September 2007 Archives

If the Vision 2025 Sales Tax Overview Committee is as diligent and vigilant a watchdog as we're being told they are, how did they miss noticing that the arena was going to go way over budget when there was time to prevent the crisis?

If Hurricane Katrina caused the arena to go more than $50 million over budget, how come it didn't have a similar effect on the cost of any other project?

The Tulsa County Vision Trust decided to allocate extra funding to the arena, because the estimated cost was wrong. Couldn't they have done the same thing for the low-water dams and Zink Dam work promised in Vision 2025? And couldn't they have decided to allocate less of the surplus receipts for the arena and hold some surplus back for the dams?

Some of my fellow Tulsa bloggers are wondering about the river tax, too. First, let's hear from some bloggers that are new to me

Jason Kearney writes that "[n]o one was a bigger supporter of Vision 2025" than he was, but he's voting no on the October 9th sales tax increase. Among some of his many reasons:

For example, developers do not REQUIRE tax dollars to move forward with these projects, they just WANT them. Who wouldn't? I can understand the county giving them a tax break for a few years, but they do not need tax dollars. County Commissioner Randi Miller has proven by her actions that she has much to gain with all of her maneuvering in this. She screwed the Bell family out of their fifty-year family business, and now she wants to stick it to the tax payers.

Jason's entry also recounts the history of Jerry Gordon and the development of Jenks' Riverwalk Crossing. And in his most recent entry, he demolishes the PR spin from the Tulsa Metro Chamber on their economic impact numbers:

My first question was this: "Is it true that the current river development in Jenks, which is wildly popular and financially successful, was built with no tax increase at all?" Her answer: "Yes."

My second question: "Is it true that the majority of the 10,000 jobs she is speaking about are low paying construction jobs, which will only last until the low water dams are complete?" Her answer: "Yes."

My third question: "If Tulsa votes down this sales tax increase, is it true that the commercial developers will still be allowed to build shops, restaurants, and condos along the river?" Her answer: "Yes."

My fourth question: "Isn't it true that the George Kaiser Foundation has already donated $20 million to enhance trails in the Riverparks area, and that work has already begun on these developments?" Her answer: "Yes."

And then there's Jason's take on the media blitz in support of the tax:

Anytime the county and the news media have to engage in a smoke and mirrors game to make the public believe that this tax has the full support of the public, anytime a PR firm has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to use children to make you feel guilty if you vote against it, there is something wrong.

Cindy Downes, a 57-year-old empty nest mom who is going to college, attended the "debate" last week at TCC, and she had to write a paper on the event as a class assignment. It's a well-written, detailed report, and you should read the whole thing. Cindy says it wasn't really a fair fight:

They had four speakers: Winn Estrada, who was against the River project; Robert Nichols, who was supposedly impartial; and Victor Muse and Randi Miller who were for the project. Winn Estrada had 10-15 minutes. The rest of the time was taken by the other three, with the majority of the time used by Randi Miller.

Victor Muse, the student debater in favor of the tax cited the Three Gorges Dam project in China as a positive example of river development. In fact, Three Gorges is a classic example of totalitarian environmental overreach, damaging the environment, archaeological sites, matchless scenery, and ancient cities, displacing two million people and a way of live dependent on the ability to navigate the Yangtze River. It's an example of the damage a totalitarian government can cause because there is no place for opposition groups that might challenge the government's plans.

Cindy went on to report some classic Randi Miller moments:

I asked about the eagles and she stated that the project would not affect this eagle habitat. I then asked to hear from Winn exactly why he thought it would. She said she did not come to debate her "constituents;" however, note that her whole speech up to this point was a "debate" against her constituent. She did give him the microphone briefly, but she kept talking about not debating her constituent and he was not able to get the "floor" back to adequately answer the question.

Someone then asked about the condition of the roads and why we should not fix them first. Her answer was that there is already $200M set aside for roads in Tulsa. There is some kind of "Bottleneck" that they are trying to figure out why this money is not getting used. They "think" it is because there are not enough companies in Oklahoma to do road repair and she encouraged the students to start a business in road repair as there is a definite need.

She ended with the statement that if this doesn't pass, it will be 20 years before it can come to the table again.

20 years? And has Mayor Taylor investigated this $200 million that Miller says is set aside for roads but isn't being spent?

You might think a blogger called CycleDog would be all for this tax plan, but no:

Some of the arguments in favor of the proposition have been downright silly. The latest was in today's newspaper, arguing that building a new park will attract droves of young people to area businesses, and these new folks will contribute so much money to the economy that the city will be able to rebuild our crumbling roads and road infrastructure. These people must have attended that same voodoo economic course as the Reagan administration.

Don't misunderstand me - I'm not opposed to paying taxes when the money goes to something that provides real, tangible benefits. But when faced with a stark choice - a local school or a distant park - the right choice is very clear.

And commenter Ryan responded:

I have friends that have transplanted from San Diego, for the sole reason of being able to afford a new home, and even they never had to pay such a high sales tax to live in a city with sports stadiums and one of the nicest parks I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. I won't lie, I'm not an expert in city planning or budget, but I do know there's something wrong when this city can't develop without raising our sales tax to something that even ex-California residents scoff at.

Debb at Okie Mom Confessions confesses her reasons for a no vote on October 9th. She asks some great questions:

Vision 2025 addressed some of this already, the 2 low water dams & the shoreline beautification was to be addressed from funds from Vision 2025. Why are we, essentially paying for it yet again? Where did the money go?...

How successful will Glenpool, Skiatook, Collinsville, Broken Arrow, and Owasso be in financing their cities if the county has already pushed the taxpayers to the limit?

If we cannot already support what we have, how will we maintain an even larger expanse of parks & bridges, dams, etc., that will need a lot of costly spending for upkeep?...

MySpacer Ferdinandy gives his top 10 reasons for voting no, including:

6. CORPS of ENGINEERS APPROVAL: We don't even have approval to alter the river from the Corps yet. What happens if we vote to tax ourselves and the Corps of Engineers says "NO!" Do we get our money back?

8. COUNTY GOVERNMENTS SHOULDN'T BE IN SALES TAX BUSINESS: Sales tax is (in most responsible budgeting plans) used by cities to take care of city issues. When counties get in the sales tax business....well...there's just not enough to go around.

Some LiveJournal-ists are talking about tax. dividedjoy writes:

i don't even think they know what they want to do, all the ads and info just keep saying how badly we need this tax...but no good reasons of why besides it being for "Tulsa's future yay!!!"

part of it is that they want to build a series of low water dams - which have not been approved by the corp of engineers AND which the us fish and wildlife service says would very badly screw up the ecosystem in and around the river not just in tulsa, but up and downstream as well...they also want to build a pedestrian bridge down by 61st street...you know, by the stinky water treatment plant...

And lbangs has launched a river tax comment thread on the Tulsa Time LiveJournal community:

I'm all for smart city development, but gee, most of the studies commissioned to study this proposal will not even be finished by the time the vote comes to the public.

I'm sorry, but that is plain idiotic.

Is it too much to ask for some intelligence in our planning? I'm seeing a lot of hype and hoopla, plenty of smoke and mirrors, and precious little facts or truth.

And just who exactly is paying for all these moronic television ads trying to make you feel like you hate cute little children if you vote against this potential city-wide folly?

Somebody with deep pockets has a lot to gain from this project.

But don't look now; it ain't you or me.

And now let's turn to some of our long-time blogpals:

Jeff Shaw is pondering the magic formula:

Underestimated costs + Overestimated benefits = Project approval

And he finds this nugget of wisdom in a report called How Optimism Bias and Strategic Misrepresentation Undermine Implementation:

Lawmakers, investors, and the public cannot trust information about costs, benefits, and risks of large infrastructure projects produced by promoters and planners of such projects.

More recently, Jeff is wondering about the latest wild claim of 10,000 new jobs if the river tax passes, and he puts that big number into perspective.

Steve Roemerman is wondering how a fiscally conservative congressman can endorse a tax increase, and he wonders whether the congressman had certain facts in front of him when he made his decision. Steve's readers have been pondering the same question, as have some of Jeff Shaw's readers.

"Mad Okie" uses Google Maps to illustrate the differences between the waterside developments in Indianapolis, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City and what's being proposed in Tulsa. Hint: Note the width of the relevant body of water. And he takes issue with an unnamed state rep, quoted in a KOTV story saying that the river plan "would bring more entertainment options for everyone."

The people of the North Side, West Side, East Side, and South side dont care about "entertainment options", especially when the people pushing these "entertainment options" are the same people that evicted BELLS, a real entertainment option!

Bobby at Tulsa Topics (back to blogging again!) has a similar concern:

Thanks to the same people who want you to give them more money via the upcoming River Tax vote.... you will not be seeing the Zingo or the rest of Bells at the state fair this year.

I find it ironic, the flagrant use of kids on all the hack ads that the vote yes camp has been running on the tube lately, when the same group killed a long standing family tradition here in Tulsa.

MeeCiteeWurkor has ideas on protecting your "No River Tax" sign from getting stolen, and a guest contributor has been following developments in Sand Springs, including the Sand Springs City Council's vote to endorse the tax hike.

One of the greatest singing cowboys of all time is just six weeks older than the great State of Oklahoma, and this weekend the town named for him is hosting a big celebration in his honor, the Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum Film and Music Festival.

Gene Autry (the town) is a little ways north of Ardmore in south-central Oklahoma, about seven miles east of I-35 on OK-53.

The big party, featuring screenings of Autry's films and performances by cowboy singers and poets, began on Wednesday and winds up on Sunday.

The high point of the celebration is today, the actual centennial of Autry's birth on September 29, 1907. Riders in the Sky, who have been upholding the tradition of cowboy music for over a quarter of a century, will give two performances, at 3:10 and 8:30. They'll be preceded on stage by Steve Mitchell, the Les Gilliam Trio, and Johnny Western. Riders in the Sky put on a great show for the whole family -- a mix of comedy and beautiful western harmonies.

Tickets are $20 each for the matinee show and the other events, except for the evening stage show, for which tickets are $35 for reserved seats, $25 for general admission. Check the festival page for all the details and contact information.

Tulsans will be able to catch Riders in the Sky a little closer to home on Sunday -- they'll perform at the Bartlesville Community Center at 2 pm on September 30. There are still a fair number of tickets available, ranging from $15 to $43 for adults, $5 to $20 for students.

(I've seen the Riders perform at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, at the Poncan Theatre in Ponca City, at the fair in Springfield, Missouri, and at the Walton Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. As far as I know, they have never performed in Tulsa, even though their radio show used to air on KWGS and KVOO.)

zTruth is a blog, evidently based here in Tulsa, that focuses on Islamic organizations in the West and the spread of dhimmitude, homeland security, and immigration enforcement. Here's a recent entry with a stunning insight into attitudes of the leadership of the Islamic Society of Tulsa:

On August 25th, The Council of American Islamic Relations, CAIR of Oklahoma, and the Islamic Society of Tulsa honored 25 non-Muslims. Three of the evening awards went to Joe Picorale, John Fanning and Jim Robinson who were honored along with 22 other honorees for their contribution in promoting peace, goodwill and a greater understanding of mainstream Muslim beliefs.

Who are Joe Picorale, John Fanning and Jim Robinson? They are the three founders of TulsaTruth who believe, among other things, that there was a controlled demolitions of the WTC on 9/11 and that it was a conspiracy to frame the Muslim world. They also believe there is no proof Osama Bin Laden was involved in 9/11. I guess his videos that play the martyr wills of the men who flew the planes into the World Trade Center aren't good enough.

Read the whole thing to read the praise offered to the three "Truthers" by Allison Moore, who nominated them for the honor.

Here's a description of the awards evening from the Islamic Society of Tulsa's September 2007 newsletter (large PDF download):

On August 25th, the Islamic Society of Tulsa and the Council on American Islamic Relations co-sponsored a gala evening to reinforce our relations with people of extraordinary goodwill in our state. These non-Muslims supported Muslims through hard times, defended Muslim's rights and promoted our causes. At the event, they were recognized with a plaque, candies, corsages and boutonnieres and their remarkable actions were retold to the audience. The evening ended with the honorees walking down the red carpet with lines of applauding Muslims on both sides.

The PDF includes a list of the honorees (including former Mayor Susan Savage and Deputy Mayor Tom Baker) and photos of the event, including the very attractive plaques that were given to each honoree.

It's a noble thing for a community to honor outsiders who have been especially kind of helpful to them. But what does it say about the Islamic Society of Tulsa that its leaders would choose to honor these people who deny that radical Islamists killed 3000 people on September 11, 2001, but banned a man like Jamal Miftah, a Muslim who wrote an op-ed condemning terrorism in the name of Islam?

I was looking through the archives of the daily paper for stories about The Channels and about the long process of public scrutiny required for that plan for the Arkansas River before it could be put to a public vote. In the process, I came across some cost estimates for other river projects. (Emphasis added in all cases.)

The price of west bank land

From November 2, 2006:

The William K. Warren Medical Research Center has signed purchase options totaling $65 million to acquire the sites of the Westport on the River apartments and the Mid-Continent Concrete Co. for a proposed $788 million river development, it was revealed Wednesday....

The $28 million purchase option for the 23.7-acre apartment site includes only the land on the west bank. During a transfer of land for the apartments when Sen Jim Inhofe was Tulsa's mayor, the river abutting the site remained in the ownership of the city.

The Tulsa Stakeholders had to pay to get the confidentiality agreement lifted, but that amount, which was not disclosed, is not included in the purchase price, Ducato said.

