Dick on bickering, role of the auditor

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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.


Joseph Wallis said:

You are going to great lengths to justify Republican candidates aren't you? In the same story you admire the work Wood has done but then throw all of that away based on one campaign contribution. That's pretty disappointing.

Jim Mautino's re-election matters a lot to me -- enough that I walked neighborhoods for Jim on Saturday -- and I was stunned that Wood would get involved to try to defeat him. It makes his radio spots about being above partisan politics disingenuous. If re-elected, Wood would continue to do the job he's been doing, which is good as far as it goes. Particularly if Taylor wins, I think we need an auditor who will take a more active and visible role in reforming city government.

XonOFF said:

For the record, the contribution to Troyer's campaign was made by the Re-Elect Phil Wood PAC, not Phil Wood. And, ostesibly, that contribution can be made without Phil Wood's consent.

I don't know what the truth is there, but I'd be real surprised to learn Phil Wood directed that contribution and, in particular, think he'd be dissappointed his name was used in this manner.

Greg Bledsoe said:

I was glad to hear that neither Phil Wood nor his campaign gave $2000 to Troyer. Rather it was another mistake by the TW. I too walked for Mautino--3 Saturdays in a row. I am a Democrat and think Mautino is the salt of the earth--I am told that Phil Wood thinks the same.

Thanks to this clarification--Phil has won my vote back.

Well if this is the case, then Wood got screwed by Troyer. I just got back from helping Mautino put signs out for tomorrow’s election. I saw a lot of LaFortune signs, some Willis signs, and a lot of Troyer signs. I'm not sure I saw one Wood sign. If Troyer took that $200 for signs, I think he may have misunderstood and put it into is own sign budget.

one thing about mr woods.mr woods auditor web sight was placed into the mayors web sight on 7 march 06 at the ethics committee meeting,rm 1102 down the hall from the mayors office.the city attorney and mike kier entered the room half way through the meeting and told mr woods that his web site had been moved to the mayors site.so how is the auditor independent from political parties or issues.the answer, it is not.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 2, 2006 9:39 PM.

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