October 2007 Archives

An edited version of this column appeared in the October 31, 2007, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is available online courtesy of the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Posted online September 9, 2017.

Infrequently Asked Questions about Tax Increment Financing: The Basics

By Michael D. Bates

What's all this I hear about using tiffs to finance land acquisition and site preparation for river development?

Does this involve capturing and selling the heat generated by snippy arguments over nothing of significance, some kind of tiff-to-energy plant? (It would have to be heat only; tiffs shed no light.) Should we also tap into spats, quibbles, quarrels, and rhubarbs?

Can grudges be profitably mined? Is it possible to harness safely the awesome power of the blood feud, and if so, how many family joules could be generated by turning Darla Hall and her kinfolk loose in that cemetery again?

This gives a whole new meaning to "Tulsa: A New Kind of Energy."

Beyond the practical considerations, is it ethical to stir up strife and bickering just to generate revenue for entertainment and recreational amenities?

What's that you say? It's an acronym? T-I-F? Something to do with tack implements?

To quote Emily Litella: Never mind.

The discussion is not, in fact, about tiffs, but about tax increment financing (TIF), a tool available to local governments in Oklahoma to assist economic development within a small area known as a TIF district. A TIF district captures increased local tax revenues within the district to pay for improvements within the district, and it does this without diverting the revenues that the district is already generating for local government and without raising tax rates.

The cities of Jenks and Bixby are both using TIF districts to facilitate private riverfront development. Branson, Missouri, used a TIF district to acquire land, stabilize the shore, and build public infrastructure for the Branson Landing mixed-use development on Lake Taneycomo, just down hill to the east of Branson's old Main Street.

When HCW, the developers who built Branson Landing, first approached the City of Tulsa in 2006 about building a similar development on the west bank of the Arkansas River near the 23rd Street bridge, a TIF district was the obvious choice for facilitating the development.

But the TIF district idea was put on hold. Some speculate it was because Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor would prefer to see an upscale lifestyle center and entertainment district in east downtown rather than along the river.

Others wonder if the delay was to allow the Tulsa County Commissioners to use west bank development as a selling point for their proposed county sales tax increase for river projects.

Now that the sales tax increase has been defeated, tax increment financing is back on the table, with added momentum thanks to the Tulsa City Council's unanimous passage of a resolution urging vigorous pursuit of the opportunity.

Tax increment financing can be a complex thing, and even some public officials seem to be confused about where the money in a TIF district comes from. At a Tulsa City Council committee meeting a week after the sales tax election, Councilor Cason Carter worried that using a TIF district to finance the public part of a west bank development "would potentially come at the expense of much-needed road improvements and additional police officers."

While TIF is not a magic wand, it is a valuable tool that a city can use to bootstrap a strategic new development, overcoming the obstacles that might prevent it from going forward.

In the interest of informing the public and their elected officials, here are some answers to infrequently-asked questions about the basics of tax increment financing:

What's the legal basis for TIF?

Municipalities and counties were authorized to create tax increment financing by the Local Development Act of 1992, which has been codified as Sections 850 through 869 of Title 62 of the Oklahoma Statutes. Section 861 specifically addresses tax increment financing.
The Local Development Act was enabled by the passage of State Question 641 in 1990, which created Article X, Section 6C, of the Oklahoma Constitution. SQ 707, passed in 2004, amended Article X, Section 6C, to make it possible to borrow against future TIF revenues.

Does a TIF district reduce the amount of property tax paid by property owners or the amount of sales tax paid by consumers in the district?

No. The county assessor appraises the property and the county treasurer collects taxes using the same rates as if the TIF district didn't exist. The usual sales tax rate applies as well. The difference in a TIF district is in what happens to the money once it's collected.

Does a TIF district reduce the amount of property taxes and sales taxes that currently go to the schools, the city, the libraries, and other government entities dependent on those funds?

No. The taxes being generated by the property value and retail activity already present in the district when the district is established will continue to go the same government entities. It's only the new, incremental revenues generated by increased retail activity and property values that can be captured for use within a TIF district.

How many TIF districts does Tulsa have?

Tulsa has six TIF districts:

  1. Brady Village: Denver to Elgin, I-244 to the Frisco tracks. Established 1993, expires 2008.
  2. Central Park: Approximately Elgin Ave. to Peoria Ave., 5th Pl. to 11th Pl. Established 1994, expires 2009. This district includes the downtown Home Depot, Centennial Park, and the Village at Central Park.
  3. Technology: Denver Ave. to Detroit Ave., Frisco tracks to 3rd St., plus the block south of 3rd between Boulder and Cheyenne, and the half block south of 3rd between Boston and Cincinnati. Established 1999, expires 2014.
  4. North Peoria Ave.: Approximately Midland Valley right-of-way to Utica Ave., Pine St. to Apache St, plus the old Brainerd Chemical site just south of US 75 and Peoria. Established 2002, expires 2017. This district includes the shopping center surrounding the now-closed Albertson's on the northeast corner of Pine and Peoria.
  5. Blue Dome: Detroit Ave. to Greenwood Ave., Frisco tracks to 3rd St. Established 2003, expires 2018.
  6. Tulsa Hills: East of US 75 between 71st St. and 81st St. Established 2006. Unlike the other Tulsa TIF districts, this district will expire as soon as it generates sufficient revenue to pay off the $16.5 million in revenue bonds used to fund infrastructure for the development. That could happen in four to five years after the shopping center opens.

Although state law allows for a 25-year maximum term, all of Tulsa's districts were set up with a 15-year term. All of Tulsa's TIF districts capture incremental property tax and two pennies of the city's three-cent sales tax on incremental retail sales. In some districts, there's a cap on the amount of incremental revenue - anything above the cap is treated like normal sales and property tax revenue.

What generates the money in a TIF district?

The key is the "I" in TIF, which stands for "increment." TIF districts can capture incremental revenues from property tax, local sales tax, and other local government fees.

When a TIF district is established, the county assessor determines the base assessed value for taxable property in the district, and city government determines the base level of taxable sales already occurring in the district. The sales taxes and property taxes generated by this baseline will continue to go to the government entities that are receiving them now. But some or all of the tax revenues over and above the baseline - the incremental revenue - can be "captured" for use within the TIF district.

What can be done with TIF revenues?

The Local Development Act has a long list of qualified purposes for TIF revenues. They include acquiring land, clearing land, building public facilities or improvements such as roads, sidewalks, water lines, sewer lines, and drainage facilities.

In Tulsa, TIF revenues have been used for streetscaping and lighting, parking garages, and improvements to on-street parking. In the Central Park TIF district, the money helped to set the stage for the Village at Central Park townhouse development and helped to fund the beautiful new Central Community Center and Centennial Park lake, the first step in the plan to reduce flooding risks in the Elm Creek basin.

TIF funds from the North Peoria district have been used for improvements to Booker T. Washington High School and Lacy Park. In the Brady Village and Blue Dome districts, TIF money encourages adaptive reuse of historic buildings through the Fire Suppression Vault Installation assistance program.

The Tulsa Hills TIF district is funding sewer, street, and storm drainage work in the hilly 146-acre tract.

How much money could a TIF district generate?

Branson Landing was a $306 million project projected to generate $116 million in local TIF funds. (It also qualified to capture incremental state sales tax, because the project, which includes a convention center, was expected to bring new dollars into the State of Missouri.)

Jenks' proposed River District is a $1 billion project, and the TIF district is expected to capture $220 million.

Tulsa's TIF districts have been much more modest in scope. Tulsa Hills is the biggest by far, a $130 million development projected to generate $5 million annually in new city sales taxes and $1.1 million in property taxes.

That's TIF Districts 101. The advanced course will cover the process of setting up a TIF district, how one might be used to encourage river development in Tulsa, obstacles, and objections.

If you have questions or concerns about tax increment financing, drop me a line at mbates at urbantulsa dot com, and I'll try to respond in a future column.

Last week, Tulsa City Council researcher Jack Blair gave a presentation on Tulsa's streets and how we could fund their ongoing maintenance. The presentation puts the cost of street maintenance in the context of Tulsa's decline from one of America's most densely populated cities to one of the least densely populated, the fiscal constraints on the city, and the city's historical spending patterns on streets. One of the most interesting sections had to with the $615 million from third-penny and general obligation bond issue funds used to pay for utility projects. The utility projects (water, sewers, stormwater, solid waste) might have been funded with revenue from those utilities instead, freeing up that $615 million for street improvement.

The Tulsa World has Blair's 122-page PowerPoint presentation on Tulsa Streets on its website. It's in PDF format and about 22 MB. If for nothing else, it's worth a download to see the historic and present day photos of what were country crossroads and are now high-traffic intersections.

Porter passes

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See-Dubya and Charles G. Hill have each posted a tribute (each with a YouTube video) to country music star Porter Wagoner, who passed away Sunday.

See-Dubya mentions that his parents tell him he was a fan of Porter Wagoner's TV show, which co-starred a very young Dolly Parton. I remember the show as the second most memorable part of KOTV's Saturday afternoon line-up of country music shows, which was capped at 6 p.m. by Hee Haw.

A couple of years ago I stumbled across a short story which described one family's weekly Porter Wagoner ritual. (You can read the whole story here.)

There's no truth to the rumor that Mr. Wagoner's remains will be cremated and distributed in boxes of Breeze. (If you don't get that, watch the video below, at about 4 minutes in.)

State Rep. Mike Reynolds is putting the focus in the recent Centennial Koran uproar where it belongs: Why did Gov. Brad Henry create a state agency devoted promoting the interests of the Muslim religion, and why does it exist under a misleading name? I refer, of course, to the Governor's Ethnic American Advisory Council.

Reynolds has called on Henry to modify the membership or scrap the board, according to the McCarville Report Online:

"Governor Henry, why would you have an 'Ethnic Advisory Council' that includes members from only one ethnic group?" asked Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City. "The council should either be reformed to reflect its apparent mission or preferably disbanded."

Actually, I think they do have multiple ethnic groups, although not reflective of the diversity of ethnic groups in Oklahoma. There are members from Pakistan and Iran as well as Arabs of various countries of origin. What they all seem to have in common is religion. We're still waiting on Gov. Henry to identify any of the members of this group who are Christians or Jews, despite the presence of many Jews and Christians of Middle Eastern or Near Eastern origin in Oklahoma.

Reynolds is wondering, too, about the reaction from GEEAC chairman Marjaneh Seirafi-Pour to legislators who declined the Korans:

Seirafi-Pour has complained that some lawmakers were rude, he noted, when they declined the Quran: "I don't understand why she rushed to the media and acted outraged that we turned her down," Reynolds said. "What was the point of asking us if we wanted a copy? I contacted her last week and she could not provide me with any mean-spirited responses. In fact she agreed to forward all of the e-mails on Saturday, but I have yet to receive them.

"I know that I have nothing to hide," Reynolds said."Apparently, that's more than the members of the Ethnic American Advisory Council can say. Why else would they and the Governor choose a name that disguises their Muslim identify?"

In related news, Rod Dreher has a story about a group who protested Six Flags over Texas sponsoring a special Muslim day at the theme park in conjunction with the Islamic Circle of North America. A Muslim legal group is suing the protest organizer for defamation:

Khalil Meek, board president of the Muslim Legal Fund of America, said the Muslim groups support the protesters' right to voice their opinions. What they object to, he said, is their allegation that the Muslim organizations, and therefore Six Flags, support terrorism.

The groups have filed a lawsuit accusing the protest organizer, Joe Kaufman, of defamation and slander and have obtained a temporary restraining order that prohibits him from harming, threatening or inciting violence against them.

From that same story, the city council of Carrollton, a Dallas suburb, deleted from a list of board appointees the name of a man who participated in the protest. Paul Kramer was denied appointment to the Construction Advisory and Appeals Board because he was visible in a newspaper photo of the protest.

Dreher notes that lawsuits have been used in other American cities against critics of Islam, pointing to a 2006 column by the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby. The Islamic Society of Boston sued a Muslim reformer, along with "journalists, a terrorism expert, and the founder of the American Anti-Slavery Group, plus the Episcopalian lay minister and the Jewish attorney who together with [Ahmed] Mansour [the Muslim reformer] formed the interfaith Citizens for Peace and Tolerance in 2004." Doesn't exactly sound like a group of fire-breathing Islamophobes, does it? But they were sued by the Islamic Society of Boston for calling attention to their connections with terrorism advocates and other extremists, for reporting on the presence of hate-filled Arabic literature at the ISB's mosque in Cambridge, and for raising questions about the city's selling land for the society's mosque at a bargain basement price. While the lawsuit was dismissed, it served the purpose of harassing and intimidating critics of extremist Islam.

You need to read that Jacoby column. Ahmed Mansour calls himself a progressive Muslim, and he suffered for his opinions back in his native country of Egypt:

He had learned the hard way that Muslim reformers who speak out against Islamist fanaticism and religious dictatorship can indeed end up in prison -- or worse. It had happened to him in his native Egypt, which he fled in 2001 after receiving death threats. He was grateful that the United States had granted him asylum, enabling him to go on promoting his vision of a progressive Islam in which human rights and democratic values would be protected. But would he now have to fight in America the same kind of persecution he experienced in Egypt?...

He holds three degrees from Cairo's Al-Azhar, the foremost religious university in the Islamic world, where he was appointed a professor of Muslim history in 1980. He would probably be there still if his scholarship hadn't gotten in the way. The deeper Mansour delved into the history of Islam, the clearer it became to him that the faith had been perverted into a ''false doctrine of hate" -- a doctrine that has been spread across much of the Muslim world and that has fueled great cruelty and bloodshed.

His mounting opposition to Wahhabist radicalism drew the wrath of the powerful Al-Azhar sheiks, who removed him from his classroom and tried him in a religious court. For two years, he says, he was pressured to recant. In 1987 he was fired. Then the Egyptian government imprisoned him for two months.