The $37 million purchase option for the concrete plant site covers 26.7 acres of land on the west bank plus acreage to the middle of the river.

The cost of bridges and dams

From Janet Pearson's column on October 8, 2006:

Other observers note that the amount eyed by Tulsa Stakeholders would pay for most of the major improvements called for in the master plan, including: several new low-water dams at about $22 million apiece; several new pedestrian bridges, about $3.4 million each; a Gilcrease Expressway bridge, $27 million; a 41st Street [vehicular] bridge, $13 million; a Yale Avenue bridge, $33 million; a 193rd East Avenue bridge, $20 million; a new Riverside Drive West from 71st Street to the 11th Street bridge, $29.3 million; and improvements to the existing Riverside Drive from 21st Street to Interstate 44, $11.6 million.

Not to depend too heavily on a Tulsa Whirled editorial writer, but I'd bet someone, maybe at INCOG, supplied Pearson with those numbers.

Let's compare these estimates from a year ago to what we're being told about the cost of projects in the October 9th river tax. (The number for the low-water dams includes Vision 2025 dollars. The number for acquiring the concrete plant is from news stories; there's nothing in the official ballot resolution that allocates money specifically for land acquisition on the west bank at 21st or anywhere else in Tulsa.)

Project Fall 2006 estimate River Sales Tax estimate*
Low water dam (each) $ 22,000,000
$ 27,500,000
Pedestrian bridge (each) $ 3,400,000 $ 15,000,000
Concrete plant acquisition
$ 37,000,000
$ 52,000,000
Cost of two low-water dams,
two pedestrian bridges,
and concrete plant
$ 87,800,000
$ 127,000,000

The most striking thing is the difference in the cost of the pedestrian bridges: $3.4 million each last year vs. $15 million this year. What accounts for that dramatic a difference? Inflation doesn't come close to accounting for the huge jump in costs.

Notice that last year's estimate of the cost of a vehicular/pedestrian bridge at 41st Street -- $13 million -- is less than what they're telling us this year is the cost of a pedestrian-only bridge at that same location -- $15 million, even though the cost of materials, engineering, and construction ought to be far higher for a bridge designed to carry cars.

A reader points to some other information that indicates someone did a cost estimate for the dams. A version of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 approved by the Senate back in May (H.R. 1495, Engrossed Amendment as Agreed to by Senate) contained the following language:

SEC. 3012. MCCLELLAN-KERR ARKANSAS RIVER NAVIGATION SYSTEM, ARKANSAS AND OKLAHOMA.

(a) Navigation Channel- The Secretary shall continue construction of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, Arkansas and Oklahoma, to operate and maintain the navigation channel to the authorized depth of the channel, in accordance with section 136 of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, 2004 (Public Law 108-137; 117 Stat. 1842).

(b) Mitigation-

(1) IN GENERAL- As mitigation for any incidental taking relating to the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System, the Secretary shall determine the need for, and construct modifications in, the structures and operations of the Arkansas River in the area of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, including the construction of low water dams and islands to provide nesting and foraging habitat for the interior least tern, in accordance with the study entitled `Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan Planning Assistance to States'.

(2) COST SHARING- The non-Federal share of the cost of a project under this subsection shall be 35 percent.

(3) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS- There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this subsection $12,000,000.

Doing the math, $12,000,000 is about 65% of $18,500,000. That suggests a cost of about $9 million each for the low-water dams, or possibly less, depending on how much was figured in for non-dam projects.

The version that came out of conference committee (House Report 110-280) included more funds for the Arkansas River, but used different language to describe the project:

SEC. 3132. ARKANSAS RIVER CORRIDOR, OKLAHOMA.

(a) In General- The Secretary is authorized to participate in the ecosystem restoration, recreation, and flood damage reduction components of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan dated October 2005. The Secretary shall coordinate with appropriate representatives in the vicinity of Tulsa, Oklahoma, including representatives of Tulsa County and surrounding communities and the Indian Nations Council of Governments.

(b) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated $50,000,000 to carry out this section.

The bottom line question is: What is the basis for estimate for each of the items in the October 9th ballot resolution? Recent comparable construction in other cities? Rough order of magnitude quotes from potential suppliers? Given the wide range of numbers, the tax proponents need to show their work, in detail.

Tomorrow morning from 6:40 to 8:00 on 1170 KFAQ, former City Councilor Chris Medlock will host four of his former colleagues and allies on the City Council: Councilors Jack Henderson and Roscoe Turner, and former Councilors Jim Mautino and Sam Roop. Should be worth hearing their perspective on the river tax, the new/old police chief, the new City Hall, and other city issues.

Eldon Shamblin sings

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Via Tyson Wynn, a wonderful clip of legendary western swing guitarist Eldon Shamblin playing and singing "Changes Made," following a bit of banter with steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe. This appears to be from a performance by The Original Texas Playboys (the drumset you'll see in the background is on display at Cain's Ballroom). According to YouTube user jsham66 (a relative of Eldon's?), the clip is circa 1986.

And, posted by the same user, here's the tribute video from Eldon Shamblin's 2006 induction into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame:

If you don't know much about him (or even if you do), you should read this tribute to "The Greatest Texas Playboy: Eldon Shamblin," by Buddy McPeters.


This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is part 1 of a two-parter leading up to the October 9th river sales tax election. I listed four reasons for voting against the tax; the two I dealt with this week pertain to promises and plans.

The distinction between the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP) and the package on the October 9th ballot was a central theme in a presentation I made earlier this week.

On Monday night, at the kind invitation of Tulsa District 4 Councilor Maria Barnes, I spoke at a forum she convened at the Central Community Center on the topic of the October 9 river tax vote. Speaking in support of the tax were Jerry Lasker, executive director of the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG), and Ken Levit, head of the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF).

At the insistence of Jean Letcher, the campaign manager for the pro-tax side, I went first with my 15 minute presentation. Also at her insistence, there was to be no opportunity for rebuttal during the Q&A period, because she didn't agree to a debate, only to an informational meeting.

In the event, moderator Ken Busby let the discussion flow freely. I think all of the panelists and the audience members who asked questions and offered comments all felt they had ample opportunity to make their points. I didn't take a count, but I imagine there were about 40 people in the room for the 90 minute meeting.

Here's what I said regarding plans:

What everyone calls the "INCOG plan" is officially known as the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan The ARCMP has been under development for the last four years, with a tremendous amount of public input from experts and laypeople alike, consultation with the Corps of Engineers and the Tennessee Valley Authority, and public hearings, culminating in the ARCMP's incorporation into the Comprehensive Plan by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the Tulsa County Commission, and the Tulsa City Council. The ARCMP includes both near-term projects like low-water dams and long-term aspirations like a boulevard following the west bank. It's a wish list, but a well-defined wish list.

In order to be very precise about the plan under discussion, I'm going to refer to it by the initials of its official name -- ARCMP. The pro-tax campaign seems to be determined to mislead the voters into thinking that the hastily thrown-together package on the October 9th ballot is one and the same with the ARCMP that has been four years in the making.

Of the projects that are defined in the ballot resolution for the October 9th Tulsa County sales tax election, only $64.85 million is being spent on projects in the ARCMP. At least $135 million is being spent on projects that are not in the ARCMP. Here's a breakdown:

In the ARCMP
Not in the ARCMP
Sand Springs Dam
$24.7 million
"Living River"
$90 million
Jenks Dam
$24.7 million
41st St Ped-Only Bridge
$15 million
Zink Dam improvements
$15.45 million
61st St Ped-Only Bridge
$15 million


"Downtown Connector"
$15 million
TOTAL IN PLAN
$64.85 million
TOTAL NOT IN PLAN
$135 million

Another $57.4 million is designated for "Arkansas River corridor land acquisition, infrastructure, bridge improvements and site development, and Arkansas river studies for Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Sand Springs and Bixby." Some of that might be spent on ARCMP projects; some of it might not. It depends

The remaining $25 million is a contingency allowance covering all projects.

Here's a table summarizing the differences between the ARCMP and the tax package regarding how they were developed and their legal status:

Arkansas River Corridor
Master Plan
Tulsa County Oct. 9th
sales tax package
Developed over four years
in full public view
Put together in about two months
(within public view)
Many opportunities
for public input
No public input before plan
was set in stone
Driven by the desires of
Tulsa County citizens
Driven by the concepts of
Canadian architect Bing Thom,
consultant to GKFF
Future plan for 41st St
car and pedestrian bridge
to link west Tulsa and midtown
41st St park and
pedestrian-only bridge concept
rules out 41st St car bridge
Approved by TMAPC, County Commission, Tulsa City Council Never reviewed by TMAPC or Tulsa City Council



You can hear the October 22, 2006, StudioTulsa interview with Bing Thom, which I mentioned in my column this week. In the interview, the Canadian architect mainly discusses "The Channels," his concept for a large dam at 21st Street and high rises on islands in the Arkansas River, a plan he developed for Tulsa Stakeholders, Inc., but he also discusses his other commission, for the George Kaiser Family Foundation. You'll hear references to the 41st and 61st St pedestrian-only bridges and to the "living river" concept, albeit not by that exact name. Thom also discusses the "gathering places" along the east bank, which in the current proposal would be funded by private contributions. (There's a transcript there, too, obviously done with an automated speech-to-text system, but it does make it easier to go to key points in the recording.) The items in the October 9th county sales tax package which are not in the ARCMP seem very strongly to have come from Thom's drawing board.

Speaking of "The Channels," do you remember how closely the plan was scrutinized, and how much time was spent on it? The concept made its debut a little over a year ago, in early September 2006. Over the next three months, there was considerable public comment.

Even though County Commissioner Randi Miller endorsed the plan and raising taxes to pay for it shortly after it was announced, she insisted that the ARCMP would have to be amended to incorporate The Channels before it could be funded with tax money. So why hasn't the same requirement been levied on the "Living River," the pedestrian-only bridges, and the downtown connector?

Because the ARCMP is a part of the Comprehensive Plan for the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County, amending the plan would require public hearings and approval by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the Tulsa City Council, and the County Commission.

Last fall, we heard about the Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan advisory committee, which established a process for reviewing The Channels, a process that was described as "an expeditious yet rigid technical review" to be conducted in the course of about 10 weeks. In her October 8, 2006, opinion column, Janet Pearson says there are 50 members on this advisory committee.

Has this 50-member committee been convened to evaluate the package on this year's October 9th ballot?

Then there's this quote from PMg's Gaylon Pinc regarding the process of evaluating The Channels for inclusion in the Comprehensive Plan:

Pinc said the gist of the INCOG board's resolution "would be whether The Channels should be incorporated as a component of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan" and the city's comprehensive plan.

Should the resolution gain the approval of the Planning Commission, it would go before the City Council, and then on to the County Commission.

The County Commission had hoped to decide Dec. 11 on whether to call for a Feb. 13 election on the public funding issue.

In other words, in order to do everything according to Hoyle, this process would have had to have been completed prior to any vote by the County Commission to put a tax on the ballot.

That process wasn't followed with the Kaiser plan. Why not?

Way KQLL

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Via the Oklahoman's Notes from the Newsroom (one of the nominees for Best Commercial Blog in this year's Okie Blog Awards), I learn that Oklahoma has a whole bunch of digital HD radio stations -- multiplexing digital signals through their assigned frequencies which can be demuxed by an HD radio receiver.

One local station that broadcasts an HD signal is KQLL -- Kool 106.1 in Tulsa. The over-air KQLL has been an oldies station for a long time, but their song selection has left the '50s completely behind and doesn't seem to play much '60s anymore.

But KQLL has an HD signal called Kool Chrome '50s and '60s, and you don't need an HD radio to tune in, just a laptop.

Here are a few of the songs I've heard since tuning in.

Little Anthony -- Why Do Fools Fall in Love?
Sam Cooke -- Another Saturday Night
Supremes -- Baby Love
Eddie Cochran -- Sittin' in the Balcony (almost as much reverb as Stan Freberg's Heartbreak Hotel)
The Shirelles -- Baby, It's You
Lovin' Spoonful -- What a Day for a Daydream
Clyde McPhatter (?) -- A Lover's Question
The Foundations -- Build Me Up Buttercup

Kqll!

From the Wikipedia entry on Kissimmee, Florida:

The Houston Astros conduct spring training in Kissimmee, at Osceola County Stadium. The Astros' farm system formerly included a Kissimmee entry in the Florida State League. In order to prevent jokes, the team's nickname was the Cobras rather than the Astros.

One evening after all the meetings were over, I decided to visit two towns, one old, one new, south of Orlando's main tourist district.

First stop was Kissimmee. Most people who have been there know the town for US 192, Irlo Bronson Way, a busy strip of tourist businesses that lead to the Maingate area of Walt Disney World. But south of 192 there's an actual town, the county seat of Osceola County, with a main street (Broadway), a courthouse square, an Amtrak station, and a lakefront.

When I was searching for Wi-Fi locations before my trip, I learned that the Kissimmee Utility Authority had established a free Wi-Fi zone in their downtown, so I was curious to see how it was working.

Although Kissimmee's Broadway has some handsome old buildings, plus some new mixed residential and retail buildings being constructed in a classic urban fashion, they all seem to house businesses that are open only in the daytime: banks, real estate offices, a photographer, a guitar store, a Christian book store, antique shops, a bakery, a couple of cafes. Only one restaurant was open, just off of Broadway. I don't imagine a free Wi-Fi zone helps boost downtown business much if the only place to use it is sitting on the curb or behind the wheel of your car. Just to test it out, I did try to connect from inside the minivan, found several of KUA's access points, but none of them strong enough to hold a signal.

