorney independent of the City Attorney's management.

What we haven't had to date is an Auditor that has acted as an anti-mayor. Phil Wood has done a competent and thorough job for the last 18 years, but he has taken a quiet behind-the-scenes approach to the job, rather than acting as a whistleblower. His focus has been on ensuring that the city follows sound financial practices and controls. I applaud Wood's pioneering work to make city government information available on his personal website, which preceded the official city website by a few years.

Michael Willis, the Republican challenger to Wood, has suggested that the City Auditor could be more proactive in working with the Council to conduct performance audits of city departments -- going beyond asking whether money is being spent as authorized to ask whether money is being spent wisely. That's worth considering.

I was inclined to vote for Wood, because what he has done, he has done well, even if he hasn't fulfilled the potential of the office, and he has a reputation of being above the fray of partisan politics.

What pried me loose from that position was a $2,000 contribution from Wood's campaign to the campaign of Dennis Troyer, the Good Ol' Boy candidate trying to unseat District 6 Councilor Jim Mautino. Mr. Wood has picked a side in the struggle to make Tulsa's government work for all Tulsans, and he picked the wrong one.

(UPDATE 4/3/2006: From Phil Wood I learn that his campaign gave only $200 to the Troyer campaign, not $2,000 as reported in the Tuesday, March 28, 2006, Tulsa Whirled. While the Tulsa Whirled printed a correction in the next day's edition, they didn't note the correction in their online story, nor did they link the correction in their special election section of their website, which is available without charge to non-subscribers. Here is Wood's explanation of the contribution and the discrepancy in amounts:

The Tulsa World published that my campaign contributed $2,000 to Troyer's campaign. I sent them a copy of his report clearly showing $200 (not 2,000) and they published a correction the following day.

I contributed the $200 to encourage distribution of my signs since the 'sign crew' is primarily my wife Emily and me.

I called Councilor Mautino the morining of the publication to assure him I had not given $2,000 to his opponent.

Thanks to Phil Wood for the clarification. I was also told by someone who spoke to Wood that he said he had given $200 to each of the Democratic candidates to encourage them to place his yard signs in their districts. $200 gifts are not required to be reported, and presumably wouldn't appear to be an endorsement. In this case, the Troyer campaign chose to report the gift, which was misread by the newspaper as a $2,000 gift.)

The fact that Willis until recently worked for LaFortune is a concern, but if we wind up with Taylor as Mayor, Willis could be a good counterbalance. He doesn't have Phil Wood's decades of experience, but the actual audit work is done by a team of internal auditors, under the management of the City Auditor. And he would inherit the procedures and policies established by Wood.

On the other hand, Willis endorsed City Council District 9 Good Ol' Boy candidate Jeff Stava and last year co-founded a PAC with Stava. (The PAC hasn't spent any money.)

My inclination is to vote for a move toward a more active, visible role for the City Auditor.

Since these haven't yet been posted on the UTW website, I'll post them here:


Below are the responses submitted by Bill LaFortune to the Urban Tulsa Weekly questionnaire. Democrat nominee Kathy Taylor and Independent candidate Benford L. Faulk did not submit replies.

Paul Tay submitted his reply prior to the primary, and did not respond to the opportunity to reply to the two additional questions (11 and 12) added to the general election questionnaire. You can read Tay's response, which includes his proposed cabinet, a couple of vulgarities, and a lengthy digression about the deflation of his erstwhile inflatable companion, on his blog.

The City Council website has details about the six charter amendments, including ballot language and the changes to the charter text for each. UTW endorses passage of all six.

For more information about the candidates, www.TulsaTopics.com has links to all the candidate websites, a printable "tournament bracket" for the city elections, and audio of the mayoral forum sponsored by TulsaNow and Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa. David Schuttler�s Our Tulsa World blog has video from many Mayoral and Council candidate forums.

Homeowners for Fair Zoning has posted their endorsements in the City Council races and on the charter amendments.

Here's the complete BatesLine archive of entries about Election 2006.

The Tulsa Whirled is making its archive of Election 2006 stories available outside their firewall. Sumite cum grano salis.

To look up your district and polling place and to see sample ballot images, visit the Tulsa County Election Board website.

Other UTW election resources:

Click the "continue reading" link to see LaFortune's questionnaire responses.

You can watch the entire KOTV debate between Bill LaFortune and Kathy Taylor online. The most interesting part starts at about 26 minutes in, when the each has the chance to ask the other a question.

Today I spent an hour or so walking neighborhoods for District 6 City Councilor Jim Mautino. Jim and Bonnie Mautino
I had family obligations, so I arrived after several others had already been hard at work for a few hours. Jim's volunteers included leaders in Homeowners for Fair Zoning and Tulsans Defending Democracy. There were Democrats and Republicans, folks from District 6 who appreciate Jim's hard work on behalf of the district, and folks from other districts who appreciate how Jim works with other councilors for fair treatment at City Hall for all Tulsans. Jim was out there with us, working harder and walking faster than any of us. Our efforts were rewarded with a hearty spaghetti lunch, prepared by Jim's wife, Bonnie.

While at the Mautinos' house, I was shown the mailer sent out by Mautino's opponent, Dennis Troyer. Troyer (Verne, not Dennis) The mailer was identical in layout to the mailer used two years ago by Art Justis, the councilor who was defeated by Mautino, and it listed the same bunch of supporters that backed Justis and backed the attempt to recall Mautino.

Troyer signed the recall petition, which tells me that he is fundamentally opposed to City Hall reform. His fundraising report also points to his anti-reform leanings: He received $1,500 from the David Patrick Campaign, $2,000 from Friends of David Patrick, and $3,000 from Grow Tulsa, a PAC funded by World Publishing Co., Howard Barnett (of Tulsans for Better Government, the group behind the at-large supercouncilor idea), BOk Chairman George Kaiser, the BOk Financial Corp PAC, C. Arnold Brown, Dave Presley, and Reuben Davis. Like Barnett, the Whirled has been a vocal supporter of the at-large supercouncilors, as a way of undoing the progress that has been made by electing grassroots councilors like Jim Mautino. Kaiser and BOk PAC fielded a team of candidates in the primaries, trying to pack the Council, largely without success. Patrick was a consistent vote for the Good Ol' Boy network during his years on the Council.

Just like the recall, the Troyer campaign is funded by outside interests who want a puppet at City Hall, not a councilor who actively works for the best interests of East Tulsa and the entire city.

Jim Mautino has a solid record of achievement in getting improvements for District 6, and I feel sure that District 6 voters will reject the pleas of the big money interests and vote on Tuesday to re-elect Jim Mautino.

(* That photo is actually of Verne Troyer, who is, as far as I know, no relation to Dennis Troyer. But it might be fair to regard Dennis Troyer as Art Justis's ideological Mini-Me.)

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