Undeterred, Mansour continued to write and speak out against radical Islam. He has authored 24 books and more than 500 articles, many of them denouncing as heretical any Muslim creeds that ''persecute and kill peaceful humans and violate their human rights." The real infidels, he has argued, are those who share ''the traits of Osama bin Laden and his followers." Before fleeing for his life, he worked with Egypt's leading human-rights activists, promoting democratic values, funneling assistance to persecuted Christians, and advocating for the reform of religious education.

This is the Islamic Society of Boston's idea of an anti-Muslim conspirator? Then what, one wonders, is its idea of Islam?

We've been asking the same question here about the Islamic Society of Tulsa, whose leaders called Jamal Miftah anti-Muslim for expressing in a newspaper op-ed sentiments similar to those expressed by Mansour about those who persecute and kill in the name of Islam.

(You can read more about the ISB lawsuit here, here, and here.)

After dismissal of the ISB lawsuit, Jacoby wrote:

What the lawsuit was really about, it seems to me, was intimidation -- intimidation of anyone inclined to raise questions or express concerns about the Islamic Society's leaders and their connections to radical Islam. Libel suits have become a favorite tactic of Islamists, who deploy them to silence their critics. In yet another document produced during discovery, the head of the Islamic Center of New England advises Abou-allaban to "thwart" Fox 25 with a lawsuit. "If Fox is being sued for this story," he writes, "it stands to reason that they will be prevented from reporting on the story further while the case is in court."

Sad to say, such legal intimidation works. Once the lawsuit was filed, Fox 25 and the Herald essentially ended their investigative reporting into the Islamic Society's radical connections.

So while the Islamic Society's lawsuit was without merit, that doesn't mean it was without effect. Serious questions remain about the Saudi-funded mosque going up in Boston. Will journalists, public officials, and concerned citizens insist on getting answers? Or will they choose instead to look the other way, unwilling to run the risk of predatory litigation and bad-faith accusation?

Dreher points out that many states have anti-SLAPP laws, which can be used to block such predatory litigation designed to shut down public debate, and links to a Judith Miller column in City Journal explaining how such laws have been deployed in situations like the ISB lawsuit.

The common theme: The use of lawsuits and other means to shut down criticism or scrutiny of the activities and associations of Wahhabist Islamic organizations in America.

In the Washington Times, columnist Diana West considers the press reaction to the
decision by a growing number of legislators not to accept a Koran from the Governor's Ethnic American Advisory Council (GEAAC):

Of course, it's the rejection of the Korans that's making headlines, not their state-sealed if privately funded distribution. No one asks what the Koran has to do with Oklahoma's centennial, for Pete's sake; or why a government organization is proselytizing about "the exact words" of Allah; or how those words in that book sound to non-Muslims leery of Islam's age-old message to convert, submit or die. In our weird world, it's not the Islamic message that's branded hateful or even insensitive; it's the person who rejects it. This is the technique that usually shuts people up.

In digging into the GEAAC, West covers much of the same ground I did (see "GEAAC is back" (from last week) and "Is there only one kind of Ethnic American in Oklahoma?" (from May), but West also found this in the Islamic Society of Tulsa's October newsletter -- the quote is on page 9, but the story that contains it begins at the bottom of the front page.

Meanwhile, local Muslim advocates display utter bewilderment that anyone could construe Islam as anything but "very peaceful, very inclusive." To enlighten them, someone might bring up the key Koranic concept of jihad, or maybe ask a Muslim "apostate" in fear of his safety for leaving Islam, or a persecuted Christian or Jew in fear of his safety living under Islam, to explain.

Or, to keep things local, someone might ask Allison Moore, an Oklahoma Muslim quoted in recent stories, for elaboration. Why? Ms. Moore works on a newsletter published by the Tulsa Islamic Center. I downloaded the October issue and read an article that compares consorting with lax Muslims, ex-Muslims and non-Muslims -- "people of religious innovation and misguidance, those who abandon the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and advocate other beliefs" -- to nothing short of "doom itself" and "taking poison."

The article continues: "A man with any intellect should not sit in their assemblies nor mix with them. The result of doing so will either be the death of his heart, or, at the very best, its falling seriously ill." This is... how shall I put it?... not very inclusive.

Meanwhile, Chris Medlock is exposing the distortions in the way the media has been covering what State Rep. Rex Duncan said and did regarding the Commemorative Centennial Koran and the way they haven't been covering Rex Duncan's background.

Saint Augustine Academy's fall banquet, titled "Wisdom and Eloquence at the Renaissance" (the Renaissance Hotel, that is), was a wonderful event. People even thought the 25 minutes when I spoke went well; at least that's what they told me. It was a privilege to serve as the keynote speaker.

I'm used to writing for publication, where I can perfect the delivery of my thoughts before I actually "deliver" them to the reader. I'm used to speaking extemporaneously on whatever topic is thrown my way, as I do every Tuesday morning at 6:10 on KFAQ with Gwen Freeman and Chris Medlock. Giving a prepared speech is in some ways the worst of both worlds. There's a need to be conversational and engaging and to "read the room" (a challenge when everyone is sitting at banquet tables a great distance away). At the same time, there's a need to choose words with great care, something that can't be done spur of the moment. I'm afraid I wound up reading most of my speech.

I was preceded by the local chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America, a 100-voice gospel choir sound produced by about 15 singers. They were a fitting and rousing introduction to my talk, which I announced as "Tax Increment Financing: The Benefits and the Risks." (Another dad told me afterwards he was sort of hoping I would talk about TIF districts. I told him to read my column in this coming Wednesday's Urban Tulsa Weekly. Or you could read about them here.)

Later we had the pleasure of listening to testimonials from Caleb Gayle, class of '07, and Leah Farish, whose daughter Colleen graduated from SAA. Both spoke about the excellent preparation that SAA gives to its students to prepare them to think and to contend for the truth. (Colleen served in Congressman Sullivan's Washington office and as an intern in the White House speechwriters' office. She served as a scheduler and constituent services assistant for Texas State Rep. Dan Gaddis in the last legislative session. You can read about her post-SAA background in the resolution passed by the Texas House thanking her for her service.)

Kirk Post, the principal and one of the founders of SAA, then spoke eloquently about the school's distinctive qualities, and Dr. Larry Ehrlich, the school's administrator, closed out the evening with an appeal for funds to support the school's programs.

At some point, probably not until after the weekend, I'll post the audio of my talk. In the meantime, several people asked me about some of the anecdotes and quotes I used and the books I mentioned, so here are some links to point you in the right direction. (You'll find many of them in the linkblog, which is on the left sidebar of the main page. I used the linkblog to bookmark quotes of interest as I worked on the speech.)

The anecdote I opened with came from the blog of the Dallas Observer, in an item by Julie Lyons, "How Jesus Found Dawn Eden Goldstein". Here's a link to Dawn Eden's blog and the website for her first book, The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On.

You can read G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. You can also download the book in various formats.

Dorothy L. Sayers' essay, "The Lost Tools of Learning," may be read on the Saint Augustine Academy website. As I mentioned in my talk, it's one of the foundational documents for the present-day effort to recover classical education. In the essay, she explains the concept of the trivium and its suitability to the ways children learn at different stages in their growth. I'll give you one paragraph to whet your appetite for more:

Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined? Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?

"Today" in that quote was in 1947.

The Joel Belz quote came from his May 13, 2006, WORLD Magazine column, "Confessing Our Weaknesses." (For some reason, I was able to Google into the full article, but following my own link, I only get the opening paragraphs.)

Although I didn't quote directly from it, I was helped by this Susan Olasky column from 2001.

The Gene Veith quote was from an interview about homeschooling and classical Christian education on The Old Schoolhouse website.

I mentioned the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs (OCPA), a free-market think-tank leading the effort for school choice in Oklahoma. Here's a recent column by OCPA's Brandon Dutcher, reminding us that, "Yes, school choice is alive and well in Oklahoma--if you can afford it. Simply pay tuition to a private school, or buy a house near the public school of your choice. If you can't afford it, well, sorry. No exceptions."

UPDATE: Here are several audio excerpts:

An idea advanced by Tulsa City Councilor John Eagleton that the Tulsa Whirled editorial board found silly beyond their intellectual capacity to explain is already in use in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The following text appears in Chapter 2, Section 5A of the Minneapolis City Charter (emphasis added):

Section 5A. Conduct of Elections. Notwithstanding the provisions of Minnesota Statutes, Section 205.17, subdivision 2, or any other provision of law and except as otherwise provided in this section, the City General Election for Mayor and City Council shall be conducted in the manner provided by law for elections for nonpartisan offices. All such candidates shall, however, state the name of their political party or political principle, stated in three words or less, on their affidavits of candidacy and affidavits of candidacy for Mayor and City Council shall otherwise conform with all requirements of the Minnesota general election laws pertaining to affidavits of candidacy for partisan offices. The political party or political principle shall be placed on the General Election ballot with the names of the candidates for such offices. (As amended 6-13-55; 3-29-68; 81-Or-145, § 1, 6-12-81; 11-8-83; Charter Amend. No. 161, § 1, ref. of 11-7-06)

While this chapter was amended last November, by a referendum replacing a non-partisan primary and runoff with Instant Runoff Voting, the requirement to "state the name of their political party or political principle" was not part of the amendment, so it dates back at least to 1983.

This candidate list from the 2001 election gives you an idea of what candidates submitted for "political party or political principle." As you'd expect in Minneapolis, many candidates are DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor), but you'll also see Green, Republican, Independent, Conservative Democrat, Independent Fiscal Conservative, Empowering Your Community, Social Justice, Affordable Housing Preservation, Old Skool, No Snow Emergencies, Better Democracy/Capitalism, Service, Accountability, Change, Preserving Individual Rights, Sense with Dollars, and New Voices Party, among others.

So what you have now is Minneapolis is what I've endorsed for Tulsa -- multi-partisan elections with Instant Runoff Voting.

GEAAC is back

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Not much time or energy to write, as I'm getting ready for my speech Friday to Saint Augustine Academy's fall banquet.

I did want to note something that has received little notice in the uproar over State Rep. Rex Duncan's decision to refuse a "Centennial Quran." Most of the conversation has been about Duncan's letter of refusal.

Few people seem to have noticed that these Korans were being offered by an official Oklahoma governmental body, the Governor's Ethnic-American Advisory Council (GEAAC), established by executive order of Gov. Brad Henry in 2004. That link will take you an earlier item I wrote about this group.

Officially the GEAAC "is to be made up of from five to 15 representatives of Ethnic Americans of the Middle East/Near East community of the state of Oklahoma." You may be tempted to take that at face value, to assume that GEAAC exists to serve Oklahomans of any religion and any ethnicity with roots in the "Middle East/Near East."

But every public action this council has taken so far has concerned the Islamic faith -- encouraging schools to grant excused absences for Muslim holy days, asking for rebuttal time on OETA to the PBS series "America at a Crossroads" because, according to the council's chairman, "we thought there were a couple of segments that did not put Islam in a positive light," and now passing out Qurans at the state legislature. While those actions would be reasonable for a private organization representing Oklahoma Muslims, they don't suggest a government-sponsored council seeking to represent the diversity of religions in the Middle East.

Here is an excerpt from the minutes of the GEAAC's February 16, 2007, meeting, held in the Jim Thorpe Building, part of the State Capitol complex:


Chair Seirafi-Pour opened the floor for submission and discussion of goals and objectives. Dr. Hashmi recommended that education be the council's primary focus and priority for this year. He stated that it would be a great achievement if we (the council) could educate our fellow Oklahomans about the Muslim community as well as the immigrant community. He also stated that the council has a great opportunity through the MCOP [Muslim Community Outreach Program] established by the law enforcement community. This should also be an ongoing process in the future.

In order to reach an even broader audience and increase their visibility, it was decided that the council would try to find an avenue through public television to provide community education and visibility.

Chair Seirafi-Pour recommended that the council implement a program that recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of the women and youth in the Muslim community. Dr. Ahmad volunteered to prepare a draft of criteria to be used in a selection process.

Dr. Rana suggested that the council find some means of reporting council activities back to the community. She added that one possible method could be a newsletter sent electronically to all council members. If some members wished to have hard copies to distribute, they could produce those copies individually as needed. Mr. Farzaneh further suggested that the council submit articles to OPM [Office of Personnel Management for the State of Oklahoma], which Ms. Thornton advised could be published in OPM's "HR Exchange" also available electronically on OPM's website.

Ms. Thornton is Brenda C. Thornton, director of the Office of Personnel Management's Office of Equal Opportunity and Workforce Diversity, a public employee assigned to support the efforts of the GEAAC as part of her taxpayer-funded duties.

Earlier this year, legislators were given centennial commemorative Bibles, but these were donated and distributed by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, a private, non-governmental organization.

Imagine the fuss if the Bibles were being handed out by the Governor's Teetotal Southern-American Advisory Council, a group ostensibly constituted to represent the concerns of the rich tapestry of Southern-American culture, but in fact inordinately focused on the special concerns of Southern Baptists.

MORE: A number of left-leaning types have accused Rep. Duncan of deliberately publicizing his refusal to accept a Quran. Not so, says Chris Medlock:

I just got off the phone with Rep. Rex Duncan and asked him a very simple question. Did you call a press conference or directly contact the press with regard to this story?

His answer?

"No, Mick Hinton [Tulsa World reporter] called me."

In fact, I learned through my conversation with Rep. Duncan, Mr. Hinton called him within just a few hours after Duncan had sent an e-mail to Ms. Marjaneh Seirafi-Pour stating his desire not to receive the Koran....