The most interesting sight in old Kissimmee is the Monument of States. It has a homemade quality to it that reminds me of Ed Galloway's work near Foyil. It is a 50 foot high pyramid-like structure with rocks from every state embedded in painted concrete, and it dates back to World War II, a project of the Kissimmee All-States Tourist Club. The rock from Oklahoma was a polished slab (quartz, probably) with Gov. Leon Phillips' name engraved in it. It's at the base on the north side, in the lower left of this photo, to the left of the words "MONUMENT OF STATES."

Other inscriptions on the monument appear to have been etched out of the concrete by hand. Here's a vintage postcard of the monument. Here's a fairly recent Flickr photoset. Like our beloved Blue Whale, it was refurbished a few years ago with the help of the good folks at Hampton Inn.

I left Kissimmee and headed to Celebration; more about that in a later entry.

A Thrifty warning

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When I was booking my trip to Orlando, I was excited to learn that Thrifty not only had a great weekly rate, but a special deal called "Wild Car." For less than the cost of booking a mid-size, I was guaranteed a mid-size or better. Maybe I'd wind up with an SUV with satellite radio or a sporty ragtop. It worked out to about $80, or $120 once all the taxes and fees were figured in.

I like to book Dollar or Thrifty when I can. The prices are usually good, I've always had good customer service, even when renting from a Dollar affiliate overseas, and I like supporting a local company.

The way the Wild Car works, I learned from the agent in Orlando, is that every Wild Car customer on a given day gets the same type vehicle.

The day before I arrived, the Wild Car was a PT Cruiser.

The day before that, it was a convertible.

The day I arrived, it was a minivan. Chrysler Town and Country.

Wooo.

Monty Hall would call that a zonk.

Now if a customer really needed a minivan, they'd probably have booked one. If you didn't need one, I can't imagine you'd think a minivan is better than a mid-size.

Something to keep in mind when you're thinking about rolling the dice on that Wild Car deal.

Here we go again. Tulsa County Commissioner Fred Perry in this morning's Whirled:

Q: How will additional costs be covered if the projected $282 million price tag for the public projects goes up?

A: As one of nine future "river trustees," if the Oct. 9th river plan/tax vote passes, I have been asked to answer this question. The short answer is that there won't be any additional costs to cover. For one thing, we're told that the engineers factored in some projected inflationary costs. Also, there is a contingency amount of $25 million in the plan. It is doubtful that costs would rise enough to consume that contingency.

Also, the commissioners, prior to passing the resolution, were committed to not exceeding the $282.25, which is in the resolution and on the ballot. There are also protections in the resolution regarding the limit.

In my opinion, and I think the other future trustees will agree, if the costs exceed the estimate and the contingency, something would be dropped off the plan or projects would be scaled down.

Let's compare that with what Perry's predecessor said a month or so before the Vision 2025 sales tax vote. Bob Dick, promised voters that every project would get built:

Dick said the Vision 2025 package also was designed to ensure no project gets left behind due to a lack of funding.

"I think the worst thing you could do is promise you are going to build something and then not have enough money to build it," Dick said.

Vision proponents concede room for error is built into some project cost estimates.

"I don't know specifically what it is really going to cost to build a low-water dam," Dick said.

It looks to me like this plan is set up, just like the low-water dams in promised Vision 2025, to overpromise and underdeliver.

We've been told that the rule of thumb these days is that a county-wide one cent sales tax will raise $100 million per year. A 0.4 cent tax over seven years would raise $40 million x 7 = $280 million -- not quite enough to cover the $282.25 million in total estimated project costs, and no provision whatsoever for fees and interest costs for debt.

I get about the same number -- $280.6 million -- if I take actual county receipts for FY 2007, adjust for the tax rate, assume a growth rate of 2.5%, and figure the numbers out over calendar years 2008 through 2014.

That's right: No provision for finance costs. Since they're telling us the need for pedestrian bridges and low-water dams is too urgent to pay for them on a pay-as-you-go basis, the Tulsa County Commission will once again hire a bond adviser and sell revenue bonds to get the money up front. That means we're borrowing against future sales tax revenues so we can spend the money right away. The designated amount for each project represents the amount of cash needed to build each piece and doesn't include the project's share of fees and interest.

This is why projected sales tax receipts of about $750 million over the life of the Vision 2025 sales tax will be barely enough to pay for $580.5 million worth of projects. According to county financial adviser John Piercey's numbers, combined with PMg's Vision 2025 project report, that $580.5 million will have cost us $674,387,714.81 in sales tax revenues. That's $93.9 million in finance costs.

In Vision 2025, finance costs were not included in the announced project amounts. This is apparent in the way the funds have been managed. If a project's cost was listed as, say, $1 million, the project's sponsor (city, town, university, or non-profit) has $1 million to spend on construction, with no deduction for the project's share of finance costs.

If somehow we got the same effective interest rate, the $25 million contingency amount would be entirely consumed by finance costs, leaving no margin for error should costs increase, and making it quite likely that a few years from now, county commissioners will be telling us once again, "Sorry, but if you want us to finish this project we promised, you'll have to vote for another tax increase."

Monday night, September 24, at 7 p.m., Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel will host a forum about the problems he sees with the proposed Tulsa County sales tax increase for river projects. It's being held at the Hardesty Library, 8316 E. 93rd Street (on 93rd East of Memorial). State Sen. Randy Brogdon, Broken Arrow Mayor Wade McCaleb, and Tulsa City Councilors Roscoe Turner and John Eagleton will also be in attendance, and yard signs and flyers will be available.

As I mentioned in my column, I was in Orlando, Florida, recently for a job-related workshop. The conference center and my hotel were out on the famous International Drive, the heart of Orlando's tourist district. It's strange to be here as a visitor but a non-tourist.

The workshop is an annual one, always held here in Orlando not because of the tourist amenities but because long ago, when Orlando was just a sleepy southern city, the Army and Navy established a couple of offices here, near the old airfield on the east side of town, to manage training and simulation contracts. Those offices attracted consultants and contractors in the same line of work. (In some cases those companies were started by retirees from the government offices.) So there's a critical mass of people in the immediate area interested in the issues under discussion and able to attend without busting their office's travel budgets.

The hotel, the Holiday Inn International Drive, is pretty nicely set up. My room had all my requirements, beyond the basics of cleanliness and comfort: high speed Internet, microwave, refrigerator, and full basic cable TV. There was a hair dryer, ironing board and iron, a small safe (enter your own PIN). A particularly nice surprise: Eight pillows for the two double beds. That means better odds for finding a comfortable one for my head, plus I need more to prop myself comfortably if the bed is too firm for sleeping comfortably on my back.

My only complaints: The outlets were few and inconveniently located, and there wasn't a desk. And the elevators were showing their age.

The free Wi-Fi worked flawlessly all over the hotel: In my room, in all the conference rooms, in the bar/cafe, in the conference center lobby. I had to reconnect each time I moved into range of a new router, but that just meant clicking the "I agree to terms and conditions" button. When a downpour hit on Sunday after the tutorial, I holed up in the smoke-free bar, ordered dinner, found a table with a nearby outlet and got some work done.

I wonder if this would be generally true of conference hotels that offer free Wi-Fi to their guests and conferees: Unlike Hampton Inn, where you have to enter that week's authentication code at least once a day, here there was no authentication for access. They really couldn't have used authentication, as the conference would include hotel guests, people staying at other hotels, and locals just attending the meetings for the day. Something to keep in mind when I'm on the road and desperate for a Wi-Fi connection.

There was a mixture of guests at the hotel: Conferees wearing collared shirts, long pants, and toting laptops, and British families dressed rather more casually.

If you're picturing Terry-Thomas in pith helmet and plus fours, forget it. The British gents here seemed to have a uniform: A football shirt (usually Premier League, sometimes Real Madrid, where Beckham used to play) or a sleeveless shirt with a crew neck (not a "wife-beater" -- the fabric went from the base of the neck all the way across the shoulder). If the fellow had any hair loss at all, the whole head would be shaved or trimmed down to stubble, for that skinhead look. Tattoos and earrings were frequently observed. Coloring: Pasty white or steamed-lobster red. They tended to be built like a high school (American) football lineman at his twenty-year reunion: solid but gone to seed. One older fellow in the lobby displayed the most impressive Dunlap I have ever seen, as he lifted his tank top slightly to scratch himself. Not only would his gut not have passed the pencil test, I don't think it would have passed the big-city phonebook test.

I should say at this point that while these people looked like football hooligans, I never observed any of them behave in an angry, violent, or anti-social way.

It seems to be a popular time of year for British tourists to the US. It's after American schools start back, but, I'm told, before British kids are back in school. Virgin Holidays, the package tour branch of Richard Branson's empire, has an office at the hotel. Virgin runs buses from the hotel to St. Petersburg and Miami, for day trips presumably.

There are plenty of places along this stretch of I-Drive catering to British tastes. My first morning there I went across the street for the Ponderosa's $4 breakfast buffet. There were baked beans and stewed tomatoes on the buffet, along with the usual cheap breakfast fare. The waiter asked me if I wanted toast and brought me a basket of it, already buttered and cut on the diagonal. There were little tubs of orange marmalade on the table.

Shortly after leaving the Ponderosa, I discovered a British pub just to the north called the George and Dragon. They advertised a full English breakfast from 9 to noon. They also have a fish and chips takeaway right on the sidewalk.

I went there for breakfast during a long break on the second morning of the workshop. Bacon (back bacon, aka Canadian bacon), eggs (sunnyside up), sausage (a big link), and tomato, plus baked beans and a few chips. A sign on the table advised that, as in any British pub, you had to order at the bar, but unlike the pubs back home, the servers here expect a tip of 15 to 20 percent.

Good breakfast, but there was one major disappointment: The only mustard on offer was French's. What kind of an English pub doesn't have Colman's?

I didn't make it back there for dinner, but you could get mushy peas with your fish and chips.

For the most part, I stayed away from tourist land during my off-hours, but here are a few other notes from that part of the world:

Sushiology: A tiny, but good, and reasonably priced sushi place on I-Drive, tucked back behind the lobster feast place next to the Ponderosa. I had the Harmony combo (California roll, tuna, and salmon) one day and the Salmon CC the next, with the spinach and mushroom appetizer both times.

Mama Nems' Soul Food: This is away from, but not far from, the main tourist corridor. It's about four miles north of I-4 on Kirkman Road, at the corner of Westgate Drive. The stark, modern decor might lead you to expect a tiny bit of frou-frou food on a great big plate, but rest assured you will walk away with a full belly. They were out of the pork shoulder, so I had the fried chicken, with collard greens, candied yams, and cole slaw. The smell when I forked over a bit of the greens and let the steam escape -- just heavenly.

Prime Outlets: Head north on I-Drive and you'll run right into it. There's another segment further south on the west side of the street. They seem to have taken over the old Belz Factory Outlet Space, with plans to consolidate all their stores here.

Dixie Crossroads: The famed Titusville shrimp restaurants has a much less crowded Orlando location next to Bass Pro Shops in the Festival Bay shopping center, southeast of International Drive and Oakridge. Good dinner, but the menu didn't match what was on the website -- a shrimp, stuffed crab, and scallops combo that I saw on the web wasn't on the menu. But I got a dozen and a half gulf white shrimp, a sweet potato, and steamed veggies, and was well pleased. Corn fritters -- like hush puppies, but with corn kernels embedded and dusted in powdered sugar -- are served when you sit down.

One evening I headed over to Universal City Walk, right across I-4 from International Drive. I arrived about 9:20, by which time the parking garage was free. There's no admission charge to Universal City Walk, but there are plenty of places to spend money: Nightclubs, themed restaurants, clothing shops, and a Universal Studios souvenir shop, all arrayed around a lake, along with the entrances to Universal Studios Orlando, Universal's Islands of Adventure, and the Blue Man Group's theater. There's also a multiplex theater, and they seem to always have one screen devoted to an Alfred Hitchcock classic; last week it was Vertigo, closer to Halloween they'll be showing The Birds. You can buy various package deals: an all-club pass, dinner and a movie, dinner and a pass to all the clubs. They've done a nice job of creating loud places and quieter places around the lake. It stays open until 2 a.m.

Having experienced the hassles of getting into and out of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom (well worth the trouble), I appreciate the way Universal has things set up. You park your car in the garage, take the escalators and a moving walkway to Universal City Walk. You pass through and walk straight to the entrance to the two theme parks. You don't have to get in line for a monorail or wait for a boat to get between your car and the park. It's also nice that you can park in a garage and have a covered walkway all the way from the car to the entrance to City Walk.

The garage areas are themed: E.g., E.T., Cat in the Hat, with music from the movie playing in the background to reinforce the location. There's a three digit row number, too, to help you find your car.

Some reports of Orlando off the beaten path in a later entry.

Those are two questions about two major thrusts of the campaign for the proposed Tulsa County sales tax increase for river-related projects. In this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I ask whether this river tax plan is what we need to do for the sake of Tulsa's children and young adults.

In response to the first question, I deal in passing with one river tax cheerleader's active involvement in destroying a place of fun and happy memories for Tulsa's children, and pass along a suggestion, made by my wife, for how you could protest Bell's eviction from the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, should you decide not to boycott this year's Tulsa State Fair entirely:

In addition to the obvious -- don't spend money on the Murphy Brothers midway -- here's a homemade idea for those who go to the fair but wish to protest Bell's eviction: Wear bells to the fair. You can buy a big bag of jingles at a craft store for a few dollars. Thread a bunch on a ribbon to wear around your neck. Bring extras to give to friends or fellow fairgoers.