Rep. Duncan had placed a phone call to Ms. Seirafi-Pour on Monday to "opt out" of the gift, as requested by Ms. Seirafi-Pour, and to also inquire as to whether or not tax payer dollars were used to purchase the Korans. She assured Duncan that they were bought with private funds, but asked Duncan if he would send her an e-mail stating he didn't want the Koran "for their records."

This he did. Hours later, he was called by Hinton for the story that ran in the next days' newspaper.

So what did the GEAAC hope to accomplish by publicizing Duncan's attempt to refuse their Quran?

Religion News Blog has set up a special category for stories relating to the lawsuit against Oral Roberts University by three former professors.

One of the more recent items is this overview of the ORU controversy that ran in Sunday's Oklahoman. The story provides an overview of the Oral Roberts-related entities, the various subsidiaries, compensation received by Richard and Lindsay Roberts, and key figures on the board of regents:

The Board of Regents at ORU is a mix of professionals from around the country. But the majority are heads of large ministries with a presence on either Trinity Broadcasting Network or Daystar Television Network.

Many, like Oral, Richard and Lindsay Roberts, are self-professed faith-healers and teach the Word of Faith or Prosperity Gospel.

The story mentions that four of the regents -- Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, John Hagee, and Creflo Dollar -- head ministries that have received "F" grades for transparency from ministrywatch.org.

Meanwhile, the ministrywatch.org home page features a 20/20 story from March about financial accountability. The group tracks over 500 ministries and provides detailed, balanced, and informative reports.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has developed a 60-question civics quiz, and you should give it a whirl. Here's how they describe the test:

Each question included was intended to test important knowledge. Working with a distinguished board of professors from around the country and outside reviewers, we identified 60 themes that appear in the first column of the following table. This listing illustrates the range of ideas tested in American history (questions 1-17), American government and political thought (18-31), international affairs (32-47) and the market economy (48-60). The themes consist of basic civic knowledge or concepts, not obscure or arbitrarily selected knowledge.

It's multiple choice, and each question has five choices. 70% is the average so far among those taking it on the Internet.

I aced it, to my surprise. There were a few where I wasn't positive about the right answer, but I was able to eliminate all the other answers.

Take the quiz first, then read on below.

They've tabulated the results among college freshmen and college seniors at 50 colleges and universities. The most missed question among freshmen and seniors had to do with the traditional criteria for a just war; only 16% and 19% got the answer right, respectively.

Only five questions cracked 80% in either group. They had to do with (in descending order) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Cold War and the USSR, the inalienable rights enumerated in the Declaration, the New Deal, and Brown v. Board of Education.

(Via Wizbang.)

Madalyn Murray O'Hair has been dead since 1995, but according to a forwarded e-mail I received tonight, her mortal remains are still busy petitioning the FCC to ban all religious broadcasting from the American airwaves.

This is the latest go-round of a 30-year-old rumor that Focus on the Family's CitizenLink calls "The Christian Broadcasting Hoax That Just Won't Die."

Experts are still trying to dispel the irrepressible O'Hair-FCC rumor.

Chances are, at some point, you will likely receive an e-mail, typically forwarded from "a friend of a friend of a friend," which discusses supposed efforts by the infamous atheist, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, to get the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to kick Christian broadcasting off the air. Sometimes the e-mail even lists Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson -- linking him to a supposed effort to fight this "threat."

Be advised: This is a false report! Do not pay attention! Do not forward this hoax!

There's a teeny-tiny grain of truth to the story:

The FCC did receive a petition in 1974, designated RM-2493, asking the agency to look into the operating practices of religious organizations licensed to broadcast on TV.

The FCC rejected the petition in 1975.

"We denied it outright," said David Fiske, deputy communications director for the FCC. "There was never any proceeding; there was not a comment period; there were never any hearings, there was absolutely nothing."

Interestingly, O'Hair had absolutely nothing to do with that short-lived petition -- and she certainly couldn't be involved in any action today, even if there was one, which there isn't.

The FCC does not have before it any proposal to deny licenses to religious broadcasters.

"This rumor is totally false on about three or four different counts," Fiske said. "It has popped up from time to time, in various forms, since 1975."

Here's the official FCC statement on the rumors.

Folks, anytime you get a forward of a forwarded e-mail describing some outrage and a need to take action immediately -- "Contact your congressman!!!! And forward this to everyone you know!!!1!!" -- there's a very good chance it's yet another hoax. Do some research before you forward it to others.

When such a message lands in my inbox, I go to snopes.com -- a site dedicated to researching "urban legends," forwarded e-mails, and other dubious rumors -- and I do a search on some of the key words and phrases in the message. Almost always, snopes.com has the definitive answer, including links to authoritative information.

snopes.com has a special section called "Inboxer Rebellion" devoted to forwarded e-mails. Here's the intro to the section:

Every day we're bombarded with e-mail of dubious origin and even more dubious veracity: messages that plead with us to find a missing kid or help a sick child, sign a petition to right some terrible injustice, take a stand on an important piece of pending legislation, forward a message to claim free merchandise, or take heed of the latest computer virus. The messages that aren't outright hoaxes are often full of misinformation, and even the ones that have some truth to them are usually out-of-date by the time we receive them.

A browse through "Inboxer Rebellion" will immunize you to most of the hoaxes and outdated or distorted stories that land in your own inbox, and you'll be able to educate the friends and loved ones who, from the very best of intentions, forward inaccurate information.

The hive-mind that writes the unsigned editorials from its Totalitarian-Moderne bunker on Main Street had this to say today about a suggestion made Tulsa Councilor John Eagleton regarding a proposal to make city elections non-partisan:

OK, this one is simply too easy so we're going to let you fill in the blanks with the joke of your choice. And we rarely, if ever, pass up the opportunity for a cheap joke.

In the debate over changes to the city charter, in particular making elections nonpartisan, City Councilor John Eagleton, while supporting the nonpartisan issue, also wants each candidate to be able to add a word or phrase to the ballot that would describe each candidate's political philosophy.

Now, this is where you add your joke. We'll wait a second.


At best, whichever drone wrote this editorial on behalf of the Whirled Collective decided to "phone it in," rather than exert the effort to lampoon Eagleton's suggestion effectively.

But I think it's more likely that the AverillDelCourJonesNealPearson doesn't understand the idea well enough to explain why the hive-mind doesn't like it. Otherwise, they would have set out a cogent argument against it.

The Whirled editorial puts me in mind of a type of adolescent ridicule. The ringleader of the popular bunch points at poor, unpopular Poindexter and says, "What a loser! Poindexter is wearing a black belt on a Thursday!" The ringleader begins laughing. All of his toadies have no idea why wearing a black belt on a Thursday is ridiculous, but they know to take their cue from the ringleader, so they point and laugh, too. The Whirled knows there is a certain constituency (declining in number) that will laugh if they say "laugh." (These are the same people that believed the Whirled when it claimed that non-Councilor Randy Sullivan was intelligent.)

Eagleton's suggestion is similar to one I made in my column in the April 6-12, 2006, edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly:

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

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

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

There are a couple of different ways to implement this. In the column I suggested that parties and PACs could register with the city and endorse candidates, and then each candidate could choose which endorsements to note next to his name on the ballot, in place of or alongside national party names. The least complicated method, suggested by Eagleton, would allow each candidate to supply his or her own description, up to some number of lines, words, or characters.

That description wouldn't have to be "liberal" or "conservative" as the Whirled editorial hive-mind seems to believe. It could identify the candidate's position on a current issue or describe the candidate's approach to city government. A citywide group might run a slate of candidates, all using the same ballot description. It might just be a catchy slogan. Councilor Roscoe Turner, for example, might use, "Voted Tulsa's Most Believable Councilor." Since candidates are required by charter to use their full legal names on the ballot, a candidate might use the description to identify his nickname to the voters. Some possibilities, in 40 characters or less (about one line on the ballot):

  • Back to Basics: Cops, Streets, Parks
  • Conservative Republican
  • Progressive Democrat
  • Endorsed by Republican Assembly
  • Endorsed by Just Progress
  • No New Taxes
  • Higher Taxes Coalition
  • Preserve Midtown
  • I love surface parking lots
  • Citizens for Responsible Government
  • Tulsa Alliance for Neighborhoods
  • Homeowners for Fair Zoning
  • Tulsa Real Estate Coalition
  • Pimp This Town
  • By George, It's Nigh Time
  • Official Monster Raving Loony Party

Some descriptions would be sensible, some would be frivolous, all would add some color to an otherwise antiseptic non-partisan ballot. (Requiring all candidates to submit a nominating petition, as independent candidates are already required to do, would keep the frivolity within reasonable bounds.)

There's another possible explanation for why the Whirled didn't defend their opposition to Eagleton's idea: They oppose it for selfish reasons which they don't wish to reveal to the reader. A candidate's brief self-description on the ballot constitutes a media bypass. Without depending on the favor of the monopoly daily newspaper, without needing a pile of campaign cash, a candidate would be able to communicate something about himself, albeit very briefly, to every voter, in words of his own choosing.

If the Whirled editorial hive-mind gets its collective way, a city election ballot would comprise lists of bare names, with no other identifying information. As the still-dominant media outlet in Tulsa, the Whirled would define for many voters what emotions and opinions they should hold about each of those names. No wonder they don't care for Councilor Eagleton's suggestion.

This struck me as strange. Maybe this was unintentional, maybe not. You be the judge.

There's a shift in the way the Tulsa World refers to the potential commercial development on the west bank of the Arkansas River at 21st Street.

Prior to the October 9 Tulsa County sales tax election, the paper consistently connected the proposed west bank development to Branson Landing, the retail development on the shores of Lake Taneycomo in downtown Branson, Missouri, and mentioned developer Rick Huffman by name. After the election, the development has been mentioned a few times, but without any reference to Huffman and only one to Branson Landing. After the jump, you'll find examples of what I'm talking about.

One of the proposed Tulsa City Charter amendments on tonight's City Council agenda would eliminate party primaries and put all candidates on a non-partisan ballot. If no one receives 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters in the primary would face off in the general election.

I wrote a column in March 2006 explaining the flaw in a two-candidate runoff, particularly in a non-partisan election or Louisiana-style all-party primary, using historical examples. It's too easy in such a system to wind up with a winner who is unacceptable to the majority of the voters. (That same column explains why Instant Runoff Voting is a better system.)

I've been trying to come up with a simple way to explain the problem, an explanation that doesn't involve real-world political loyalties. Here's my latest effort. I'd appreciate your suggestions for improvement:

In Council District 10, the most important concern among voters is having a city councilor who supports their favorite college football team.

Polling has shown that, of the 1000 voters in District 10:

550 are rabid OU Sooner fans
250 are diehard OSU Cowboy fans
200 wear hog hats on their heads and holler "woo, pig, sooie!"

City Council elections are non-partisan, with a primary, followed by a runoff between the top two vote getters.

Because there's such a strong base of support for the Sooners in the district, five Sooner fans filed for the seat, but only one Cowboy fan and one Razorback fan filed. (These fans are so fanatical, they've changed their names to match famous head coaches.)

Here's the primary result:

Jimmy Johnson
OSU 250
Lou Holtz
U of A
Bud Wilkinson OU
Bob Stoops OU
Barry Switzer OU
Chuck Fairbanks OU
Gomer Jones OU

If Chuck Fairbanks and Gomer Jones hadn't entered the race, any of the other three OU candidates could have had enough votes to make the runoff by beating Lou Holtz for second place. In a head-to-head runoff, an OU candidate would have no trouble winning in District 10. But because the OU vote was split five ways, there won't be an OU candidate in the runoff.

Instead, in the runoff, the 550 voters who voted for OU candidates -- the majority of those voting -- will be forced to hold their noses and pick between Jimmy Johnson and Lou Holtz.

In a party primary system, the OU voters would have chosen one candidate to represent them in a general election, and given that OU fans are a majority in the district, the OU nominee would likely have won the general. The OSU and U of A voters in the district, despite constituting a significant minority, would ultimately have no influence on the outcome.

In an instant runoff system, where all voters cast a preferential ballot ranking all the candidates, one of the OU candidates would win the election, but each voter, regardless of affiliation, would have an equal opportunity to influence the final result.

UPDATE: XonOFF asked me to elaborate on how instant runoff voting would solve this problem. I've done so in the extended entry, after the jump.

More later, but for now just a brief note: Tonight's Tulsa City Council agenda includes a vote on whether to move forward with nine proposed amendments to the Tulsa City Charter. Many of the amendments came from the work of the Citizens' Commission on City Government in 2006.

Here's a quick description of the items being proposed:

Non-partisan elections
Council attorney
Appointed city auditor
Three-year staggered terms for city councilors
Four-year terms for city councilors, with elections during the non-mayoral year
Fall elections
Setting Councilor salaries to half the mayor's salary
Clarifying the term "qualified elector" to refer to the definition under state law

Tulsa City Charter proposed amendments (3 MB PDF)

I'm fully supportive of moving city elections to the fall of odd-numbered years.

I'm utterly opposed to doing away with electing the city auditor, to non-partisan elections as proposed (but I support multi-partisan elections with instant runoff voting), and to longer terms for councilors, particularly the three-year staggered terms, which would prevent the voters from cleaning house in a single election. (Staggered terms are used for school boards, and they don't work well for keeping the elected officials accountable to the public.)

On the other proposals, I need to know more.

I'm honored to have been selected as the featured speaker for this year's fall banquet for St. Augustine Academy, to be held on Friday, October 26, at 6:30, at the Renaissance Hotel in Tulsa. The theme of the event is "Wisdom and Eloquence at the Renaissance" -- I hope I manage to live up to the title with my speech.

I can't provide a better description of the school than this paragraph from their website:

St. Augustine is a small, independent, Christian classical school dedicated to training students to take the lead in their personal lives, in their educations, and in their communities. St. Augustine boasts a climate that is truly conducive to the free exchange and development of ideas. At SAA education is built on the best traditions of our academic, intellectual, cultural, and moral heritage, allowing the student to shape their future in a setting that is both challenging and supportive.

You can learn more about the school's distinctives on this page.

The school is relatively young (just 10 years old), but in that time they've turned out many sharp young people who are well-trained in mind and spirit. The banquet is an excellent opportunity to learn about the school, as you'll hear brief testimonials from alumni and parents. I think you'll be impressed.

The cost is $25 per person. Monday, October 22 is the last opportunity to buy tickets for the event. For more information, contact the school at 832-4600.

An edited version of this column appeared in the October 17, 2007, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is not available online. Posted online October 6, 2017.

Why no

By Michael D. Bates

Every aeronautical engineering student is taught that given enough thrust, you can make a brick fly. You need a lot less thrust, of course, to power an airframe that's tapered and streamlined, designed for moving efficiently through the air, designed to make the best use of the forces acting upon it.

The proponents of the Tulsa County sales tax for river projects had an opportunity this summer to develop an approach to Arkansas River development, using existing revenues and resources, that could have glided easily on the prevailing winds of public opinion.

Instead, they engineered a brick and tried to shove it aloft with a $1.3 million campaign budget and plenty of free exposure in the daily paper and on local television. As much financial thrust as they had at their disposal, it wasn't enough to put this clunker of a plan in the air and keep it there.

With a 6,286-vote, five-percentage-point margin, it would be tempting for the vote yes folks to second-guess all their decisions and imagine that they could have won a narrow victory if only they had handled some aspect of the media campaign differently.

$1.3 million is record-setting for a local sales tax vote, and the Our River Yes campaign out-raised No River Tax by better than 100 to one.

And who can put a value on page after page of news stories and editorials touting the tax increase in the daily paper?

The yes campaign used the financial advantage exactly the way they should have. They took polls and convened focus groups to shape their message in the most appealing way possible. The information gleaned from voter research went into slickly produced TV ads featuring cute kids and senior citizens and countless four-color postcards and magazines mailed out to Tulsa County voters. They used phone surveys to identify their supporters and made sure their supporters got to the polls.

To prevent the opposition from getting an earned-media boost, the Our River Yes people successfully avoided having even one televised debate. Public meetings were referred to as "informational meetings" at which rebuttals were not permitted.

For all the money they spent trying to manipulate our emotions, the Our River Yes campaign did almost nothing to explain to voters exactly what we were voting on. They have only themselves to blame if some voters believed the plan included high-rises on islands in the river.

Here's what $1.3 million bought:

Before the campaign began, a poll showed that 52.2% opposed a sales tax increase for river projects.

On election day, 52.5% voted against the tax increase.

Evidently, a lot of voters made their decision as soon as they heard the words "sales tax increase for river projects." The same July poll shows river development as a low priority - desirable, sure, but not worth a tax increase, not when crime and streets need so much attention.

Not to say I told you so, but back in the August 2-9 issue, I wrote,

"The commissioners will almost certainly vote Thursday to schedule an October 9 election. Supporters of the new tax will pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into a slick PR campaign, confident that they can get the majority of votes they need, even at the cost of feeding public cynicism by brazenly asking citizens to tax themselves twice for the same projects. Those who prefer an alternative funding approach for river improvements will be dismissed as anti-river, anti-progress, anti-Tulsa.

"The same old playbook may work again, but the antagonism of officials and residents in the county's second largest city and the booming northern suburbs changes the political calculus. We will go through a contentious 60 days, tax promoters will spend a fortune, political capital will be squandered, and in the end the county commissioners may find themselves back at square one, finding a way to finance river projects without a new sales tax."

In saying that this tax proposal was fatally flawed, I don't want to minimize the importance of the formal opposition. The presence of credible opposition voices provided affirmation to voters that their gut instincts against the tax were reasonable.

We should particularly acknowledge the courage of the elected officials who stood against the tax increase, aware that their opposition could draw well-financed retribution at their next re-election bid.

Four years ago, only two elected officials in the entire county were willing to identify themselves publicly as opponents of Vision 2025 - State Sen. Randy Brogdon and Glenpool Councilor Keith Robinson. A combination of political pressure and pork barrel promises kept everyone else in line.

This time around Brogdon was joined by Tulsa city councilors Jack Henderson, Roscoe Turner, and John Eagleton, and the entire political establishment of Broken Arrow - the mayor, city council, chamber of commerce, and school board - standing up for the basic needs of their constituents. County Assessor Ken Yazel showed true grit, braving the disapproval of his county courthouse colleagues by speaking his mind against a new county sales tax.

New to politics, Ted and Andrea Darr provided an internet home base for the opposition, shattering the myth of young professional unanimity in support of the tax.

Even the oft-derided yard signs mattered, assuring skeptical voters that many of their neighbors shared their doubts.

The vote yes campaign handed the opposition several gifts.

The first was the stubborn refusal of County Commissioner Randi Miller and other officials to acknowledge two indisputable facts, obvious to anyone who bothered to look up the relevant documents: That the two new low-water dams and modifications to Zink Dam were included in Vision 2025, and that most of the project money in this package was going to projects not included in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan.

What if, instead, proponents had said up front, "We guessed wrong about how much new dams would cost, we were wrong about the prospects for federal funds, no one was minding the store when the cost of the arena spiraled out of control and we spent the overage money we had planned to use on the dams on the arena instead, and it's easier to ask you for more tax money than it is to reorganize our priorities to get the dams built as promised"? What if they'd admitted that the proposal included several major items that hadn't been vetted through the master plan review process?

Such an admission would have raised other uncomfortable issues, but it might have reduced the impact of the trust issue. At least it would have been honest.

It didn't help the vote yes campaign that Tulsa County voters had a dramatic reminder of poor judgment on the part of Miller and other county officials: Despite beautiful weather nearly every day, the Tulsa State Fair dropped in attendance and midway receipts, due in large part to Miller's push to evict Bell's Amusement Park the previous fall.

With Bell's gone, those who came to the fair had less reason to stick around and spend money, and less reason to come back for a second visit. If fairgoers hadn't planned to boycott the Murphy Bros. midway already, several injuries on Murphy rides persuaded many to stay away.

(Why would Miller et al. grant a 10 year midway lease to a company that has all its rides on wheels, while putting a family-owned local business with millions invested in permanent structures, a 51-year-tenant of the fairgrounds, on the equivalent of a month-to-month lease?)

The vote yes campaign got caught in a couple of other fibs. There was the TV ad featuring the old fellow with the Walter Cronkite mustache, who told us, "Streets to the river will be improved, the first step in a street improvement program." That assertion was easy pickings for a Fox 23 News "Truth Test" feature that aired two nights before the election, labeling the claim false.

Perhaps the biggest gift the over-funded proponents gave to the opposition was the misleading postcard sent to Broken Arrow voters, featuring an artist's conception labeled "Broken Arrow Riverfront," a project for which no funds were included in the package on the October 9 ballot. Broken Arrow leaders held a press conference the day before the election denouncing the deception. KOTV viewers heard Randi Miller say that the picture wasn't misleading "because it not once says that this is what is going to happen."

OK... next tax election, expect to see flying cars in the campaign sketches.

The next day motivated Broken Arrow voters turned out in droves to vote down the tax by a two-to-one margin.

We're told that that mail piece was the work of AH Strategies, run by Republican consultants Fount Holland and Karl Ahlgren. (Remember those names. You'll likely hear them again as the state ethics commission probes Republican campaign fund transfers.) AH Strategies was responsible for the misleading mail pieces smearing District Attorney Tim Harris in his contentious 2006 Republican primary race against attorney Brett Swab.

There was collateral damage: INCOG burned a good deal of the credibility the regional planning agency had earned from the careful way it developed the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan and the thorough approach it took last year to reviewing "The Channels" proposal for inclusion in the ARCMP. Instead of remaining an honest broker, its leaders were coopted to blur the distinction between the ARCMP and the proposal on the ballot.

TYpros, the Astroturf young professionals organization controlled by the Tulsa Metro Chamber, threw itself under the vote yes bus, alienating many of its members and projecting an image of young professionals as whiny, bored children demanding that daddy and mommy give them a pretty new plaything. (We've met enough entrepreneurial YPs who are busy "making their own cool" - to borrow a phrase from Jamie Pierson - that we know the TYpros' attitude isn't typical of the demographic.)

Bruce Plante, the daily paper's brand new editorial cartoonist, must be wondering what the heck he's gotten himself into. In two of his first four cartoons he was directed to depict no voters as brainless troglodytes, insulting what turns out to be a majority of his potential readers.

I was hopeful that new leadership at the Chamber plus George Kaiser's involvement would mean a different tone to this campaign, but that hope was disappointed.

The most damaging effect of this campaign is that, in the process of trying to persuade voters that the county's sales tax increase was the only way to make something good happen on our riverfront, many of our elected leaders drank deeply of their own Kool-Aid.

Miller said after the election, "There is no plan B. River development is over." Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor said that Tulsans didn't want river development, and she was moving on to other priorities.

Happily, after a few days of cooling off, there seems to be some willingness by the tax proponents to work with tax opponents to do what could have been done two months and $1.3 million ago: Move ahead with a City of Tulsa TIF to acquire land for west bank development and with engineering and permitting on the low-water dams and Zink Dam improvements approved in Vision 2025.

I'm hoping that the City Council will act either this week or next to pass a resolution requesting that the Taylor administration start the process for establishing a west bank TIF district, giving Tulsa the same tool that Jenks and Bixby are using to assist riverfront development.

Next week, a look at what went right during the river tax campaign, and how we move forward from here.

You may have missed this, as did I when it first aired last Wednesday: A KOTV story which looked at polling data from a week before the election to explain why the Tulsa County river sales tax increase failed at the polls. There's a snapshot showing the reasons given by people who said they oppose the tax:

29% no more taxes
23% other priorities / fix streets
34% private donors should pay for all of it
10% no confidence vote

The story quotes Oklahoma City-based pollster Bill Shapard:

But the way that got spun by the no side was, if he's going to put up all that money, George Kaiser, why doesn't he just pay for all of it. And so while I think George Kaiser and his generosity was the greatest asset for the yes campaign, it also became their greatest liability.

I don't know of anyone on the no side who "spun" that, much less spent much time talking about the pledges by Kaiser and others. I may be wrong, but I don't recall seeing anything on the No River Tax website along those lines. My take on the pledges was that $282 million was a lot to spend for a free gift. The donors have a right to decide to whom, for what, and under what conditions they spend their money, but the voters needed to focus on the tax they were being asked to pay and the projects it would pay for.

It did surprise me how many people volunteered to me an opinion similar to that poll result. Most often it took the form, "If they're going to give that money, why not use the money to pay for the dams instead of these 'gathering places'?" Almost always the idea was "the dams instead of the parks" rather than "the dams and the parks."

I'd be curious to know exactly how the question was asked and how the results were tabulated, as that can make all the difference. Were voters allowed to give more than one reason for voting no, or were they asked to give the most important reason? Were voters given a list of reasons to pick from, or was it an open question, and if it was an open question, how were the responses categorized? Would "donors should pay for the dams instead of the parks" be classified as essentially the same answer as "donors should pay for the dams and the parks"?

Because of a job-related day trip, I'm postponing my weekly visit with Gwen and Chris on 1170 KFAQ until Wednesday morning.

A couple of different young professionals sent me this e-mail, which they received late last week from TYpros, the Astroturf YP group created by and for the Tulsa Metro Chamber. One wrote, "Honestly, this letter (and its leadership team's public homogenization of the TYPros membership into a monolith of river tax supporters) has me considering leaving TYPros." Another wrote, "I had lent my support to TYPROS in the early days, but ever since their support of the River tax I've lost my faith in them as an agent of change."

At first, I didn't see what bothered them so much about this e-mail. It's encouraging people who might have been disappointed in the outcome of Tuesday's election not to be hyperdramatic about it, but to stay involved.

But there is an undertone which undercuts that sensible message -- "The 4,000+ members in Tulsa's Young Professionals bear a heavy burden." Please.

It's easy to understand why older generations become so cynical.

After Tuesday's vote, it's easy to become disenchanted, disheartened, and frankly, disgusted. It's easy to trash-talk the opposition or vow to learn how someone voted before having lunch with him or her. It's easy to spout off promises to flee the community for more progressive and yp-friendly cities and regions.

It's easy to quit.

It's much, much harder to shake it off and decide where we go from here.

To survive and thrive in the future, developing our community to attract and retain young, talented workers and new college graduates must become everyone's business. The 4,000+ members in Tulsa's Young Professionals bear a heavy burden and the result of Tuesday's vote makes our job even more difficult. My company, your company, North Tulsa, South Tulsa, East or West, suburbs or downtown, all depends on us to be here in the future.

Young people are the future growth of our region. High school students today are deciding where they want to live tomorrow. College graduates decide where they want to live before they find a job.

Some people get it. Some people don't.

George Kaiser gets it. We applaud his courage, conviction and generosity.

So, our message is this. From young professionals to one slightly more seasoned professional: Mr. Kaiser...we won't give up if you don't give up on us.


Tulsa's Young Professionals

UPDATE: There are some good comments posted below, but two in particular worth spotlighting:

From Jeff Shaw:

That reads like an email from 14 year old girl. :)

And from Jason Kearney:

TYPROS. Please. A bunch of morons if they still don't understand. Many of them are single, making more money than they know what to do with. They don't care how much money they pay in taxes, because they don't have enough to spend their money on now. They are too immature to realize that people can have differences of opinion. It has to be about who "gets it" and who doesn't. Give me a break.