And if you want to make the point explicit, stick a nametag on your shirt with the slogan that's been spotted around town: "No Bell's. No fair."

Bells3-web.pngAccompanying that suggestion on page 7 of this week's UTW is the first published work by a budding young cartoonist named Joe Bates, depicting a weeping Bell. He's got some more political cartoons in the work. The demolition of Bell's is something my two older kids saw happening on an almost daily basis, and it saddened them both greatly. I'm proud to see my son express his sentiments so eloquently in art. He's already working on some more cartoons.

I mentioned in the column that skipping the fair entirely is hard for a lot of people from Tulsa and the northeastern Oklahoma. Going back to the '40s my great-grandmother and grandmother would enter the craft competitions, and in recent years my two older children have had fun submitting their own creations. Joe has won two blue ribbons, one in 2004 for an acrylic painting and one last year for a convertible built with Legos. Both he and his little sister plan to enter some items again this year. To us, and to a lot of families, the Tulsa State Fair was here before Randi Miller and Clark Brewster and Rick Bjorklund, and it'll be here when they've all moved on to other things. But I can certainly understand those who plan to abandon the fair altogether.

Regarding young professionals, in my column I mention a recent visit to Orlando and a Saturday evening spent on lively Orange Avenue, between Church Street and Washington Street in that city's downtown:

Downtown Orlando has shiny new skyscrapers, a basketball arena, and a beautiful 23-acre lake with a fountain. But I didn't find the crowds around any of those. There were only a few people walking the path around the lake, and the sidewalk along Central Boulevard next to the lake was empty except for me.

Instead, the throng of twenty-somethings was promenading up and down four blocks of Orange Avenue, a street lined with old one-, two-, and three-story commercial buildings. The storefronts of those buildings were in use as bars, cafes, and pizza joints. The same kind of development stretched for a block or two down each side street. There were hot dog stands on every corner. Pedicabs ferried people to and fro. The numbers of partiers only grew larger as the little hand swept past 12.

An observation from that visit that I didn't include in the column: The block of Orange between Pine and Church Streets has these old commercial buildings crowding the sidewalk on the west side and a spacious plaza framed by two modern, round, glass and steel buildings on the east side. Where do you suppose people chose to walk? 90% of the foot traffic stayed next to the old storefronts and avoided the big modern plaza.

I didn't hear any complaints until six days after I added an update to my entry about the Republican Women's Club of Tulsa County and their decision to exclude opponents of the proposed Tulsa County sales tax increase for river projects from a luncheon at which that was the topic of discussion. That update was added the afternoon of September 7, following a phone call from County Commissioner Fred Perry, the person the head of the RWCTC had chosen to present the arguments for and against the tax. The update consisted of my summary of what Perry had told me about the rationale behind the format chosen by club president Nancy Rothman, followed by my reaction.

I was surprised that the one person who complained not only didn't agree that the RWCTC's decision to exclude the opposition was unfair but told me that my comments about that decision were "unfair and inappropriate." There were a few e-mails back and forth, and it became clear that we weren't going to see eye to eye on this.

The specific complaint was that my comparison of Nancy Rothman's decision to exclude the tax opponents for the sake of party harmony to the harmonious political discourse in the ruling party of North Korea was over the top. I meant to be over the top. In the words of Rush Limbaugh, I was trying to illustrate absurdity (promoting harmony by suppressing one side of the debate) by being absurd.

But I did wonder if perhaps I went too far. Nancy Rothman made a bad decision, but perhaps the decision was made from noble, if misguided, intentions.

Nancy Rothman sent out a press release today responding to what I wrote 13 days ago. Here it is in its entirety.

A Response to Michael Bates of Batesline.com
Press Release

THE FOLLOWING IS A RESPONSE FROM THE PRESIDENT OF RWCTC TO A BLOG POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 5TH:

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Republican Women of Tulsa County (RWCTC) presented a program on the Proposed River Plan/Tax at its monthly luncheon.

The purpose of this meeting was neither to provide an exclusive forum for either side of this issue nor to conduct a debate, but to put forth as much information as possible on the plan itself, since few have had the opportunity to read the proposal in its entirety. The presentation on the corridor plan was provided by a professional engineer who was involved from the inception of the project.

As a club, we have remained neutral on the issue; we are aware that our membership is divided, even if the party has already stated its position. The group also wanted to address some of the issues that have been brought forth by both the proponents and the opponents of the issue. This program was merely meant to educate our membership and guests, not to sway anyone one way or the other.

The RWCTC asked Commissioner Fred Perry to make the presentation, since he had not come forward in support or opposition of the issue, and because we believe him to be an honorable man who would, in fact, present all of the information in an educational rather than an editorial format - as he was asked to do.

Again, the intent of this meeting was not to make an argument either for or against the proposal, but to provide our membership and guests with as much complete and unbiased information on the details of the plan and on the arguments - both for and against - as possible. It is my belief that we succeeded in that endeavor.

In his online personal commentary (blog), posted Sept. 5, Michael Bates stated, "...Regarding the RWCTC event, Perry told me that Ms. Rothman is a professional mediator who feels that the Republican Party is too divided and contentious, so she didn't want to have a debate. I would think that, as a mediator, she would understand the importance of each side feeling that their concerns were fully aired and given a fair hearing. Perhaps her mediation sessions consist of her picking one side to argue both sides of a dispute.

"To be fair to Ms. Rothman," he continued, "there are political parties that do a much better job than Republicans of maintaining unity and harmony. For example, the Workers' Party of Korea presents a united front on every issue. You never hear a dissenting voice on any issue; if you do, you never hear from it again. Perhaps she has the WPK in mind as a model of the Republican Party's future."

Unfortunately, this attack by Mr. Bates is a perfect example of a few within the party who employ bullying tactics in an attempt to shut down open dialogue and instill fear in those who don't agree with them. Sadly, this is only one example of this type of conduct that has been occurring within the Tulsa County Republican Party for the past several years.

Mr. Bates is correct in that I am a mediator. I believe that mediation is a proven process that is beneficial in many areas where there is dispute. Mediation is not, however, beneficial when one side uses bullying tactics to instill fear, attempting to beat people into submission if those people do not conform to the bully's whims. The real message he is sending is, "Conform to me and my way of doing things, or I'll demonize you and destroy your life."

If the purpose of this intimidation is to put a chilling effect on future speakers, it will not work. As for myself and the Republican Women of Tulsa County, we will not bow down to this type of threat, intimidation or harassment.

It is interesting to note that at no time did Mr. Bates ever attempt to contact me to inquire about the program, nor did he attend the program.

The spirit of intimidation within this party in Tulsa County is a seed that is tearing the party apart. Its aim is to pit people against each other, and to destroy anyone who advocates for open and honest communication and dialogue. It not only promotes infighting within the party but drives good people away and fosters a lack of respect within the community. How can anyone expect to lead and govern in this manner? Furthermore, how can a city expect to thrive and grow when high reader ratings (such as the example displayed here) are built up by tearing people down?

This response is not intended to cause further division. The Tulsa County Republican Party is made up of a diverse group of people and there will always be differences within the party. These differences, however, are not so deep that we cannot find common ground to work and move forward together in unity.

Nancy Rothman,
President
Tulsa County Republican Women's Club

I started to write a point-by-point reply, and I will probably do that at some point, but for now, I think I'll just let Nancy's comments stand without comment from me and instead open the floor for your comments.

UPDATE (9/22/2007): B. J. Benbow, a Republican woman who received Rothman's press release, sent a reply to Rothman, and copied me on it. Here's Benbow's specific response to Rothman's accusations:

After reading your account of Mr. Bates' article I agree with him. You do not claim that he was not factual and that you really did want a DEBATE. You simply attacked him (might I say bully).

As I mentioned in last week's Urban Tulsa Weekly, a few weeks ago I began my search for the source of the numbers being cited in defense of the need to raise taxes to build the two low-water dams and the Zink Lake modifications promised in Proposition No. 4 of the Vision 2025 sales tax.

The debate over this issue has two prongs:

(1) Did Tulsa County officials promise to build the dams during the Vision 2025 campaign? And did they promise that they'd have the money to build them even if Federal matching dollars weren't available? Despite word-parsing efforts by Commissioner Randi Miller and others, the clear answer to that question is yes, as I've demonstrated from the official ballot resolution, the official project map used during the campaign, and quotes from Commissioner Bob Dick and others during the campaign, and even after the campaign, when Federal funding was once again in doubt.

(2) Is there enough money in projected Vision 2025 revenues to cover the cost of the new dams and the Zink Lake modifications? County officials, citing numbers developed by John Piercey, the county's bond adviser, say that the answer is no. Based on revenue projections, remaining projects to be funded, and debt service, there isn't enough money, they say to fund the low water dams beyond the specific amounts listed in the resolution, much less fund any other project on this October's ballot.

That second point set me off on a search to find out for myself. I combed through the five big binders of monthly Vision 2025 reports in the fourth floor Government Documents department of the Central Library. (The most recent three binders are in the work room, so you need to ask at the reference desk if you want to see them.)

Having looked at the sales tax summaries and project summaries in the monthly reports, I had a simple mental model of how it all fit together. You had two pots of money: A pot of sales tax revenue and a pot of bond proceeds.

Sales tax receipts come into the sales tax revenue pot, and from that pot comes bond repayment (debt service: principal and interest) and cash expenditures (e.g., money to pay down the Oklahoma Aquarium debt, fees to PMg and attorneys).

The bond proceeds pot is fed by proceeds from revenue bond sales, and that money is spent on expenditures for most of the projects.

So what I wanted to know was this:

(1) How much money was in each pot as of, say, the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2007?

(2) How much money was likely to be added to the sales tax pot between now and the last sales tax check in February 2017? (There's about a month and a half delay between collection and the resulting check from the Oklahoma Tax Commission back to the cities and counties.)

(3) Of the money in the sales tax pot, how much is committed to debt service, and what is the repayment schedule?

(4) Of the money in the sales tax pot, how much is budgeted but yet to be spent for projects and for overall program expenses, and what is the schedule for spending that money, and for which projects?

(5) Of the money in the bond pot, how much is budgeted but yet to be spent for projects and program expenses, and what is the schedule for spending that money, and for which projects?

I figured that, with all the talk about how we wouldn't have enough money to build the promised dams, that somebody must have all this worked out, at least on a year by year basis. If you had the answers to those five questions, you could make decisions about borrowing against future revenues or the likelihood of additional money that could be spent on a pay-as-you-go basis or possibly even reprioritizing the sequence in which the remaining projects (including the dam and Zink Lake projects) would be funded.

I wrote about my quest a few weeks ago:

I asked Kirby Crowe by phone if he had a copy of this plan. I'm not sure if I made my meaning clear, but I came away from the conversation with the impression that he did not have a copy of Piercey's financial plan.

I called Jim Smith, the County's fiscal officer, and asked if he had a copy of the financial plan. I thought he might, since his name is on the monthly memo in the Vision 2025 report listing tax receipts, the monthly wire transfer from the sales tax fund to the trustee, and the interest earnings on the sales tax trust account.

Smith said he didn't have the financial plan, but suggested I call John Piercey. Mr. Smith could tell me what the payment to the trustee would be for the next six months, at which point it would be recalculated, but couldn't tell me anything more about future expenses.

I called Capital West, and they gave me John Piercey's number. I called John, and he was very gracious. He said he'd e-mail it to me that evening or the following morning. He said something about recalculating based on more recent tax receipts. I'd really be happy seeing the most recent version, whatever he's been using as the basis for his statements about Vision 2025 surpluses.

That was a week ago Monday, the 20th. I gave him a reminder call on the 28th -- got his voicemail and left a message. Haven't heard back yet. I'm sure he's quite busy.

Can anyone suggest somewhere else I could find this information?

That was on August 30. Eight days later, on September 7, I left another message for Mr. Piercey. I also, on a whim, called County Commissioner Fred Perry's office to see if they have a copy of this rumored financial plan. The administrative assistant didn't know, but she took my message, and about an hour later, Commissioner Perry called me. (Part of that conversation found its way into the update to this entry about the Republican Women's Club's exclusion of the opposition from a discussion of the county river tax.)

Perry told me he would ask Piercey to get me the information, and not long after I heard from Piercey. The following Tuesday afternoon, September 11, he dropped the three-page Excel printout, entitled "Vision 2025 Financial Summary" by UTW's offices. (Clicking that link will open a PDF file, about 300 KB.)

Off and on over the following week, I crunched through Piercey's numbers covering the next nine and a half years and tried to fit them together with the numbers in the Vision 2025 reports covering the past three and a half years, trying to meld them together into a consistent set of answers to my questions.

Finally, I sent Piercey an e-mail, attaching a snapshot of the financial spreadsheet from the June 2007 Vision 2025 report:

John,

Thanks again for providing me with that spreadsheet printout last Tuesday. I'm still looking at it and trying to understand how your numbers line up with the ones I observed in the Vision 2025 monthly reports from PMg.

The most puzzling thing is the gap between previous years debt service numbers and the numbers in your projections. Attached is a photo of the Vision 2025 sales tax report from PMg's June 2007 Vision 2025 report, which includes all receipts and expenditures through the end of FY07. It shows the following amounts transferred to the bond trustee:

FY
Transferred to Bond Trustee
2004
15,213,697.60
2005
34,394,424.51
2006
33,402,757.79
2007
34,645,690.81

I take those numbers to represent what has been paid to debt service to date. So it's puzzling that for FY 2008 that the debt service jumps up to $46,977,024 plus $396,500 for Series 2006 B. Did the debt service payments just jump up at the end of FY 2007, or is something else on that PMg spreadsheet that should be included in debt service to date?