I hope they are watching the local news, and seeing that they were duped by the chamber, the mayor, and the county commission. River development continues, but the right way, with private investments, not taxpayer money.

While we were focused on the election, there have been several interesting developments in the lawsuit by three former professors against Oral Roberts University, including the filing of an amended petition that now appears to include the entirety of the "scandal vulnerability assessment." That assessment document looks like a set of draft notes (the last 9 pages) by one writer and another writer's attempt to translate, correct typos, and organize the information in the draft notes (the first 8 pages.

I have to compliment April Marciszewski of the Tulsa World for her coverage of the lawsuit. Their web team has done a fine job of collecting all of the relevant information in a special online package, including links to the key documents.

An announcement from the Tulsa Preservation Blog:

On October 14, Tulsa's oldest historic district will open its homes to the public for a tour of some of the State's most original and historic homes.

Brady Heights invites you to celebrate the State's Centennial year at the 2007 Historic Home Tour featuring the best in Green Renovation products and practices. Visit a new breed of energetic Tulsans
influencing our legacy through responsible, sustainable living.

Come and tour beautiful historic homes while learning how you can apply energy conservation practices to your own home. Tickets are available from noon to 4 p.m. at Centenary United Methodist Church, 621 N. Denver Avenue. For more information, call (918)592-9135 or visit the Brady Heights website to purchase tickets online.

This tour is not to be missed!

The tour runs from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for children 12 and up; children under 12 are free, but you can get them at a discount if you buy in advance online.

The Brady Heights website is well organized and full of information about the neighborhood's history and current activities -- worth a visit.

Here's a press release about an important event next Tuesday night.

Taming the Teardown: A Moratorium to Save our Heritage

PreserveMidtown in association with The Coalition of Historic Neighborhoods of Tulsa will hold a forum and panel discussion on Tuesday, October 16 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at All Souls Unitarian Church, 2952 South Peoria. The educational forum will focus on the controversy over the practice of tearing down small houses and replacing them with larger ones, particularly in the mid-town Tulsa area. It will address questions of why teardowns occur, the economic impact to neighborhoods and individuals and what can be done to protect existing homes.

Moderator for the evening will be Stephanie Arnold de Verges, Certified Professional Facilitator with a master's degree in government and non-profit management.

Presenters include Guy de Verges, Amanda DeCort and Steve Novick.

Guy De Verges will speak on the environmental concerns of teardowns. He is an environmental consultant with a master's degree in environmental engineering.

Amanda DeCort will address the economic implications of tearing down and replacing houses. She has a master's degree in community planning with an emphasis in historic preservation and is the staff person for the Tulsa Preservation Commission.

Steve Novick will speak about conservation districts. He is an attorney in private practice specializing in civil rights and employment law. In recent years he has become a neighborhood preservation advocate and presently serves as president of the Ranch Acres Homeowners Association.

Following the presentations there will be a panel discussion that will include Michelle Cantrell with Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC); Cason Carter, District 9 City Counselor; and Maria Barnes, District 4 City Councilor. The audience will be invited to ask questions and express their views.

PreserveMidtown was formed as a result of poor infill practices in hopes of educating the public and influencing change in the way developers build in existing neighborhoods. The Coalition of Historic Neighborhoods of Tulsa was organized to provide a stronger voice to neighborhoods and to protect historic resources throughout the City of Tulsa through sound public policy. The coalition is comprised of members throughout the city.

Susan McKee, Coalition of Historic Neighbors

Barbara VanHanken, PreserveMidtown
918.749.9093, 671.6217

For more information on the issue of teardowns, visit PreserveMidtown.com (or for a satirical twist on the issue, visit the website's evil twin, DestroyMidtown.com). And you can read Jessica Naudziunas' story on PreserveMidtown in the October 4-10 issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly

Back in June I announced the Blog Reader Project, a way to collect information on who reads BatesLine that might be of interest to potential advertisers.

As an incentive to participate, I offered a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift certificate to one participant out of those who supplied their e-mail address as part of the survey. Because of the number of respondents I decided to award two certificates, which I sent out earlier today to the two lucky winners, selected with the help of the truly random integer generator at random.org. Congratulations to Nik Majdan and Steve Arnold! And to the rest of you, thanks for taking the time to participate.

You can look at aggregate numbers for all participating blogs at the Blog Reader Project website. You can view select results from BatesLine readers here.

One of the most interesting stats, albeit not surprising, is that 85% of the participants have a zip code beginning with "74" and 89% have an Oklahoma zip code. I imagine that the survey is mainly representative of people who come to the site via the homepage, as opposed to those who find the site through search engines.

As I mentioned when I introduced the Blog Reader Project, there is some cost involved in keeping this site running and in keeping myself informed so that I can share what I learn with you. If you appreciate the information and analysis that I provide, you can express that appreciation by means of the PayPal tip jar in the sidebar to the right.

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Too tired and too busy with family stuff tonight to do anything more than point you to some articles about Tuesday's defeat of the Tulsa County sales tax proposal.

Justin Juozapavicius, the Associated Press correspondent for Tulsa and a former Tulsa World reporter, filed a report on the tax defeat that had an air of hopelessness about it.

For supporters, Tuesday's "no" vote meant another missed development opportunity for Tulsa, while other cities such as Memphis, Tenn., San Antonio and Kansas City, Mo., continue to profit from their waterfront projects.

Oklahoma City voters also recognized the potential years ago, approving an initiative that turned an aging warehouse district into Bricktown, the city's nightlife and entertainment hub, complete with a mile-long pedestrian canal.

While the reporter did speak to two opposition leaders, Tulsa City Council Chairman Roscoe Turner and Broken Arrow Mayor Wade McCaleb, the story overlooks the opportunities to move forward on river development. It also incorrectly summarizes what was on the ballot:

Both were contingent on the passage of the 0.4-cent tax increase that would have paid for low-water dams, land acquisition, pedestrian bridges and habitat improvements along 42 miles of the river from Keystone Dam to the city of Jenks.

While the improvements would have indeed stopped at Jenks, the 42 miles includes Bixby and Broken Arrow, neither of which would have seen any of the listed improvements had the tax passed.

At first I was upset with Mr. Juozapavicius for filing a story that preached doom and gloom about Tulsa, but a large share of the blame belongs to the officials he quoted in the story. What do you think?

Meanwhile in Jenks, Jerry Gordon, who used his own money to build RiverWalk Crossing, is proposing that he and other developers who would benefit from a low-water dam to pony up and pay for it themselves.

But in south Tulsa, where an estimated $100 million in riverfront development has risen up over the last four years, much of it without public support, a small group of Tulsa-area investors may attempt what Tuesday's election failed to accomplish - fund a south Tulsa dam across the Arkansas River.

Such efforts could face huge permitting hurdles beyond the projected $25 million-plus cost, especially if the private forces tried to proceed without governmental support. But Gordon, the maverick entrepreneur who opened RiverWalk Crossing in 2005, believes other business and civic leaders like himself, with vested interests in growing south Tulsa commerce, could and should cough up the funds necessary for building the dam so vital to maintaining water in the river.

In fact, he's already started quiet discussions with a few key associates to accomplish just that.

"We're going to float our own boat," the 25-year industry veteran said Wednesday, even with the start of primary construction on RiverWalk's second phase just three weeks away....

Gordon would not discuss who may be involved in his efforts. But he used for his inspiration the $117 million that private donors had promised to spend on river trails and parks projects if the vote had passed.

"We'll find a way to do it if you keep the politics out of it," the 48-year-old said. "This really is a city deal, not a county deal. We've thought all along this should be the way it's done."

His initiative would follow Indian Nations Council of Governments' proposal for a south Tulsa dam to maximize the potential of King's Landing, RiverWalk and other commercial developments that have already sprung up. Under his idealistic plan, the dam would be paid for by those who would profit by it.

Jerry Gordon deserves three cheers for clear thinking and initiative.

The story also notes that the Branson Landing folks are still interested in moving forward with their development if they can get the assistance they say they need for land acquisition and site preparation. Perhaps they should speak to Jerry Gordon to see how things can get done.

There's an interesting detail in the beginning of the story which illustrates a suggestion I've made several times:

"Many people told me I was crazy to use such expensive stonework on this, but I didn't care," he said, explaining how, as a private homebuilder, developer and contractor with no partners, using his own funds, he didn't need to worry about targeted returns on investment. "It's the project that's most important to me. If I know I'm going to make a profit, and I know what I'm going to do, that's fine."

That willingness to accept and embrace lower profit margins may explain much about how he hopes to succeed where Tulsa's river tax supporters fell short.

Because he was using his own money and wasn't dependent on partners, he could decide to spend more money on the quality of the materials, and he could step out with an idea like RiverWalk Crossing and just get it done when everyone else said it couldn't be done without public subsidy.

Someone like George Kaiser or John Kelly Warren has the ability to tolerate financial risk. That risk tolerance makes it possible for someone like that to build a commercial development along the river that is innovative, daring, and unusual. Or they could fund redevelopment in the Pearl District or downtown. They could build projects that a conventional lender would never finance.

Tulsa County citizens win

| | Comments (21)

Thanks to Tulsa County voters for turning down the problematic Tulsa County river sales tax, there's now an opportunity, if elected officials are willing to take it, to put together an approach to river development that avoids the pitfalls of the proposal that the voters rejected.

It's likely, though, that after trying to convince voters that the false dilemma set up by the County Commissioners was a true dilemma, that their way was the only way to make our river happen, that they've convinced themselves as well. They're probably going to need some time to detoxify and deprogram themselves from their own propaganda.

The Tulsa City Council should start the process of establishing a west bank Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district. We can do private riverfront development in Tulsa the same way they're doing it in Jenks and Bixby.

The County Commission should announce their resolve to move ahead with engineering work and permitting on the two new low-water dams and Zink Dam modifications.

The story linked above quotes PMg environmental manager Gaylon Pinc:

"This is a turning point for Tulsa," said Pinc. "I've heard nothing but criticism from Tulsa residents about why we've done nothing with the river for 40 years. And now they say they don't want to do anything."

That's not true, Gaylon, and I think after a few days to come down from the intensity of the campaign, you'll come to recognize that this wasn't a rejection of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan, but of the tax increase and the extraneous projects in this tax package.

The issue now becomes how to proceed, since securing Army Corp of Engineers permits will require completion of engineering work. But just designing the two-low water dams and the Zink dam modifications could cost $4 million, he said - almost half the funds available through Vision 2025. Doing design work on the estimated $90 million in river channel modifications would more than consume the rest.

"Do you spend it, or hold on to that money or wait until you have enough money to build it?" he said, raising the question that county and Vision 2025 leaders now face. "Do you spend all the money you have to design something you can't afford to build?"

Yes, you do, because the County Commission asked the voters four years ago if they wanted two low-water dams and improvements to Zink Lake, and they said yes. So you pursue permitting on the dams. Once the permits are granted, we'll know how much the dams will really cost, and we'll know where we stand financially -- whether Federal dollars will be available and whether Vision 2025 revenues outstrip John Piercey's projections. If it looks like we don't have enough for those three projects, that's the time for the County to come back to voters and ask for enough to finish the job, just like Oklahoma City asked for a MAPS tax extension to finish the MAPS projects.

As for the $90 million for channel modification, if Pinc and others feel that it is worthy of incorporating in the ARCMP, that concept needs to be put through a process for consideration as an amendment to the ARCMP, a matter that would be decided by the planning commission, County Commission, and City Council.

The people who were at the No River Tax watch party tonight at Sadie's aren't against river development. I feel certain that everyone there would be willing to work with the elected officials and civic leaders who supported the tax to develop a plan that moves river development forward without forcing a tax rate increase.

MORE: Ted Streuli writes in the Journal Record that Jenks will bypass Tulsa, and we're all short-sighted, just like when we rejected the aquarium. What he doesn't tell you is that the City of Tulsa park board and Mayor Susan Savage put the kibosh on a Tulsa Aquarium on the river, not the voters of Tulsa. He also doesn't seem to be aware that this was a county-wide vote.

And Bobby of Tulsa Topics cheers the victory and hands out laurels to the victors: "Tonight, I actually have a glimmer of hope for Tulsa. Instead of taking the flim flam spin of the PR Meisters hook, line, and sinker, you actually decided giving a blank check to our wondrous County Commissioners may be a less than optimal use of your tax dollars. Tulsa County voters..... I salute you!"

UPDATE: Steve Roemerman has pictures from the No River Tax watch party (raise the roof!) and explains why it's time to stick a fork in Randi Miller's political career.

UPDATE 2007/10/10, 8:00 p.m.:

Jeff Shaw draws from a personal anecdote to think about the gap between the yesses and noes yesterday:

Tonight in Tulsa, there are people living in and around the neighborhoods where the Honorable Mayor resides and other affluent areas, scratching their heads and wondering: "Exactly how did this wonderful idea of improving the river get away from us?"

I'll share with you a couple of my thoughts....

If you've ever had to send your child to Cleveland Middle School, or Gilcrease, or Monroe, or McClain, or any of their really crappy feeder schools, you might not worry too much about whether some YP will be able to kayak through the man-made fjords of the new and improved Arkansas River, built, by the way, especially for YP's.

Stan Geiger thinks this is a bigger victory than the point spread indicates:

The yes camp had to have spent over a million bucks on TV ads. The no camp ran none. The yes camp virtually owned the free airspace, too. No local station held any bilateral forums on the matter. For George Kaiser to show up in front of a camera was akin to a vampire walking in the noonday sun. Nonetheless, KOTV gave him an uncontested platform from which he preached his sermon. Hanson was allowed a solo as well. The list of public endorsers read like a who's who. And the big, daily newspaper gave itself in total to the pro-tax crowd.

In spite of all that, the measure failed. The mouse vanquished the elephant. Substance defeated style.

This is the first contested tax election I can remember where there was not even one televised debate, and even the joint appearances at community forums were billed not as debates but "informational meetings," designed to prevent one side from directly challenging the assertions of the other side.

David Schuttler has a photo essay of some of our existing river parks, pointing out that we're not doing a very good job of taking care of the "gathering places" we already have. But you can still see plenty of wildlife -- he spotted a bald eagle rather early in the season.

(And you remember correctly, David: There was a time when you could take steps up to a deck on top of the pedestrian bridge, when the bridge walkway stopped halfway across the river.)

Mad Okie has some kind words for me and (more deservedly) for the courageous elected officials who stood against the tax "for not bowing to the county and standing up and speaking up FOR their constituents."

Here's the precinct-by-precinct tally of the result from the Tulsa World. The World also has a precinct map showing where the tax passed and where it failed. It would be interesting to see a "heat map" -- indicating by depth of color the margin of support or opposition in each precinct. (I'd love to have the tools to make that kind of map myself.)

Here are some basic facts and figures and links to more information about today's election. Be sure to tune into KFAQ 1170. I'll be in studio from 6 a.m. on to talk about what the proposed Tulsa County river sales tax is and what it isn't.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The proposal is for a county-wide sales tax rate increase of 0.4 cents on the dollar, increasing the county's share of sales tax from 61/60ths (1.016666...) of a cent on each dollar to 85/60ths (1.416666...) of a cent on each dollar. The proceeds of the sales tax would be designated for river projects.

Here is a link to the text of the ballot resolution for the Tulsa County river sales tax, the signed and notarized commitment by the county to the voters regarding how the tax proceeds will be spent. As a backup, you can find the same text on the KJRH website.

The proponents of the tax have a website called ourriveryes.com.
The opponents of the tax have a website called notulsarivertax.com.

The Arkansas River category in the BatesLine archives has what I've written about the current proposal as well as last fall's The Channels proposal.

If you have specific questions, post a comment here or e-mail me at blog at batesline dot com, and I'll add the answers to this entry.

If I don't collapse at the keyboard, I've got maybe two River-related posts left. First, this roundup of news stories and comments and then, for the late deciders, a summary of the issue and links to key pieces that I've written.

The vote yes side has dodged all televised debates on the issue. KJRH canceled the planned League of Women Voters debate. Too embarrassed to show up, I guess.

KOTV had the story tonight about Monday's press conference by Broken Arrow Mayor Wade McCaleb and other Broken Arrow leaders, denouncing the misleading postcard that the vote yes campaign sent to voters in that city. As I write this, it's still the number one story on the KOTV website. You'll recall that the vote yes postcard featured a concept drawing with the words "Broken Arrow Riverfront." The story featured what may be Randi Miller's unintentionally funniest moment:

"Do you see how that is misleading?" News On 6 reporter Emory Bryan asked Commissioner Miller.

"No, because it not once says this is what is going to happen," Miller responded.

In addition to video of the story, KOTV has web extra video -- an extended clip of their visit with Miller on this issue, and comments by Charles Buxton, head of the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce.

(From down the Turner Turnpike, Charles G. Hill had a pithy response to the bogus Broken Arrow postcard.)

Fox 23 has brief interviews with two representatives from each side, responding to questions from the TV audience. The yes side is represented by County Commissioner Randi Miller and her deputy Terry Simonson. The no side is represented by State Sen. Randy Brogdon and Dr. Warren Blakney. The last video in the series of three is a critique of one of the vote yes commercials, debunking their claim that the tax will improve the roads that lead to the river.

(While I have the chance, I plan to download all the TV spots and other video content on the "Our River Yes / Rock the River" YouTube account. You might want to do the same, using a tool like KeepVid. That'll be useful no matter which side wins tomorrow. Campaign videos have a tendency to disappear quickly.)

You can watch the two hour Tulsa Now forum on the river tax featuring financial adviser John Piercey and PMg environmental manager Gaylon Pinc on the yes side, and City Councilor John Eagleton and Colin Tawney on the no side.

While notulsarivertax.com is the official opposition website, someone anonymous has set up a well-organized site called Enough Is Enough. I hesitated to link to it, because the webmaster wouldn't identify him/herself, which can sometime mean unpleasant surprises later, but it's turned out to be an attractive and colorful site explaining why this tax should be voted down.

Now, some blog comments from hither and yon:

Steve Roemerman sets forth his reasons for voting no...

...as does Notes from Polecat Creek:

Typically, Notes From Polecat Creek is positive in its' endorsements of public works projects and the taxes needed to pay for them. However, this one is a little too grand, smacks of making a few developers and contractors very rich and doesn't seem to recognize the fact that Tulsa has a backlog of road, sewer and other less glorious projects whose last price tag was estimated to be in the near one billion dollar range in total.

Dan Paden hasn't changed his mind:

I know little of how the proposed low-water dams would work. I know little of what the Corps of Engineers has to say about the proposed river development. What I do know is that history gives me precious little reason to believe that these "investments" will pay off as promised, or that the taxes funding them will ever actually be allowed to expire.

Dan also takes issue with the claim that our improving economy can be credited to Vision 2025:

I'm not at all certain that it is so simple to sort out just why Tulsa's economy has improved. It seems to me that there are other factors involved--like an economy that is improving nationwide--improving nationwide, ironically, in large part due to tax cuts. I also seem to recall our economy improving statewide--in large part due to rising oil prices. There are other things, like certain legislative developments statewide since 2003, that make me think attributing Tulsa's improved economy to Vision 2025 isn't quite the slam-dunk [so-and-so] seems to think it is.

Anyway, Dan, John Benjamin says we're drifting and in need of a transformative event, so Vision 2025 must not be all that after all.

This is from a while back, but worth mentioning: Randi Miller's claims that the City of Tulsa has a $200 million pile of money for streets just sitting there but there aren't enough contractors to spend the money. Ken Neal had a conflicting version of that at the All Souls event, saying the problem was that the city wouldn't raise the millage soon enough to be able to sell all of the bonds that have been approved.

Mad Okie has his top 10 reasons for voting no including:

County gov't has no business collecting sales tax. As the cities grow, [counties] have less to take care of, they shouldnt be growing!

David Schuttler has restarted his blog, using WordPress, and in a photo-illustrated entry wonders whether Branson Landing is really the sort of thing we want on our riverfront because of its "disconnection with the water":

Last night I decided to take some pictures from the water side of the Landing and a few others. When you really think about it, Branson Landing would probably get the same result if it had been built in a different part of Branson.

I wondered about the same thing last December:

It was odd, though, that here was this waterfront development, and yet the water was mostly hidden from view. Only seven retail spaces--all restaurants--face the lake. The boardwalk which runs alongside the lake mainly faces the backs of shops and a service road. While having shops facing each other across a narrow street is good urban form--pedestrians feel enclosed rather than exposed--I would hope that a riverfront retail development would have more frequent vistas to the water, at least one every hundred yards (the width of a downtown Tulsa block), and that there would be retail spaces on the waterfront.

There's an Our River Yes blog, but it's perhaps more accurately described as "our river, yes, but this sales tax increase, no."

Jason Kearney explains the reasons for his no vote, reacts to the Hanson brothers' endorsement of the tax increase, and relays a bit of wisdom from (wait for it) Randi Miller:

"Under no circumstances should sales tax exceed current levels."

Asks Jason: "Ms. Miller, what happened that you changed your mind?"

Michelle predicts that if we say no, this won't be the last attempt at passing a river tax. And her husband Mark, a newly-minted blogger, has had quite a bit of his own to say about the river tax and our local government officials. Two I liked in particular:

There is Good In Our City, and
If You Really Loved Me You'd Say Yes -- will the County Commissioners respect us in the morning?

This ploy reminded me of a high school kid trying to score with his girl friend. I could've sworn I saw a football jock with his cheerleader honey in the back seat of his car..."But Honey, if you love me you'll say yes" Anybody with an ounce of life experience knows what the jock really wants. It's the same with our city; the leaders won't respect us any more than the cheerleader's "boyfriend."

Finally, Jeff Shaw provides us with our "moment of zen" in the form of a photo with an interesting juxtaposition of sign and skyline. And Jeff asks:

Which side wins? Will it be platitudes, silly unmeasurable promises, threats of drying up money and cute pictures? Or will it be facts and figures?

Here's the audio from Sunday's forum at All Souls Unitarian Church on the Tulsa County river sales tax. The panelists were, from your left, Michael Bates of Urban Tulsa Weekly, Ken Neal of the Tulsa World, Kevin Stubbs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland. Former KOTV moderator Clayton Vaughn was the moderator. The MP3 file is about 50 minutes long, about 5 MB in size.


I'll try to summarize it later. The audience, estimated at around 100, asked good questions, and the debate was substantive. A friend in the audience judged the crowd's reaction as indicative of a 50-50 split, which, if true, is amazing considering All Souls' location (in Maple Ridge near the river). I received some nice compliments afterwards from some of the members, including one lady who said I swayed her vote, had a constructive conversation about TIF districts, and was urged by a psychologist to modulate my self-assurance -- being too confident about the answers could make people push back. I agreed with him that I was a bit too aggressive at the beginning, but managed to tone it down, I think.

(Any suggestions for a way to embed an MP3 so that you could listen without downloading the whole thing first?)

John Benjamin, the former Tulsa City Councilor who left town for Bixby, the prototypical member of the Cockroach Caucus, on the wrong side of nearly every local issue (most recently pushing for the recall of Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock), has spoken out on the river tax. No surprise here; he's voting yes, evidently because all the money we spent on Vision 2025 didn't do the trick.

Fellow Tulsa County voters, greater Tulsa is drifting and needs a transformative event to trigger our resurgence. We need economic stimulus, infrastructure improvement and restoration of our sense of community and pride in our physical appearance.

I can't find where Benjamin made this argument four years ago, but plenty of other spokespeople did, and I don't recall Benjamin speaking up at the time to say that Vision 2025 wouldn't be sufficiently transformative.

Reminds me of something Randi Miller said at a Republican club meeting last month, as reported by Steve Roemerman:

One of the things I've heard her say on this and other occasions is "I wanted to do the river during Vision 2025, but we did not have a plan in place." She is admitting that she knew, in 2003, that development of the river is what was needed to spur Tulsa's growth. She knew that our real vision for Tulsa was the river, but she decided to support 2025 anyway. It was said that something had to be done, and that this was our opportunity to help Tulsa grow, and this was the tax package to do it. But now she is trying to sell us on the idea that 2025 was some how deficient and the river is the real opportunity for growth? I now hear the same rhetoric as before: something has to be done..this is our one opportunity and if we don't pass this tax Tulsa wont grow. Well excuse me if I don't buy it. If Randi knew this needed to be done in 2003, she should have shown real leadership and fought Vision 2025. I have to say it would be a much easier sell if we were not already over-burdened with the 2025 sales tax.

Benjamin gets a bit off-message in trying to minimize the cost to a typical household:

As voters we can make great strides in our river development by approving a limited seven year, 0.4 percent tax increase that each month amounts to about the price of a movie ticket for a family of four.

I think he meant to say that a family of four would sacrifice the price of a single movie ticket each month, but it comes across as, "You're going to have to cancel your monthly family movie night so you can pay for this tax." It's not as bad as that -- the family can still go, but dad will have to stay home.

I wasn't familiar with this idiom with which he starts a paragraph:

Least I mention Oklahoma City?

Anyone want to parse that for me?

Roscoe Turner, Tulsa's most believable city councilor, drills for the truth, in an open letter to bored Tulsa hipsters:

Those who believe the Tulsa metropolitan area has nothing to offer and must spend tax dollars developing the river to keep our young professionals entertained must be socially challenged. There are so many things to do in the Tulsa area that some have to plan and schedule weeks and months ahead of time to make sure they don't miss those activities in which they are most interested. But, for those nay-sayers who think there is nothing to do around here, I've pulled together the following list of great things to do in the Tulsa area:

1. Catch a TU football game at Chapman Stadium (formerly known as Skelly Stadium)

2. Check out a 66ers basketball game at the historic Fairgrounds Pavilion

3. The Tulsa Opera is going into its 60th year in Tulsa

4. The Tulsa Ballet has been declared one of the best in the world

5. The Old Lady On Brady is a great place to find a concert

6. Tulsa's floating amphitheatre usually has a movie night

7. Octoberfest

8. Mayfest

9. When was the last time you were at the Tulsa Zoo?

10. The Oklahoma Aquarium

11. Enjoy a play at Tulsa's Little Theatre

12. Don't forget Discoveryland

13. Eat fresh and buy local at the many community Farmer's Markets

14. Visit one of the area Herb Festivals

15. Shop the antique markets

16. Play a round of golf at one of the many area courses

17. Watch the Golden Hurricane play basketball at the Reynolds Center

18. Hike a trail at the Oxley Nature Center

19. Stay in shape walking or riding your bike on one of the many area trails

20. See what's happening at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame

21. Try your luck at Cherokee, Creek or Osage Casinos

22. Grab a concert at the Osage event center

23. Take a trip down Route 66

24. Walk through one of the many shows at the Quik Trip Center (formerly known as the Expo building)

25. Dine, shop, or see a movie at the Riverwalk

26. There's always something to see at the Bass Pro Shop

27. Tulsa Drillers

28. Tulsa Talons

29. Tulsa Oilers

30. Gilcrease Museum

31. Philbrook Museum

32. Tulsa Air & Space Museum

33. The American Theatre Company always puts on a great production

34. What's going on at the Tulsa Convention Center?

35. And soon, very soon-or so we're told, you can see SOMETHING at the new BOK Arena

Once you've made your way through this list you can start at the top and work your way back through it. This by no means is an exhaustive list of the wonderful things there are to do in the area, but it's a great start for those who have decided that they are bored and want the rest of us to foot the bill for their entertainment. There are many hard-working people who live paycheck to paycheck; many elderly who worked their whole lives to retire on a very limited income, these people cannot afford to pay more taxes for your entertainment - especially those who live in areas of Tulsa where the city has made promises and reneged on them time and time again.