Put another way, what are your numbers for debt service through FY 2007?

(I'm also surprised that the debt service number doesn't tail off in 2017, since there are only eight months of revenue from the tax in FY 2017.)

Another apparent difference between PMg's numbers and yours: PMg shows, after May 2007, $45,362,099.18 in the sales tax trust fund, and in June all of it is transferred to a new cash projects trust account, in addition to about $2 million transferred to this cash projects trust account back in February. You show $39,093,695 as sales tax revenues held by County. I don't understand how those two numbers line up.

Another question has to do with when various expenses and funds might be realized. You show a balance to be funded of $104.5 million and about $69.3 million of cashflow from bond fund reserves ($39.4 million), net earnings on bond funds ($13.7 million), and net earnings on cash flow ($16.2 million). Has anyone mapped out, to the fiscal year, when these expenses and earnings will be realized?

Thanks again for your assistance,

Michael D. Bates

Here is Piercey's reply in full, clarifying the nature of his report and his role with Vision 2025 and Tulsa County:

Capital West Securities, Inc. official involvement with raising additional funds for Vision 2025 ended in the third quarter of 2006 with the completion of the funding of $31 million in parity and subordinate bonds which partially funded the $45.5 million approved by the County for the Arena and Convention Center. The balance of the funds for the projects increased budget will come from cash flow through the end of calendar year 2008.

My current involvement is as an unpaid monitor of the monthly sales tax receipts and the preparation of a semi annual update of the status of the financial condition of the program. The day to day management of the Program is performed by PMG and the funds administration is performed by the Bond Trustee in cooperation with Jim Smith, the County's fiscal officer. The summary that was given to you is the most current semi annual Update that I have done and is not a "financial plan".

The monthly PMG report provided to the elected officials and the Sales Tax Overview committee will differ from my evaluation simply because they are looking primarily at projects implementation and monthly cash flows provided to them by the Trustee and PMG. They will also differ as a result of the time frame that I used and the in and out of money that occurs weekly.

As I pointed out to John Eagleton in a prior correspondence, the debt service payments that are shown in the PMG reports are what the Trustee requires from sales tax receipts on a monthly basis. The difference between the receipts and the payment goes into sales tax trust fund. The sales tax trust fund is being used to fund Vision projects not funded by bond proceeds. It builds up over time as a results of primarily the City of Tulsa budget process which requires all funds to be in place and appropriated before project contracts can be signed.

The Trustee's debt service requirements given to the County differ from the debt service requirements on the bonds are a results of interest earnings on the construction funds held by the Trustee as well as interest earnings on the Bond Fund Reserve account of $39.09 million. Given the amount of proceeds raised early in the program those earnings were substantial in the early years of the program and decline as projects are completed. This will also be the case with the County's sales tax trust fund as the Arena and Convention Center is completed between now and the end of fiscal year 2008.

As for specific answers to your questions:

1. Debt service has risen annually since 2003 as a results of additional bond issues being done as projects became ready for implementation. Debt service has also risen as the amount of investment earnings have declined as moneys are spent.

2. The PMG debt service numbers are net of investment earnings.

3. All the bond issues, except series 2006B, are rated AAA. In order to get a AAA rating, a cash reserve of $39 plus million was funded early in the program and is held by the Trustee. The purpose of the reserve is have sufficient funds on hand to pay debt service in the event that sales tax receipts at any one time or length of time is insufficient to pay the debt service. The Reserve is released in the final year (2017) to pay most of the final year's debt service. This final payment assumes that no short fall has occurred.

4. The Series 2006 B bonds of $10 million are subordinate bonds and are unrated. The reason being that the requirements to issue more bonds on a parity basis could not be met. The $14.5 million in cash flow for the Arena and Convention Center was also the results of not being able to issue more debt without increasing the costs of the debt and the risk that other projects would have to be postponed or possibly eliminated if sales tax receipts declined.

5. The Vision 2025 program included $575 million in specific projects with specific dollar allocations. Of that total 83% were funded by bond proceeds or in the case the Aquarium annual payments were contracted for. The balance of approximately $100 million (excluding the rebate) are being funded by sales taxes and investment earnings remaining after debt service is paid monthly. With the exception of the River Projects which were matching funds, cash flow schedules have been reviewed and PMG schedules those projects as they become ready and/or funds are available.

6. As I have noted in the past, I see no excess funds being available for new projects or increases for approved projects until after 2012-13. I hope that my forecast is too low. The bulk of any future surplus will occur in 2017 as the $39.1 million in bond fund reserve is released.

John Piercey

There's a lot to digest here. I'm putting it all here for anyone who cares to analyze it and comment on it.

One of the discoveries in all this is that there are actually four pots of money. In addition to the bond proceeds and the sales tax receipts, there is a bond repayment trust fund held by the bond trustee (the Bank of Oklahoma). When Jim Smith tried to explain to me how it worked, I compared it to an escrow account for paying taxes and insurance on a mortgaged house, which Smith thought was a good analogy. The bond trustee then repays the bondholders from this trust fund. Every six months, the bond trustee recalculates the payments they need from Tulsa County's sales tax receipts to enable them to pay the bondholders.

Here's my paraphrase of Piercey's explanation of the difference between the payments to the bond trustee (found in the Vision 2025 monthly reports) and his schedule for repayment to the bondholders: The county began paying money into the bond fund as soon as the tax began to be collected, but well before they had to begin to repay the bonds. Those early funds earned interest, which reduced the amount the county had to pay to the bond trustee in order to keep the bond trustee's fund at the required level.

Without the details of the ins and outs of the fund being managed by the bond trustee, there doesn't seem to be any way to correlate the sales tax payments to the bond trustee (in the Vision 2025 monthly reports) with the payments to the bondholders (in Piercey's financial summary). The Vision 2025 monthly reports don't cover the balances and transactions in the bond repayment trust account or in the bond proceeds pot of money. (It just now occurs to me that those two pots may actually be a single pot of money.) There are individual monthly project expenditures in the report, which you can infer are payments from the bond proceeds, but it isn't explicit, and transactions like interest earnings are either not reported or perhaps just not obvious to me. It would be good to have a spreadsheet for the bond proceeds fund that spells things out as clearly as the sales tax spreadsheet does for that fund -- the balance at the beginning of each month, all the income and the outgo, and the balance at the end.

I mentioned that there's a fourth pot of money. The June 2007 Vision 2025 monthly report shows that in February, $2,093,676.40 was transferred to the Cash Projects Trust Account, and in June, $45,961,778.85 -- pretty much the entire sales tax reserve being held in the county's accounts -- was transferred to the Cash Projects Trust Account. A memo included in one of the monthly reports says that this account is also being managed by BOk.

I still don't see a way to answer my five questions from the information available. If I were a County Commissioner or a member of the Vision 2025 Sales Tax Overview Committee, I would insist on putting that information together and updating it on a monthly basis to serve as Tulsa County's financial plan for the Vision 2025 program.

It looks to me that John Piercey, PMg, and BOk each possess different pieces of the puzzle, but that no one has actually put all of it together into a complete picture, a complete plan that would permit exploring different scenarios that would allow the use of Vision 2025 funds to complete the dams that were promised as a part of that package.

There's another aspect of this that needs to be explored, but it's late and I'm tired. I'll just point you in the general direction. On the front page of Piercey's summary are three columns: "Pre-Request," "Arena Increase," "Revised Totals." The difference between the first and third columns tell quite a story.

Tulsa Community College's Forensic Team will debate the Tulsa County river tax today at noon at the Northeast Campus, Apache and Harvard, in the Room 1470 auditorium. Here are the details in a press release I received:

What: Debate over River Development - Local and Global impacts
When: Wednesday, September 19
Where: NE Campus- Large Auditorium (1470) at 12:00p.m.- 1:00p.m.
Who: TCC Forensics, Global Education, and Student Activities
Who is invited: Anyone interested in the Arkansas River debate. Please join us!
Light snacks provided


Tonight at 6:30 at the OSU-Tulsa auditorium, TulsaNow will hold a forum on the October 9th election regarding the proposed Tulsa County sales tax for river projects. Both sides will be well represented: Jean Letcher, campaign manager for the vote yes campaign, and Gaylon Pinc of PMg will speak in support of the tax; City Councilor John Eagleton and Tulsa resident Colin Tawney will speak in opposition. The forum format will give each side an equal chance to speak (unlike many other "informational" river tax events which have excluded the opposition). Some questions will be provided to the two sides in advance of the event, others will be drawn at random from audience submissions.

This should be an interesting event. Eagleton and Tawney are both very knowledgeable and well-spoken, and should do a fine job of representing the reasons for opposing this tax increase. It's interesting, too, that you have two people with a professional/financial interest arguing for passing the tax and two people who with no financial stake in the game arguing against.

For work reasons, I can't be there, but I hope you will.

UPDATE: Steve Roemerman live-blogged the event (until his laptop battery ran out of juice). He advises that TulsaNow will post video and that David Schuttler was there gathering video as well. I was surprised to learn that Jean Letcher was replaced at the last minute by John Piercey, bond adviser to Tulsa County.

UPDATE (2): David Schuttler has a blog entry with photos and his synopsis of the forum. He has posted some of the video, broken up by question, on his YouTube account, with more to come.

Linkblog changes

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You may have already noticed that the linkblog is back, in the left sidebar. Instead of using my old homegrown system (involving PHP and MySQL), I'm using the multi-blog features of Movable Type 4.0. There's now a separate linkblog blog, and I'm displaying the five most recent entries on the home page and Newsgator page of BatesLine proper. When I add a new linkblog entry, the index pages for BatesLine are rebuilt.

Because this is a separate MT blog, these linkblog entries have the same attributes as normal blog entries, including permalinks, trackbacks, and comments. If you click on the date and time stamp, it will take you to the individual entry archive page, where you can leave or read comments. Eventually there will be categories, and I'll be importing the old linkblog entries. I'll be trying to work out the same kind of interface that I had with the old linkblog that made it quick and painless to post something.

The biggest advantage the new way has over the old method is that this version builds files once, rather than dynamically generating them with a database query. The old system would issue a DB query every time the home page was loaded, which made my hosting provider unhappy, and resulted in the CPU Exceeded errors people would see from time to time.

That's a nicer way to describe Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor's announcement today that she and Councilor Bill Martinson will convene a "leadership committee to work with them in developing a Complete Our Streets plan for Tulsa's eroding streets issue." She named developer Sharon King Davis and former Councilor Dewey Bartlett, Jr., to head this panel, which will deliver a report by December 1st. According to a breaking news story on the Tulsa Whirled website, Taylor refused to acknowledge that this was the first step toward a tax package for streets.

The response of the first commenter on the Whirled website was rather blunt:

Sharon King Davis will lead the panel? Holy crap, we are doomed.

You'd think Tulsa had a population of 200, and no population east of Yale or north of 15th Street, the way the same people get recycled to head "blue ribbon" commissions.

It is a strange choice. Sharon King Davis is often chosen to be the public face of blue ribbon commissions, but she has no special expertise in streets or roads. She has always struck me as pleasant and enthusiastic, but not terribly discerning.

Two memories shaped my impression of Sharon King Davis as a civic leader.

Davis was asked by her pal Mayor Susan Savage to head up the city's centennial celebration. The City of Tulsa was incorporated in 1898. That date is on our city seal and flag. Those who know enough Tulsa history to be interested in centennial festivities would have known that date and might have planned to visit at that time. But Davis decided to hold all the events in the 100th year, with the finale on the centennial of incorporation in January 1998. That meant that nearly all the celebrations occurred in 1997, a year before expat Tulsans would have expected them to occur. The biggest celebration of all was in September 1997, on a weekend that conflicted with the centennial celebrations of our slightly older neighbor to the north, Bartlesville.

Then in 2000, Davis was head of the Situation Analysis Committee for the Convention and Tourism Task Force. (This was the committee created because the Research Committee -- on which I served -- actually tried to think strategically about how Tulsa could be more attractive to conventions and tourists, rather than endorsing the predetermined conclusion of expanding the convention center and building a new arena. In the end, they made us come up with a plan to pay for proposal that came out of the Situation Awareness Committee.) I remember a public input meeting she led, one of five held around the city. At one point she waxed poetic about Route 66, and how wonderful it was to open a book of historic Route 66 postcards and see one from our very own Will Rogers Motor Court. When it was my turn to speak, I had to break it to her that the motel had been demolished many years previously. It was apparent that she didn't "get" Route 66, just like she acknowledged she didn't initially "get" what the big deal was with this buried car, another effort she was asked to head up.

If the Mayor were serious about applying expertise to the problem, she'd have chosen someone like Jim Hewgley, the former Street Commissioner, who assembled the first "third penny" tax for capital improvements, and who has already been offering some public advice on what needs to be done to get our streets back in shape. There are also some retired civil servants who were involved in street design and maintenance back when our streets were in good shape. They ought to be involved in this process, which ought to include a top-to-bottom financial and performance audit of the city's Public Works Department.

Oh, and wasn't there already a study done that identified a need for about $385 million to bring our streets up to a "C" grade? What can this committee add to that? Why do I suspect that the point of this committee is to relieve Mayor Taylor from having to recommend a tax increase for streets herself?