So, get out and spend some of your young professional money and generate some tax revenue, and before long we will have the money to fix the streets, open swimming pools and recreation centers at our community parks, mow the grass in all areas of the city, fix broken water lines and provide public safety by hiring more police. Then maybe, just maybe, we can take a look at doing something with YOUR RIVER.

Roscoe H. Turner

I'll add three things to Councilor Turner's excellent list -- make a point to visit the following websites, on a regular basis, to learn about even more interesting things to do and places to go around Tulsa:

Last Thursday night, I was invited to a forum for the University of Tulsa's Earth Matters group. Steve Smith, who used to run an airboat on the Arkansas River, and attorney Rania Nasreddine spoke in support of the Tulsa County river sales tax, and I spoke against, as did Dan Weber, a student and member of the group.

Dan read out several passages on the nature and ecosystem of the Arkansas River from the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan and from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arkansas River Coalition. Here are links to Dan's references, for your further reading on the issue of the proposed river projects and their impact on the creatures who live in and along the river:

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Federally Listed Threatened and Endangered Species in Oklahoma

(Threatened and endangered species that may be affected by changes to the Arkansas River include the bald eagle, the interior least tern, the piping plover, and the American burying beetle.)

The Arkansas River Coalition, which has among its goals to "[p]romote clean water and a healthy natural habitat along the river and its tributaries and [p]romote improved natural areas with a good mix of recreational space."

The Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan includes a habitat assessment in chapters 4 and 5 of the Phase II plan (note: this is a 38 MB PDF).

I've never been that interested in ecology, and have been as prone as any good right-winger to pooh-pooh the "environmentalist wackos" who hold up public works projects out of concern for some seemingly insignificant species, but I found the following quote in one of the Fish and Wildlife Service documents from Aldo Leopold. It contains a sentiment that resonates with me as a conservative and an engineer.

The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.

As a social conservative and an amateur student of cities, I'd say the same is true of social conventions and the urban fabric.

UPDATE: Be sure not to miss the op-ed in Saturday's Tulsa World by Jerry Brabander, field supervisor for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who writes:

The Sept. 30 Tulsa World Opinion page contained several opinion pieces and reader responses related to the proposed plan. Questions and answers presented by World staff included information related to potential impacts to river habitat, wildlife in general, least terns, eagles and river flows.

In our view, some of the answers were inaccurate. We support an organized plan for the Arkansas River that minimizes impacts to fish and wildlife resources, but the proposed plan is largely conceptual and does not include details about how impacts would be addressed, minimized and mitigated.

For example, the potential impact on the river's habitat and wildlife has not been studied extensively. The only existing fisheries study, conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, indicates that the effects of low water dams (LWD) on fish could be substantial. Building new tern nesting islands (to replace the four to six tern nesting areas that would be flooded or affected) in the created lakes would not be effective, if the terns don't have adequate forage fish to eat. Similar questions exist concerning effects on nesting and foraging bald eagles.

The proponents of the Tulsa County river sales tax are claiming that billions in private development hang upon the outcome of Tuesday's vote. Specifically, they're claiming that the $1,000 million "River District" project in Jenks, the $500 million "Tulsa Landing" project proposed for the west bank at 21st Street, and the $50 million South Village development in Bixby are all dependent on passage of the tax.

South Village is on a part of the river that won't be modified by any of the projects in this tax. The project will be the beneficiary of a $5 million rebate of sales taxes from the City of Bixby. The linked World story doesn't say, but I would assume that this is being done by means of a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district. The developer spends money for site preparation up front, then is reimbursed for those expenses by the increase in sales taxes generated within the TIF district. The linked story quotes developer Tim Remy saying that his project is not dependent on the proposed Tulsa County river sales tax.

River District in Jenks would have some frontage along the lake created by a low-water dam south of the Creek Turnpike bridge, but developer Lynn Mitchell has said that the project will go forward regardless of the outcome of the sales tax vote. The 330 acres has already been purchased. The Jenks City Council has given preliminary approval to a TIF District, and the Jenks school district, one of the key taxing bodies which must approve a TIF, has expressed its support.

Under the TIF plan, some of the increased tax revenues generated from developments within the River District would be transferred to the developer to cover approved expenses....

City Attorney Stephen Oakley said expenses qualifying for reimbursement would include floodplain and riverbank stabilization, roads, utilities and gas lines....

"I think it's the way a TIF district should be done -- it's entirely performance-based," Mitchell said. "We go in and pay for all the infrastructure out of our own pocket and then we come in and build the value up on the property by putting up buildings." ...

How will it work?: The proposed TIF district now generates about $13,000 a year in property taxes, which will continue to be collected and distributed, Oakley said.

The developer would be reimbursed from city sales tax revenues generated in the district and from increased property taxes as the development becomes more established, Oakley said. Jenks has a 3 percent city sales tax; the developer would receive one-third of that money, or one cent on every dollar of sales.

"They'll have certain items that qualify for reimbursement," Oakley said. "It's pay as you go. We're not bonding or advancing funds for any of it. It's all dependable on what the development generates out there."

That leaves the west bank development proposed by the developer that built Branson Landing, but that project isn't dependent on any of the "water in the river" projects or specifically on Tuesday's sales tax package, but on the availability of a large enough piece of contiguous land. As we've discussed, a TIF district can be used to fund land acquisition and other site preparation that would be needed for that development.

Since none of the big commercial development projects require passage of Tuesday's Tulsa County river sales tax to move forward, and in fact two of them are already moving forward, it's disingenuous for tax supporters to count any of those amounts as private investment that would be "generated" by this $282 million public "investment." Those who are including these amounts in their "private-to-public" ratio calculations in order to justify their support for a tax increase are standing on thin ice.

But what I'm really wondering about tonight is how they figure the value of these commercial projects. Riverwalk Crossing Phase I was described by leasing agent Doug Walman as a $26 million project. The proposed Tulsa Landing site, for example, is about 6 or 7 times bigger than Riverwalk Crossing, so how does that development manage to be 20 times as pricey? That's not a rhetorical question; I'd really like to know.

From a January 11 press release from then newly installed County Commissioner Fred Perry, regarding a county river authority and riverfront commercial development (emphasis added):

Perry said that he believed that public money should only be spent on infrastructure that "cleans up the river and the river bank and/or puts more water in the river and possibly other structural improvements to the river itself. If that is done, private developers and philanthropic individuals and foundations will facilitate the development as they would in any private sector endeavor."

In a related area, Commissioner Perry said, "At the suggestion of Skiatook developer Ron Howell, I visited Branson Landing last October. Shortly thereafter I met with Rick Huffman, along with Commissioner Miller and Mr. Howell, and encouraged him to seriously consider Tulsa. Subsequently he came to Tulsa, toured the river and began talks with the City of Tulsa regarding a site within the City of Tulsa. The Branson project is extremely impressive and something similar would be great for Tulsa whether or not more comprehensive river infrastructure work takes place. I stand ready to help as it relates to any potential development in Tulsa County," Perry said.

Of the funding package that Fred Perry voted to put on next Tuesday's ballot, more than $100,000,000 would going to projects that don't fit the criteria he set out in January for the appropriate use of public money: The $57.4 million site acquisition / bridge improvements / river studies / whatever fund, the two pedestrian only bridges, and the downtown connector.

The main topic of that press release was Perry's objection to the creation of a Tulsa County authority to oversee river development. Such an authority would be created if next Tuesday's vote is approved.

I made reference in this week's UTW column to the review process to which "The Channels" proposal (12-mile-long lake, islands in the river, removal of the west bank between 11th and 21st) was subjected last fall, a process that was skipped for the many projects in next Tuesday's sales tax vote that are not in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP).

Last fall when The Channels were proposed, officials set up a three-month-long process to study the proposal and consider whether it should be incorporated into the ARCMP. It was described as "an expeditious but rigid technical review."

There were several technical committees examining the impact of The Channels proposal on the ecosystem, including stormwater drainage and endangered species. In the course of the process, many new concerns came to light, issues that might have been lost in a rush to the ballot.

A fifty-member advisory committee would have decided whether to recommend The Channels for incorporation into the ARCMP. Then the matter would have been considered by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the Tulsa County Commission, and the Tulsa City Council, as an amendment to the ARCMP and the Comprehensive Plan.

All of these steps had to be completed before the County Commission would submit a tax package for The Channels for voter approval.

INCOG had had a timeline for the review process on its website, but it's long since disappeared. I had transcribed the Channels timeline into an entry, however, so that people could look at the timeline without having to download and open a PDF.

It transpired that the timeline wasn't adequate. Advisory committees wanted questions answered, and the process of answering them took too long to meet the planned November 1 date for a TMAPC public hearing on the project.

Still, it's noteworthy and praiseworthy that there was a formal review process, and the parties involved took it seriously enough to give the process the time it required. I still don't understand why this process was skipped this time around.

At Thursday night's TU Earth Matters forum on the river tax, Kirby Crowe of PMg said I was incorrect in placing the "downtown connector" in the category of projects on next Tuesday's ballot that are not found in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP). He's right: I had overlooked this brief mention on p. 117 in section 8.4.4 (Area/Site Plan), part of section 8.4 (Zink Lake Riverfront).

Connections to Downtown: As discussed earlier in this study, the Zink Lake area has excellent proximity to downtown Tulsa. There are tremendous opportunities for natural benefits between the central business district and this key section of the riverfront. Boulder Avenue and Denver Avenue provide strong linkages between the Arkansas River and downtown Tulsa. There is also potential for a trolley that will link key downtown and riverfront attractions. Another important connection between the Zink Lake riverfront district and downtown is planned near the proposed Route 66 Center and Plaza. As illustrated in Figure 8.4-2, the planned Centennial Walk will provide a pedestrian linkage to the southwest corner of downtown Tulsa. To futher enhance the appearance of downtown at its prominent southwest corner, the Master Plan proposes the replacement of the unattractive sloped concrete wall that is adjacent to the Tulsa Regional Medical Center. By creating terraced landscape planters in this highly visible area, a much more attractive gateway to downtown Tulsa and Zink Lake is achieved.

Here's theTulsa County river sales tax ballot resolution language that refers to "connectors from downtown":

Bridging East and West Arkansas River Banks and Downtown, including but not limited to pedestrian River crossings at 41st Street and 61st Street ($30 million), and connectors from downtown Tulsa to the Arkansas River and transportation corridor studies ($15 million).

It might be most accurate to put this $15 million into the "it depends" category, like the $57.4 million 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." "Including but not limited to" opens the door for spending the money on items that aren't in the ARCMP, and it's hard to believe that the cost of modifying the TRMC retaining wall and putting in Centennial Walk sidewalk pavers is going to approach $15 million.

Still, in the interests of accuracy, there is a brief discussion of connectors between the riverfront and downtown in the ARCMP.

We've won the argument. They're reduced to saying, "Voting yes is positive, voting no is negative. And you wouldn't want to be negative, right?"

At the TU Earth Matters forum, the vote yes side didn't bother refuting the factual points I've raised, but they dismissed them as poking holes. Anyone can poke holes in anything, they said. They even dragged out the old "N" word -- "naysayer". When you use the word "naysayer," you've given up on winning the argument, and you're treating the audience as a mindless mob that you hope to sway.

The latest TV ad -- stark black lettering on a white background -- says that Tulsa County wasn't built on "no," and that young adults prefer cities who say yes.

I don't know about that, but I know that young adult males prefer young adult females who say yes. (But only up to a point; a "girl who cain't say no" tends to be used and discarded by the men in who flit in and out of her life. Consult this book for details. And plenty of "cities who say yes" have found themselves treated in a similar way by the big companies and sports teams they've said yes to. Find 'em, fleece 'em, and forget 'em.)

Casinos prefer gamblers who say yes. Vacation timeshare salesmen prefer people who say yes to buying a week's worth of condo. Saying no cuts into their bottom line.

You have to say no to the wrong things in order to have the opportunity to say yes to the right things.

A lot of "no" went into building Tulsa County. Building a successful business, building a stable family, building institutions like churches and schools and political parties and civic clubs all require saying "no" to one's own tendencies to slothfulness and selfishness.

George Kaiser, I suspect, is a man of self-discipline and self-denial. He built his life, his family, and his business on saying "no": No to blowing off homework. No to getting drunk and sleeping through his Harvard classes. No to abandoning his wife and children for a trophy wife. No to ruinous extravagance. No to too-good-to-be true business deals. No to bad bank loans. Those are all good noes. I'd bet he's said a lot more noes (implicit or explicit) than yesses in his life. Every yes to the right thing required at least one no or maybe many noes to the wrong thing.

Tulsa County voters have very limited options on Tuesday. The County Commissioners are only allowing us to say yes to their river proposal. If we want to say yes to a different approach to financing and developing the river, we must first say no to the one on Tuesday's ballot.

Wouldn't it have been nice if they'd offered us a multiple choice?

1. TULSA COUNTY VOTE: The low-water dams -- two new, one old. (I'll take their word that the three dams work as a system.)

(A) Use the Vision 2025 money you already have to fix Zink Lake and to proceed with engineering and the permitting application on the other two dams. Once you get the permits (if you get them), you can come back and ask us for more money (assuming we don't have enough in Vision 2025 and haven't received that Federal $50 million).

(B) Raise our county sales taxes now by four-tenths of a cent for 18 months to fund the dams.

(C) Raise our county sales taxes now by that annoying 1/12th of a cent for seven years to fund the dams.