Right after we were married, way back in 1989 and the early '90s, my wife and I lived in the Marella Apartments on Riverside Drive. About the time we moved in there, a few blocks east, on the southeast corner of 39th and Peoria, there was a little commercial building, and a brightly painted red-white-and-blue cafe in a very narrow space. A fellow from Pennsylvania named George Van Wyck thought Tulsa needed a source for authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, so he opened Steak Stuffers USA. The place got a four and a half star rating from the Tribune, upgraded to five stars when the store expanded -- the close quarters was the only knock against the place. George ran (and still runs) a clean store; I remember seeing health inspection scores in the upper 90s. He was always shooting for 100%. We visited frequently.

I think Steak Stuffers USA was the first place in town to serve corn fritters as a side item (sometimes called corn poppers or corn dodgers).

The restaurant was successful, and eventually he expanded into the space next door, but his time on Brookside came to an end in 1992, when Albertson's bought the building and knocked it down to make room for their parking lot. George found a new home for Steak Stuffers USA in an old Braum's location on 51st Street between Utica and Lewis. At some point in the '90s, he also expanded to 81st and 145th in Broken Arrow, but he had trouble finding enough reliable workers to keep both locations operating to his high standards.

I'm rehearsing all this history to tell you that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is going to be at Steak Stuffers USA, 1932 E 51st St, tomorrow (Friday) at 3:15 p.m. for a brief appearance. (He'll be at the Summit Club for a paying reception at 4.)

There are things I like and dislike about Rudy Giuliani, but I'm very happy that his campaign is giving George Van Wyck and Steak Stuffers USA a moment in the spotlight.

Just remember, Rudy: Use the fork to push down the meat, mushrooms, and cheese and wrap the roll around for full flavor.

UPDATE: David Schuttler has photos of Rudy getting stuffed.

It still comes in pints!

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The European Union has given up trying to force Britain to conform to metric measurement:

Britain's citizens are now free to buy their ale and milk by the pint and their bananas and potatoes by the pound, then measure the distance they drive back home in miles -- all without threat of interference from the European Union.

The Brussels-based European Union, evidently exasperated, announced yesterday that Britain could carry on indefinitely using its centuries-old system of imperial measures.

Here's a link to the statement by EU Vice-President G√ľnter Verheugen, Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, who seems to be saying that it was all a big misunderstanding, that it was the British government, not the EU, pushing for metrication. And there's some truth to that.

This announcement follows years of "metric martyrs" -- British shopkeepers being penalized for selling certain items using imperial measures. Many imperial measures were still in use -- miles for road travel and imperial pints for beer -- but were due to be banned as many already had been.

It is a fundamental conservative instinct to prefer systems and customs that have evolved over time to those that are artificially constructed and imposed from above, no matter how elegant and theoretically perfect. A conservative believes there is wisdom in tradition that may not be easily articulated or quantified. There are hidden interdependencies that a wholesale change to a system may unwittingly disturb or destroy. (See "Urban Renewal.")

George Orwell was able to articulate the benefits of traditional units of measure, as See Dubya notes:

In 1984, there's a passage about Socialist metricization being an extension of demoralizing mind control. I remember it concerned an old prole lamenting, over his beer, that a half liter was too little, and a liter was too much, and that he missed his old comfortable pints which had been just right. That's it exactly. Feet and inches are a likewise a useful, human scale. NOTHING is a meter long. (Or are we supposed to switch to one-third-meter hot dogs at ballgames?)

Another example: almost everyone is between one and two meters in height. Centimeters are too small. But five feet six versus six foot two is a useful gradation of measurement, and those gradations have survived because they are part of a system that describes the everyday world and its usual proportions pretty well.

One could say the same thing for acres for land, hands for horses, yards for cloth, and teaspoons and cups for cooking. One useful traditional unit that the British use but which isn't common in America is the stone (14 pounds) as a measure of adult weight. To those used to the system, it's a very natural way of classifying people by weight. For the weight-watcher, measuring in stone gives a plus or minus seven pounds range of fluctuation without inducing anxiety.

Even the European Union acknowledged the intuition of standard quantities appropriate to a given item, although they did it in their usual heavy-handed way. The EU requires (or required) certain products only to be sold in authorized sizes, for example, 330 ml cans of soda and 236 ml containers of fruit cocktail.

The about-face is a happy one, and Simon Heffer suggests it could be the first shot in a revolt against an oppressive and untouchable multinational regime:

Fired up by this victory on metrication, we should all realise how vulnerable this mendacious enterprise is to sheer, relentless opposition.

The question of Europe also has the power to destroy governments, and it could well do so again.

Whatever they believe caused it, the Conservatives are in their 11th year in opposition because of John Major's treachery at Maastricht and his dishonourable behaviour after our eviction from the ERM on Black Wednesday.

The anger Europe stirs up reminds us why Mr Brown wants to avoid a referendum on the new EU treaty, a document unacceptable to this supposedly free and democratic nation.

It should also, though, remind him why he should have one, to get the issue out of the way so he can get on with being Prime Minister. If I were in his shoes I wouldn't hang around, either.

Many more of these "pointless" interferences in our way of life, and much more evidence of our impotence at the hands of the international unelect, and it won't be a referendum on the treaty that we will be calling for. It will be one on whether we want to stay in this oppressive and unsavoury club at all.


My friend and fraternity brother Jim Reisert writes to let me know about a recent story in Computerworld about how Tulsa's Monte Cassino School is solving the problem of providing adequate and backed-up disk space for faculty and students.

Monte Cassino, a Catholic K-8 school, is paying a hosted storage service called School Web Locker, which will give each 7th & 8th grade student 100 MB of space, and a gigabyte to each faculty member.

"We knew this year [students] would be creating movies and doing other things, [so] they needed a lot more space," she said. The hosted offering "resonated with me as easy to manage," Stutsman said, adding that "we had problems with kids' files disappearing a lot last year. [The new system] would relieve a lot of that."

School Web Lockers also includes chat, calendaring and collaboration capabilities, she noted. In addition, the hosted system lets school administrators monitor and track all files uploaded to the system and enables them to lock out individuals for misuse.

And there's no need for boltcutters if someone forgets their combination or tries to use the locker to conceal contraband.

The system also includes password access that students must share with their parents, she said. The system also scans all files uploaded to School Web Lockers servers for potential viruses using Sophos PLC's security software and default controls, said Kelly Agrelius, marketing associate for School Web Lockers.

A school official estimates the system will cost them about a dollar per user per year.

Meeciteewurkor has a guest post from someone who attended a river tax informational forum today, sponsored by the Sand Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. Ken Neal, former editorial page editor of the Tulsa Whirled, and Ken Levit, director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, were the main speakers.

It was billed as an informational meeting, but turned out to be more of a pep rally. No opponents of the tax were invited to speak. The post has audio, photos, and a summary of the gathering.

Neal said, "People accuse us of having pretty pictures. That's true, but you have to have a concept. At this point, nobody can develop detailed specification. I might just say, that if this happens, if we approve this tax, then we will have the money to start the specifications for each dam.... This is a concept."

Now, weren't we told that there was at least enough money in Vision 2025 to pay for engineering for these dams? In fact that's what Terry Simonson tried to claim all the Vision 2025 money was spent on (before he disappeared). And we can't even start the lengthy Corps of Engineers approval process until the engineering is complete.

I think it's interesting that Neal completely glosses over the $90 million for the "living river" and downplays the "downtown connector" ($15 million) and the pedestrian bridges at 41st and 61st Streets ($30 million), none of which is in the INCOG plan. Nevertheless, he ascribes the large amount of public input in the Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan development to this hastily thrown together county river tax plan.

Neal also claims that fishing will improve "a hell of a lot" because of the new dams.

In his remarks, Ken Levit said that "this is a plan that INCOG built with years of community input." He needs not to say that, because it isn't true. The Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan was built by INCOG with years of community input. But close to half of the cost in the plan on the ballot October 9 is for items that were not in the ARMCP -- the items I listed above.

(I don't know this for sure, but since GKFF hired Bing Thom to do a river study for the area south of 21st Street, I wonder if it was Thom -- the man behind the islands in the middle of the Arkansas River, that came up with the "living river," the pedestrian bridges, and the "gathering places.")

There was also an interesting answer to a question about the charitable money and whether any of it might end up in Sand Springs. Levit emphasized that none of it was earmarked. That's funny because almost all the talk about gathering places and improvements funded by these charitable contributions has focused on the east bank of the river south of 31st Street in Tulsa.

They only answered two questions, and Neal tried to finesse a question about this morning's Whirled story about the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's concerns about the proposal. Again he tried to wrap the county river tax plan in the mantle of the ARMCP, going even further and claiming the Corps of Engineers imprimatur. "Do you suppose the Corps is going to approve its own plan? Whatta you think?" While the Corps has been heavily involved in the development of the ARMCP, half of the plan on the October 9th ballot is not found in the ARMCP.

With Movable Type 4.0, you have a number of ways to authenticate yourself to post a comment. You can continue to use a Typekey account as before. You can also log in using Live Journal or with an OpenID. You can also register for a commenting account for this installation of Movable Type (good for BatesLine and, eventually, the BatesLine linkblog). If you authenticate with one of those methods and are "trusted," your comments will appear on the site automatically, soon after they have been posted.

If you don't want to use any of those means of authentication, you can still comment "anonymously" by inputting your name and e-mail address and entering a CAPTCHA code, so I know you're a human and not a spambot. Your e-mail address will never appear on the site.

A note to those using various ad and script blockers: You must have Javascript enabled for the batesline.com domain in order to comment here. The mechanism won't work otherwise. To use one of the authentication methods you will probably also need to enable Javascript for the authenticator's domain as well.

Until I get the linkblog integrated with the new template, here are a few interesting links for your perusal. For more links, check out the BatesLine blogroll headlines page, now relocated and cleansed of PHP:

Slate: The Dangers of Reclining Your Car Seat

"Tilt your car seat back in the front, and you'll find that the seat belt no longer rides the way it's supposed to--the upper strap moves up toward your neck and the lower one up from your pelvis to your middle. And it turns out that is dangerous--though somehow neither the government nor car manufacturers think they need to clearly tell us so."

Slate: William Saletan: Buried Alive in Your Own Skull

"Five days ago, Science published a report on a young woman devastated by a car crash in England. For five months after the accident, tests showed no signs of awareness. Doctors declared her vegetative. Then, scientists put her in a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner, which tracks blood flow to different parts of the brain. They asked her to imagine playing tennis and walking through her home. The scan lit up with telltale patterns of language, movement, and navigation indistinguishable from the brains of healthy people.

"Something was awake inside that woman's skull. Without the scanner, no one but her would have known."

TIME: Best 100 TV Shows of all Time

Via WorldMagBlog, where a commenter complains that the Andy Griffith Show is the "single best show, and it isn't even listed."

New English Review: Theodore Dalrymple: How To Hate The Non-Existent (Via WorldMagBlog.)

"Suffice it to say that I have never received such hate mail as when I suggested that religious people were better than non-religious in their conduct. It seemed that many of the people who responded to me were not content merely not to believe, but had to hate. Although I had not denied that religious motivation could motivate very bad behaviour, something which indeed can hardly be denied, I was treated to a summary of the historical crimes of religion such as many adolescents could provide who had recently discovered to their fury that they had been made to attend boring religious services when the arguments for the existence of God had never been irrefutable....

"Perhaps one of the reasons that contemporary secularists do not simply reject religion but hate it is that they know that, while they can easily rise to the levels of hatred that religion has sometimes encouraged, they will always find it difficult to rise to the levels of love that it has sometimes encouraged."

dustbury.com: Remembering Lane Bryant

"In 1909, Mrs Bryant remarried, to Albert Malsin, who took over the business end of the Lane Bryant shop while she concentrated on design. New York newspapers, however, would not accept advertising for the store, what with all those evil maternity outfits on display. Eventually one paper did agree to run an ad, and when it appeared, the store was completely sold out within twenty-four hours. A second store had been opened in 1915, in Chicago, but feeling that they could not rely on newspapers, the Malsins opened up a mail-order branch, which by 1917 was bringing in $1 million a year."

Another test post

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Testing, testing, sibilants, sibilants.

UPDATE: Finally found the problem with comments. When I cut and pasted the code from the Javascript template in a brand new MT 4.0 test blog to the corresponding template in BatesLine, MT insisted on throwing in a bunch of extra line feeds. Another ctrl-c ctrl-v attempt succeeded in copying the text with no additional line feeds. Saving and publishing the template took care of it.

I will still need to rebuild the rest of the entries. There's still an issue with the queuing mechanism. I have mods I want to make to the entry template (include Technorati tags and categories, for example). And I want to import the old linkblog entries into a new MT 4.0 blog and then cross-link that with the homepage for BatesLine. And of course, I want to replace the banner image with something more representative of Tulsa.

If you're up to speed with the illegal laundering of campaign contributions here in Oklahoma (if not, Google "Gene Stipe" at the McCarville Report), you need to catch up on a much bigger money laundry at the Federal level, benefitting Hillary Clinton and other Democrats. From the New York Times:

At the center of the ever-deepening mystery of Norman Hsu, the fugitive fund-raiser who was captured after a brief flight from the law last week, is the question of how he evolved from a bankrupt swindler in 1992 to a wealthy donor to many Democratic candidates, and a bundler of campaign contributions to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2007.

A review of financial records for one of Mr. Hsu's companies begins to shed light on some of his recent activities, including his dealings with a circle of campaign contributors that has fallen under suspicion since news of Mr. Hsu's criminal past, murky business interests and unexplained riches rocked the Democratic Party.

The records show that Components Ltd., a company controlled by Mr. Hsu that has no obvious business purpose and appears to exist only on paper, has paid a total of more than $100,000 to at least nine people who made campaign contributions to Mrs. Clinton and others through Mr. Hsu. The payments occurred in the spring of 2003, several months before Mr. Hsu emerged as a contributor to Democrats and more than a year before he started bundling checks from those same people for various campaigns. In all, he has raised more than $1 million for Democrats.

Those payments, found in a single month's bank statement, hints at the possibility that ultimately all the money these donors contributed was matched by payments from Components Ltd. The question then becomes, where did someone like Hsu, who went bankrupt in the US in 1992 and again in Hong Kong in the 1998 get the money to become a major donor and, possibly, a major straw donor.

This is deja vu for those of us who remember when China used straw donors to funnel money to Democratic candidates back in the mid '90s. Of course, the investigation back during the Clinton Administration wasn't allowed to be as thorough as it should have been.

Disputing Reno's oft-quoted assertions of a vigorous investigation, FBI agent Daniel Wehr told the committee that the initial lead attorney in the inquiry, Laura Ingersoll, told the agents they should ''not pursue any matter related to solicitation of funds for access to the president. The reason given was, 'That's the way the American political process works.' I was scandalized by that.''

Hat tip to Wizbang.

Test of scheduled entries

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This is a test of scheduled entries

It happens every time I upgrade Movable Type, the blogging engine, to the latest version. The new comment verification scheme just won't work with my old template. So BatesLine will be changing before your very eyes, as I create a new default template, then bring over my old customizations. Thank you for your patience.

Speaking of fixing what's broken, the No Tulsa River Tax website has been spruced up and it now works with Firefox as well as Internet Explorer. Since the campaign is grassroots-driven, there's a do-it-yourself flyer (PDF format) you can download and print to hand out to your friends and neighbors or bring to civic group meetings where the river tax is being discussed.

UPDATE: Well, this is fun. I have managed to get a basic template in place, but comments are still broken, and I can't rebuild the individual entry archives, because BlueHost complains that I'm using too much CPU. Trying to use MT4's queueing mechanism returns an error when run-periodic-tasks executes:

Use of uninitialized value in subroutine entry at /home/bateslin/public_html/cgi-bin/mt/extlib/Data/ObjectDriver/BaseObject.pm line 179. Can't use string ("") as a subroutine ref while "strict refs" in use at /home/bateslin/public_html/cgi-bin/mt/extlib/Data/ObjectDriver/BaseObject.pm line 179.

I received an e-mail last night regarding Harvey Young Airport. Of the many airports serving general (non-commercial) aviation that once dotted the Tulsa area, Harvey Young is one of the few remaining. The airport's north-south asphalt runway sits between 11th and 21st Street, about halfway between 129th and 145th East Avenues. It is privately owned, but open to the public. It serves small aircraft that might be out of place at the jet- and high-end turboprop-oriented Jones Riverside Airport.

Long-time eastsiders will remember the sight of the Goodyear blimp setting down and mooring at Harvey Young back in the '70s. It was used as an airship landing pad as recently as last month, during the PGA.

Word is that the property has a new owner who intends to sell the airport to someone who will close it and build low-cost, government subsidized, housing in its place. Mick Fine, an aviation enthusiast who is a tenant at the airport has set up a website at saveharveyyoung.com to present the history of the airport and encourage its preservation as a working general aviation facility. From the home page:

Harvey Young Airport has a long and proud history of serving the aviation needs of the Tulsa-metro area since 1940. In the early days of World War II, the airport answered the country's call to train cadets for the US Army Air Corp (predecessor to the US Air Force). By all accounts, thousands of future combat pilots took their first flights over the countryside of east Tulsa County:

While Harvey Young was 'out in the country' when established, Tulsa expanded east to surround and incorporate it. Sadly, Harvey Young is the last VFR (visual flight rules) GA (general aviation) airport within easy driving distance from anywhere in Tulsa. Should this vital resource be lost, most of the 80 or so tenants will be forced to relocate their aircraft to municipal and private airports outside the Tulsa area such as Gundys in Owasso, Haskell, Wagoner, Claremore and others. The associated commerce from hangar rent, fuel, maintenance, and even the hamburger and coffee sales to pilots, crews and spectators will go with them.

Harvey Young has always been a draw for visiting aircraft due to its close proximity to Tulsa. At most any time of the week, several 'transient' aircraft are tied-down at the field to do business in town or just to visit friends and relatives. The field has also been a host to blimp traffic for decades including the recent PGA Final at Southern Hills.

The reason most of the old Tulsa airports are gone is simple - the land they occupied was economically viable for other uses, usually a traditional housing and/or commercial development. The main reason Harvey Young has not suffered the same fate before now is that it sits on a solid limestone rock shelf lying 3 feet or less below the soil surface.

That rock shelf poses a serious obstacle to placing water and sewer lines in the ground. It took a great deal of expense to blast through the rock for the construction of the former Albertson's distribution center at Admiral and 145th, just a mile and a half north. In building its HQ, a couple of miles south along the ridge, Quik Trip dealt with the problem by constructing a campus of buildings, avoiding the outcroppings of rock. The development best suited to the area has been homes on small acreages, served by septic tanks.

Although it's in private hands, this airstrip is an asset to the community, one that would be impossible to replace inside Tulsa's city limits. I hope our city leaders understand its value to their constituents.

The website features historic photos and articles about the airport, well worth a browse.

Aaron Griffith gives his reasons for voting against the proposed $282 million river sales tax increase. Aaron comes from a left-wing populist perspective, but much of his argument will resonate across the political spectrum, and I like the way he has annotated each of his points with a relevant link.

Tulsa County River Tax: A Question of Style or Substance

It seems like an age old question: What should our priorities be in life? To create well-maintained, vibrant, safe, diverse, green, clean communities? Should our collective vision focus on substance and sustainability or should style and self-indulgent luxuries dictate our priorities? On October 9, Tulsa County Voters arrive at an ozone-polluted, pothole-riddled crossroads to face the decision of which way to go.

The proposed County river tax is not a transformation, but a mutation of the geographic inequity, institutionalized neglect, economic segregation, and false promises of progress as promised as usual in Tulsa County. We will not become a progressive community by continuing to neglect the maintenance of our failing roads and infrastructure or ignoring the environmental elephants in the room in regards to river development.

It will not happen by disregarding alternative sources of funding for river development, which do not increase regressive County sales taxes that steal primary revenue streams away from struggling municipalities or by infrastructure privatization.

It will not happen by perverting the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan to include a 41st St. pedestrian bridge or wasting precious resources on unwanted, unnecessary, special elections.

It will not happen by gambling on exaggerated economic impact projections or empty promises of good-paying construction jobs that won't have any prevailing wage protections and nothing to protect against 1099 worker misclassification abuse, that places honest contractors who play by the rules at a competitive disadvantage.

It will not happen by misguided, last minute, half-hearted attempts to address the hardship this tax increase causes to our at-risk, low income, and fixed income families living paycheck to paycheck by offering a year end tax rebate to those who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit that will do nothing to affect the immediate impact this new tax increase on the basic necessities of life will have on their budgets.

It will not happen by giving private special interest controlled Mayors, County Commissioners, and their politically appointed new bureaucratic unrepresentative river authority the final say on development along the river within the sovereignty of municipalities by voting to give them a giant blank check, a new regressive tax, for continued failure to deliver the progress as promised.

At the polls during the October 9 special election, I urge you to please vote NO, so we can begin a real dialogue on how to provide sustainable solutions to the critical long-term infrastructure, environmental, socioeconomic, transportation, planning challenges we face in Tulsa County in order to promote, preserve, and protect real progressive values.

4.0 frustration

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Don't bother trying to post a comment. Since the upgrade to 4.0, the comment system has been busted, and my simple fixes have failed to work. I suspect I'll have to modify the template in some way, which will probably break other parts of the site. Sad thing is that the new comment system was supposed to work better and might even let me get away with not moderating comments.

The good news is that I finally located some features I thought I had lost in the upgrade.

The linkblog is also going to be out of commission -- at least not updated -- for a while. MT 4.0 provides a better way of integrating that sort of feature into a blog, but until I get comments sorted out, I won't worry about it.

Sign suppression

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Would you buy a used car from this dealer at 9404 E. 31st St.?

NoRiverTaxBounty.JPG

If memory serves, this same dealer has posted messages accusing those who believe in the enforcement of America's immigration laws of being hateful racists.

Since the signs cost a lot less than $5, maybe people should turn in their signs, then donate the proceeds to buy more signs. :) (I think I saw a variation of that idea on an episode of "The Lucy Show" -- Lucy exploited the double-your-money back guarantee of a brand of canned beans.)

If you'd like a "NO RIVER TAX" sign for your yard, Tulsa Machine (a sign printing shop) at 1503 E. Admiral Pl. has them for sale for a nominal price.

Both sides now

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From an email about the upcoming Republican Women's Club of Tulsa County's luncheon (Tuesday, September 11, 11:30 p.m., Holiday Inn Select, I-44 and Yale -- the old Hilton) (emphasis added:

Commissioner Perry will present the Proposed River Plan/Tax in an educational format. He will be aided by an engineer who played a key role in the development of the 42 mile River Corridor plan from which the proposed plan was derived.

Commissioner Perry will present arguments which have been made both for and against the Proposed River Plan and the associated county sales tax to fund it. The matter is scheduled for a county wide vote on October 9th.

If you're a Republican woman and think it's egregiously unfair for a proponent of higher taxes to represent both sides of this debate (a debate where the county Republican party platform comes down solidly in opposition), you might politely encourage the RWC president, Nancy Rothman, to allow an actual opponent to argue the case for the opposition. (I won't reproduce her contact info here; if you're a club member, you have her phone number and email address in the meeting notice.)

UPDATE: I just spoke to Commissioner Perry, who wanted to emphasize that it was Ms. Rothman's choice, not his, to have him present both sides of the argument. He says he's going to have to walk quite a tight rope and that neither side is likely to be satisfied that their argument was fully presented. He also took issue to my characterization of him as a proponent of higher taxes, that there are things that make him uneasy about the river tax plan (the tax increase, Broken Arrow's opposition) and he's not cheerleading for it, but on balance he thinks it's good thing, and he is a proponent of letting the voters decide. He also pointed out that in the legislature he sometimes opposed sending an issue to a vote of the people: the lottery, casino gambling, certain tax increases.

Regarding the RWCTC event, Perry told me that Ms. Rothman is a professional mediator who feels that the Republican Party is too divided and contentious, so she didn't want to have a debate. I would think that, as a mediator, she would understand the importance of each side feeling that their concerns were fully aired and given a fair hearing. Perhaps her mediation sessions consist of her picking one side to argue both sides of a dispute.

To be fair to Ms. Rothman, there are political parties that do a much better job than Republicans of maintaining unity and harmony. For example, the Workers' Party of Korea presents a united front on every issue. You never hear a dissenting voice on any issue, or if you do, you never hear from it again. Perhaps she has the WPK in mind as a model for the Republican Party's future.

This morning on KFAQ, Gwen Freeman and Chris Medlock interviewed real estate expert and urban critic Joel Kotkin. Last week in the Wall Street Journal, Kotkin wrote a pointed takedown of cities that chase the "Creative Class" with civic improvement schemes -- arenas, convention centers, government-planned entertainment districts, light rail, etc. -- while neglecting basic infrastructure and overlooking the concerns of middle-class families. Here are a few key paragraphs:

Governments prefer subsidizing high-profile but marginally effective boondoggles -- light-rail lines, sports stadia, arts or entertainment facilities, luxury hotels and convention centers.

Over the past decade, according to a recent Brookings Institution study, public capital spending on convention centers has doubled to $2.4 billion annually; nationwide, 44 new or expanded centers are in planning or under construction. But the evidence is that few such centers make money, and many more lose considerable funds. The big convention business is not growing while the surplus space is increasing. New sports centers add little to the overall economy.

Critically, misguided investments shift funds that could finance essential basic infrastructure. Pittsburgh has spent over $1 billion this decade on sports stadia, a new convention center and other dubious structures. Heralded as major job creators and sources of downtown revitalization, they have done little to prevent the region's long-term population loss and continued economic stagnation. Much the same can be said of Milwaukee's new Santiago Calatrava-designed Art Museum, or Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Transportation priorities are also skewed. Government officials in Minnesota spent mightily on a light-rail system that last year averaged barely 30,000 boardings daily. It did not focus nearly as much on overstressed highway bridges, or the bus systems serving the bulk of its mostly poor and minority transit riders. Most other light-rail systems, built in cities with highly dispersed employment, also have minuscule ridership, but consume a disproportionate share of transit funds that might go to more cost-efficient systems, including bus-based rapid transit.

In this morning's interview on KFAQ, Kotkin expanded on this theme. Here's a link to the MP3 file for the hour containing the Joel Kotkin interview. He packed a lot of important ideas about cities into a very short segment. I'll try to unpack some of them before too long, but two that come to mind:

  • The fact that downtowns were designed for commerce, not for residential living, but close-in neighborhoods were designed well for housing, while providing a customer base for downtown businesses. My response: Tulsa tried to save its downtown by destroying or amputating major sections of its close-in neighborhoods to make way for parking and freeways and to eliminate "blight". (Of course, the blighted homes and apartment buildings were not much different from those in now-valued neighborhoods like Brookside and Swan Lake.) Now we're trying to undo the damage by converting commercial buildings with residential space, something I've supported, although Chris Medlock pointed out that we've spent a lot of public money per person added to the downtown population.
  • The importance of parks in every neighborhood, not just a handful of centrally-located showplace parks. I need to transcribe exactly what he said, because it was spot on -- something about having to "make a day of it" to visit one of these showplaces, rather than being able to integrate a neighborhood park into your everyday life. Every neighborhood needs its gathering places, whether that's a park or a playground or a coffee house.

There's also an interview with Kotkin on townhall.com, conducted by Bill Steigerwald, about the continued importance of manufacturing to the economies of American cities. Steigerwald is a Pittsburgh native, so it's natural that the conversation would focus on the departure of heavy industry and billions spent on stadiums, light rail, and other pretty things at the expense of basic government services.

Increasingly it's the Sunbelt where manufacturing is sought and celebrated, not the old Rust Belt, which views its history with the same kind of "cultural cringe" that fashionable Tulsans feel about cowboys, Indians, and oil:

I have to tell you, almost every place I go in this country, particularly where the economy is growing, if you ask business people what is it that would really help them, they say "skills." Machinists. Welders. It's not like there's a Ph. D. shortage, generally speaking. But there is a welder shortage, there's a plumber shortage, there's a machinist shortage. But nobody wants to talk about this. Cities that have lost their industrial base don't want to talk about it, and many cities that still have it are almost ashamed of it. In one of the great historical ironies, the places where they are not ashamed of manufacturing are places like Houston and Charleston and Charlotte. But the places with the great industrial traditions, it's almost as if they are ashamed of their lineage.

Kotkin makes some great points about how manufacturing brings outside money into a city (our Chamber of Commerce seems to believe that only conventions and tourism are capable of doing that), and how people forget about skilled labor jobs:

Everyone talks about how we're becoming a society of low-end service workers and high-end information workers. But here's something in between -- basically the logistics and manufacturing industry -- and nobody seems to be focused on it.

What can governments do to attract this sort of business? The basics:

I would say infrastructure and training are the two big things -- and if you think of the training as part of the infrastructure, it's really one thing. You need roads that go in and out. You need modern industrial space. You need reliable electricity. You need shipping facilities. You need workers who are relatively skilled, trainable and reliable. It's really not rocket science that you can do that and that would promote the manufacturing sector of the economy.

And to retain and rebuild a city's manufacturing base?

Are there companies that would like to expand? Are there companies that want to stay? Ask them what they want.

But that isn't what cities are doing:

We live in this dream world where we say, "Well, if we have a fancy stadium with sky boxes, that will keep businesses here." Well, what do you mean by businesses? Do you mean the gauleiters who represent multinational corporations, so they can hang out at a fancy football game? Or are we talking about somebody who's got 15 people working for him in a shop somewhere in the suburbs and would like to get to 30? What are his issues? Are they tax issues? Are they training issues? Are they regulatory issues? You've got to go ask! I don't see anyone interested in that anymore. It's all "What does some 23-year-old, footloose student want? Does he have enough jazz clubs to go to?" Or some footloose 50-year-old corporate henchman. "Does he have enough arts facilities?"

As a country, we're kind of delusional about our economies. I've found a few places in the country where they focus on this stuff, but I'm kind of becoming a persona non grata for raising these issues. I'm not raising them as a conservative, saying we shouldn't have taxes or shouldn't have regulations. I'm just saying, "How do you provide for a broad-based economic opportunity for your people? Isn't that what's it about?" Unfortunately, for most mayors in America, that's not what's it's about. What it's about is, "How do I keep the public employees happy? How do I keep the people at the very top of society happy? And how do I put on a good enough show so that everybody thinks I have a hip, cool city."

The conversation between Kotkin and Steigerwald ends with the role of local papers in pushing these projects of questionable value:

[Kotkin:] I'll tell you the truth, a lot of the blame comes to the journalists. The journalists never ask the tough questions. They basically follow the scripts that they are given. And also part of the problem, and we've talked about this in general about journalism these days, you have got a bunch of young kids who are there for two or three years. They don't understand what crap this is. To them it's all, "Well, there's an art museum downtown. That'll be good for me." If there is some "starkitect" -designed building, they say, "Wow, that's sort of fun for me." They don't care.

[Steigerwald:] I've always said the newspapers of America should be indicted en masse for having countenanced 50 or 60 years of the destruction of cities. I bet 95 percent of newspapers have applauded and cheered every boondoggle, every urban-renewal project back in the 1950s, every new light-rail project -- no matter what it was, newspapers cheered them on.

[Kotkin:] And what happens if you have the temerity to suggest that this may not be the way to go? You're "anti-city," you're "pro-suburbs," you're a "neoconservative" -- like I'm Dick Cheney or something. You get name-called. And all you're saying is, "Look, are we sure that what we are putting our money into is really what matters, given the tremendous pressing needs that every city has?"

In 1980, Congressman Tom Steed was interviewed at Rose State College and had something very sensible to say about the way decreasing voter participation empowers pressure groups. (Found on the Democrats of Oklahoma Community Forum.)

Well, you really struck a nerve with me there because my pet-peeve is the fact that people won't vote. And I have studied it. I've talked to a lot of authorities and there's a lot of people concerned about it all over the nation. And so I've actually come to the conclusion that there's no more insidious enemy my country has than a person who will not vote.

Now, as the vote went down and down over these years, the pressure groups in Washington went up and up and up. Where there used to be a page of them in the telephone book in Washington, now there's many pages. Everybody has a pressure group.

Well, finally the Congressman who votes for what's right and antagonizes one or more of these pressure groups comes home and finds that most of the people that he represents and that he did that for won't even bother to vote. He has no protection. And off goes his head. Well Joe Doaks sees Bill Spivey get it in the neck, so the next time, he gets cautious. And it's a growing sickness.

I don't know how to make people vote. Now in the bicentennial year, we got together, we raised money, we put on a special drive. We had the help of all the media and everybody else. No one was against it. We finally got 55 percent of the eligible voters in Oklahoma to register and we got 94 percent of the 55 percent to vote. And we led the nation - in our bicentennial year. Number one in the nation - in citizenship! Did you hear anything about it? Any hats go up in the air? Have you seen any chamber of commerce slogans or anything? If we were number one in football, maybe we'd a heard a lot, but not on citizenship.

Now after that, I said, well, I don't know, I give up. If that won't set the state on fire, I don't know what you could do. But it's a sad thing and I never pass up an opportunity to scold people because they won't go vote.

When ordinary people don't pay attention and don't support officials who put their interests first, voters are swayed by the ads purchased by various pressure groups. Elected officials learn to fear the pressure groups rather than their own voters.

I think that goes a long way toward explaining how the current ill-conceived river tax increase found its way to the ballot.

Upgrade in progress

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Upgrading to the latest version of Movable Type. Expect breakage.

UPDATE: We seem to be back up. Someone post a comment, and let's see if it works.

UPDATE: Comments are broken, but I can post. Thanks to those who tested comments. I tried to reconfigure comments and rebuild the site, but rebuilding consistently causes a Bluehost CPU overage, which is why I'll be looking for a new hosting provider as soon as I can. I can't find a way to rebuild a few entries at a time to avoid getting dinged.on CPU.

A notice posted on the County Clerk Public Records site (found via Dustbury):

THE DELAWARE COUNTY COURTHOUSE WILL BE CLOSED THE FOLLOWING DAYS FOR ELECTIONS: TUESDAY AUGUST 14/TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 11^^THE ELECTION BOARD (TWO BLOCKS NORTH OF COURTHOUSE) WILL ANNOUNCE LIVE RESULTS OF THE ELECTIONS @ THEIR OFFICE ABOUT 7:30 PM^^BRING LAWN CHAIRS****PLEASE DO NOT BLOCK ALLEY!!

It warms the heart to think that elections could still be a community event somewhere.

It happens that we have film from outside the Delaware County Election Board on August 14. Take it away, Leon:

(Side note: So now 27 more Oklahoma counties have their county clerk's land records on the internet. When will Tulsa County catch up?)

At the end of a blog entry recounting angry letters to the editor in response to a couple of sentences in a recent column praising homeschooling and private schools, Rod Dreher explained why only the angry letters showed up in the paper:

Dallas readers will wonder why the paper only published negative responses to my column, and will perhaps see media bias in the letters selection. Not true. I work in this same department, and let me tell you, all the people who liked the column and took the trouble to write wrote me personally. The ones who hated it wrote letters to the editor -- which is why they got printed.

So if you like something you read in the paper, by all means let the writer know, but cc the letters column, and let everyone else know, too.

I've commented on the pointlessness of the 41st Street and 61st Street pedestrian-only bridges, which are part of the sales tax package Tulsa County residents will be voting on October 9, but which are not part of the Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan. The 41st Street pedestrian-only bridge would in fact obstruct something that is in the ARMCP: A combination vehicle and pedestrian bridge linking Red Fork to Brookside.

The two pedestrian-only bridges will connect on the west side of the river to an industrial area and a railroad track, respectively. Cyclists and joggers may appreciate having more ways to make a circuit around the river, but few Tulsans will make use of these bridges, which are priced at $15 million a piece.

Up in Amsterdam, N. Y., Robert N. Going wonders about the value of a pedestrian bridge proposed to span the Mohawk River. Like our 61st Street bridge, this one would dead-end at a railroad track and would fall well short of connecting the two sides of the town.

In Amsterdam's case, the bridge is being financed by a statewide bond issue that passed a couple of years ago. The local assemblyman (equivalent to Oklahoma's state representative) included money for the bridge in the bond. Just as Tulsa County officials didn't consult with City of Tulsa officials about the City's priorities for the river, the assemblyman didn't speak to Amsterdam city officials about whether there were better ways to use the $17 million that he had finagled for the pedestrian bridge.

Robert presents an alternative and less expensive idea that would improve the city's waterfront and usefully connect one place to another. His idea won't get anywhere, because it doesn't cost enough and involve enough money for construction contracts, so there won't be anyone with a financial motivation to lobby for its approval.

It took me a while to figure this out, but to the people who make the decisions, a plan for civic improvement isn't a real plan unless it involves higher taxes, the issuance of revenue bonds, and lots and lots of concrete and steel. There has to be a sufficiently concentrated benefit for some group of businesses and institutions to make it worth their while to lobby and campaign for something.

I've been outspoken in opposition to several of these big tax projects, but each time I've offered an alternative approach to civic improvement. When The Channels concept surfaced last fall, I used my UTW column to set out what I think Tulsans really want when they say they want river development and the best way to make that happen.

My approach to civic improvements usually involves a series of incremental improvements, none of them wildly expensive. Roberta Brandes Gratz's concept of "urban husbandry," as opposed to "project planning," guides me in this regard. Some of my ideas involve redeploying existing resources or eliminating regulatory barriers (e.g., allowing entrepreneurs to operate private bus services, aka jitneys).

I've always marveled at how quick the Vote Yes folks are to scoff at my alternatives to their plans for civic improvement. They don't want to know my alternative plan for making Tulsa a better place. They want to know my alternative plan for raising taxes and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new construction. The idea that we don't need to raise and spend all that money is unacceptable. I can't find it right now, but there was even a letter to the editor mocking the fact that I always offer a less expensive way to do something.

One more thought connected to this: Vision 2025 included $15 million for the Route 66 corridor. That kind of money could have been used to amazing effect, supplementing the positive impact of the National Park Service's Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. The money could have funded facade improvements, rehabilitation of neon, and other efforts to preserve and restore commercial buildings along Route 66 in Tulsa County. It's the roadside businesses, and the memories they stir of pre-Interstate Highway travel, that draw people to Route 66. (The federal program has $10,000,000 to spend over 2,000 miles of road. Tulsa County has $15,000,000 for 26 miles of road.)

Instead, much of the money is being used to build a new museum, which means a big general construction contract and lots of money flowing down to subcontractors. No one thought of using the money for restoration and preservation of existing buildings because no one could figure out how to make a buck off of it. (Which is silly, because there is money in restoration and preservation. The notion just hasn't caught on here yet.)

RELATED: An excellent post by Jeff Shaw which fed into my thoughts on this issue as well. He asks some questions of the economic impact numbers the Chamber Pots are touting for the river tax plan. I have a copy of that spreadsheet, which I intend to post soon, and at first glance it looks like their economic impact estimate is predicated on how much tax money is spent on construction. No account is made of the impact of withdrawing the money for construction from the uses to which it would have been put otherwise. The model behind it seems to predict that if you taxed every penny and devoted it to construction of new public facilities, the city would become a wealthy paradise.

On a visit to Bartlesville's Kiddie Park last weekend, I was surprised to see bare dirt on the southeast side of the road, just across from the steam engine and the Hulah depot.

That empty space used to be home to a fixture from my early childhood -- a replica of Oklahoma's first commercial oil well, the Nellie Johnstone No. 1, drilled on that spot in 1897. We passed it often on the walk between our house on Delaware and the playground at Johnstone Park. There was some sort of marker on the site with the Cities Service Oil Company trefoil, so I assume the company had something to do with the replica's construction. (My dad worked for Cities from 1965 to 1985.)

The reason it's gone is that the current replica was "badly deteriorated." I can't imagine the repeated flooding of the Caney River was good for it. The replica was pulled down in mid-August. It had been built in 1964, replacing an earlier replica built in 1948. Sometime in September will be a groundbreaking for a new replica, sponsored by the Centennial Commission.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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