2. CITY OF TULSA VOTE: The living river and the kayaking area. (The kayaking area seems to have been lumped in with the Zink Dam modifications. It's not entirely clear.)

(A) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to pay for these projects.

(B) Not now.

3. CITY OF TULSA VOTE: West bank land acquisition and preparation.

(A) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to buy and prep the land.

(B) Use a TIF district (no tax rate increase) to fund buying and preparing the land.

(C) Don't do either.

4. CITY OF TULSA VOTE: 41st St bridge.

(A) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to build a $15 million "Cadillac" pedestrian bridge

(B) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to build a $5 million "Chevy"
pedestrian bridge

(C) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to build a $20 million traffic and pedestrian bridge at 41st St. (ARMCP chapter 10 estimate from 2005 was about $13 million for this kind of bridge.)

(D) None of the above.

5. CITY OF TULSA VOTE: 61st St bridge.

(A) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to build a $15 million "Cadillac" pedestrian bridge

(B) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) to build a $5 million "Chevy"
pedestrian bridge

(C) None of the above.

6. CITY OF TULSA VOTE: Downtown connector

(A) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) for $15 million to explore and maybe build or maybe just study a "downtown connector," whatever the heck that is.

(B) Raise our city sales taxes by (appropriate amount and duration) for $2 million to explore and maybe build or maybe just study a "downtown connector," whatever the heck that is.

(C) None of the above.

The private donors could have then decided which of the outcomes were necessary conditions for their donations. The proponents and opponents could have presented voters with the pros and cons for each proposition.

The choices above would allow voters to say yes to some choices and no to others. I count about 78 different ways to say yes to river development, and one way to say no to everything.

The County Commissioners have once again set up a false dilemma: We can't get what we want unless they get what they want.

You want funding for research centers at our state college campuses? You want to update the convention center? You can't have either of those things, we were told four years ago, unless you vote to build an arena.

There are other ways to create the kind of places we all seem to want on the river. There are ways to "make our river happen" that don't hinder the ability of cities to finance basic public services. There are ways to "make our river happen" that don't raise tax rates.

The reason we weren't offered those alternatives is because they don't give County Commission what they want -- control of that four-tenths of a cent that Tulsa County voters approved for the Boeing 7E7 final assembly plant, a tax that never went into effect because Boeing stayed in Washington state. The county wants to tie up that money before the municipalities get hold of it.

Meanwhile, the construction companies want a plan that includes as much excavation and concrete pouring and heavy construction work as possible. A plan that just finishes the promised low-water dams doesn't accomplish that.

I can't read his mind or his heart, but I suspect Mr. Kaiser was after a plan that would build the concept developed by Bing Thom and the other consultants that were paid by his foundation, with the pedestrian bridges and the channelization of the river. A plan that only has what Tulsans seem to want most -- the low-water dams and a commercial promenade on the west bank -- doesn't accomplish his vision.

If saying no makes you a naysayer, the real naysayers in the current situation are the County Commissioners who said no to viable alternatives that were brought to their attention before they scheduled Tuesday's tax increase election. They chose to say no, not just to the alternative approaches, but no to the people who brought them forward. They chose to trust completely those people who said there's no way to make the river happen without raising county sales tax. They chose to dismiss alternatives out of hand and to turn their backs on the erstwhile supporters who offered them.

If saying no makes you a naysayer, George Kaiser is a naysayer, too. In person and through representatives, he was informed of the problems with his proposal and was offered alternative approaches that avoided those problems. He was evidently satisfied with the bargains he had struck with various officials and interest groups, so he said no to exploring the alternatives.

Credible alternatives are inconvenient to the proponents, because the existence of a credible alternative demolishes their carefully crafted false dilemma -- the illusion that the only choices are their way or not at all.

Jay Cronley asked in his column yesterday, "How will a No vote help the community or anybody in it?"

A no vote gives Tulsa County a chance to craft a river development plan that balances the desire to do something on the river with other civic needs.

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. -- Acts 17:11, NASB

The verse above describes the people of Berea, in Greece. After Paul the Apostle and his companions had been chased out of Thessalonica, they came to Berea and began preaching in the synagogue there. Rather than persecute Paul, they heard him out, and they did their own investigation to see whether the things Paul said were in the Hebrew scriptures concerning the Messiah really were there.

I saw the spirit of the Bereans at work Thursday morning in Rich Fisher, host of KWGS's Studio Tulsa.

Former street commissioner Jim Hewgley and I were in the KWGS studio yesterday morning to record a show that is airing today at 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., regarding our opposition to the proposed Tulsa County sales tax increase for river projects. I always enjoy being on the program. Rich is a capable interviewer, saying just enough to elicit interesting information from his guests and asking the kinds of questions an intelligent listener would ask.

Early in the program, about four minutes in, I was pointing out that most of the money in the package on next Tuesday's ballot is not in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan, and that the "living river" and the 41st and 61st Street pedestrian bridges came from the work Bing Thom did for the George Kaiser Family Foundation.

Rich felt certain he had seen the pedestrian bridges in the master plan on INCOG's website. So he actually reached over and stopped the computer program that was recording us. He didn't want to put my statements on the air if he wasn't certain that they were true.

So he went to the INCOG website, went to the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan page, and opened the file containing section 8 of the Phase II plan (warning -- very large PDF), which contains the nitty-gritty details. He acknowledged that I was correct, and we went on with the show.

Here's the audio from the show. You will hear the break about four minutes in, just before Rich Fisher, chuckling, says, "You've made your point." I only regret not pointing out on air what had just transpired, because listeners might think he was just getting me to move on to something else rather than conceding my point about the ARCMP.

Download StudioTulsa-20071004-16kbps.mp3

Weekend events

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Early voting ("absentee in-person") begins today. You can cast an absentee ballot Friday and Monday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Tulsa County Election Board, 555 N. Denver, just north of I-244. (It's in an old Safeway supermarket.) If there's any chance you might not be able to get to the polls on Tuesday, take advantage of the opportunity to cast your vote early. (See the Oklahoma State Election Board website to learn more about absentee voting in Oklahoma.

(In case you were wondering, as I was, Saturday early voting is only available for Federal elections.)

For bloggers, the Okie Blogger Roundup is Saturday, 4-6 at Hideaway Pizza on 15th Street.

Sunday morning at 10 a.m., I'll be speaking at All Souls Unitarian Church, 29th & Peoria. Other panel members will be Ken Neal, senior editor at the Tulsa World, Vic Vreeland, Mayor of Jenks, and Kevin Stubbs of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Former KOTV anchor Clayton Vaughn will be the moderator. Strictly speaking this is a church event, not a public meeting, but I suppose it would be as open to visitors as any church service would be.

Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., Johnny Rivers will be at the Tulsa State Fair singing "Secret Agent Man," "Memphis, Tennessee," and "The Poor Side of Town" among other hits.

Meanwhile on the north side of town, there will be a river tax debate and rally at Rudisill Library, just north of Pine on Hartford Ave (which is halfway between Cincinnati and Peoria).

According to the press release, City Councilors Jack Henderson and Roscoe Turner, State Sen. Randy Brogdon, Warren Blakely, and others will be speaking in opposition to the river tax. State Sen. Judy Eason-McEntyre and State Rep. Jabar Shumate will be speaking in support. The release says that Mayor Kathy Taylor and County Commissioner Randi Miller were invited to speak, but Taylor declined the honor.

There will be a vote no rally Monday at 5 p.m. at the vacant Albertson's at Pine and Peoria.

NOTE: Thursday morning, former Tulsa street commissioner Jim Hewgley and I will be on Studio Tulsa on KWGS 89.5. The show will air at 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., and a podcast will be available, which I will link here.

Did you know that next week's Tulsa County sales tax vote includes money to excavate bedrock beneath a four mile stretch of the Arkansas River? That's according to a statement made by Jean Letcher, campaign manager for the pro-tax campaign.

It was on a Studio Tulsa program that aired on October 24, 2006, an interview with Canadian architect Bing Thom, that we heard the first inklings of the plan that we will be voting on next week. Thom was talking about his work for the George Kaiser Family Foundation and mentioned pedestrian bridges at 41st and 61st and "theming" the river, ideas that aren't in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan, but will require most of the $282 million in the proposed Tulsa County sales tax.

When the "living river" notion was mentioned at the end of June, when the Kaiser / Thom plan was unveiled, and lobbying began to get the plan funded through county sales tax, I assumed that the $90 million "living river" -- narrowing the flow of water south of 31st Street to create a more constant stream -- would be implemented using wing dams. Steve Smith, who used to run airboat tours on the river, introduced me to the idea last September:

The river's flow can be directed and improved to create recreational opportunities--wing dams, for instance, which extend only part of the way into the river, can be used to direct the flow of the river to scour out a central channel, which is also less prone to sediment build-up because of the faster current.

Sand would build up behind the wing dams, which would create areas that could be used like many of our stormwater detention areas--a recreation space during normal conditions, but open to carry flood waters when needed.

This kind of dam, used to create a very narrow waterway near the PSO plant at 31st St. on the west bank of the river, for instance, is responsible for the existence of the Tulsa Wave, considered to be the best kayaking spot between the Rockies and the Appalachians. A wider gap between wing dams in other parts of the river would provide a tamer current for the rest of us to enjoy.

Smith's idea was to use wing dams all up and down the river, to allow navigation along its full length through Tulsa County, rather than the low-water dams that are being proposed.

At Tuesday night's Council District 2 forum on the sales tax, someone asked about the "living river" and I began to explain and describe wing dams (although I couldn't remember the term). But Jean Letcher stopped me and said I was incorrect: Wing dams would not be used for the living river.

Letcher said that a channel would be excavated into the bedrock, beneath the sand, with the idea that the water would flow into this deeper channel.

That would explain why this "living river" is the most expensive item on the ballot. I asked Letcher if core samples had been done to check the underlying geology. She said no.

I have been told that the bedrock under the river is checkerboard limestone. It's visible near the surface at the 11th Street bridge and about 1/2 mile south near the spring on the McBirney grounds. These outcrops served as natural fords for cattle and horses and, at low water, people on foot. It's buried under sand elsewhere along the river.

I've also been told, by Bill O'Brien, who has researched the history of the Arkansas River in this area, that in 1907, a chasm opened up beneath the riverbed near 61st Street. There was a noticeable drop in the river's level at Muskogee, and it was eventually discovered that some of the river was draining into this subterranean void. I assume the void eventually filled to capacity, or perhaps collapsed in on itself, and the river returned to normal.

I know that limestone is susceptible to cave formation; I don't know if this particular kind is more or less vulnerable.

Digging into bedrock opens up questions of trapped contaminants (oil seepage from decades past), breaching or modifying the water table, and changing the local ecosystem drastically. I'd have thought wing dams would have been a much less intrusive, more gradual way to accomplish the same goals.

(A 1999 study on groundwater vulnerability by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board ranked the Arkansas River river bed as an area of "very high" vulnerability to groundwater pollution.)

That I'm just hearing about this a week before the election again points to how this plan has been rushed forward. If the same process was being used that was used last year for evaluating The Channels, there would have been time to make the public aware of these details and for committees of experts to evaluate the details for environmental and hydrological impact.

The developer of Branson Landing has announced plans for a $500,000,000 retail and entertainment complex on the west bank of the Arkansas River at 21st Street. The plans would include a 20,000 to 22,000 seat ballpark intended for a Class AAA baseball team. The deal is being described as contingent on passage of next Tuesday's Tulsa County sales tax increase. A few thoughts:

(1) The real contingency is the acquisition of the concrete plant just north of 23rd Street. The rest of the land is already owned by the City of Tulsa. Until March of this year, as part of the groundwork they laid for The Channels, the Warren Foundation held an option to purchase that property for $37 million. With the concrete plant, the City could offer potential developers nearly three-quarters of a mile of riverfront, roughly a quarter of a mile deep -- roughly 100 acres. What the City already has is two non-contiguous parcels, each with about a quarter of a mile or riverfront.

(2) We don't need to raise the Tulsa County sales tax rate in order for the City to acquire the concrete plant. Tax increment financing, authorized by Oklahoma's Local Development Act (62 O. S. 850 - 869), would provide a sufficient revenue stream to pay for acquisition of the land. A city can establish a TIF district to capture incremental property and sales tax revenues to be used within that district for a number of purposes. Those purposes are listed in 62 O. S. 854, and the list includes land acquisition. A TIF provides financing for redevelopment of an area without increasing the tax burden.

(3) A west bank TIF should generate sufficient revenue to fund land acquisition. The TIF for the proposed $1,000 million River District development in Jenks involves capturing the full ad valorem increment and one cent of the sales tax increment. (The other two cents would go into Jenks' general fund.) The Jenks River District TIF is expected to capture $220 million. Tulsa's west bank needs less than 25% of that amount.

Tulsa Hills, an $80 million retail center at 71st and U. S. 75, is expected to generate an extra $1.1 million a year in property tax and an extra $5 million in city sales tax, which should quickly repay the $13.5 million in bonds for projects in the Tulsa Hills TIF.

A west bank TIF would be aided by the fact that most of the land is City-owned and therefore does not produce ad valorem taxes, so the baseline for the ad valorem increment would be the current taxes paid by the concrete plant. There are no retail outlets currently in the TIF, so the baseline for the sales tax increment would also be low.

(4) If we do vote to give Tulsa County $282 million in additional sales tax money, there's no guarantee they'll use it for west bank land acquisition. There are no specific promises for west bank land acquisition in the ballot resolution, the signed and notarized commitment by the County Commissioners for how the tax will be used. Here is the Tulsa County river tax ballot resolution language concerning the money that may be used for land acquisition:

Arkansas River corridor land acquisition, infrastructure, bridge improvements and site development, and Arkansas river studies for Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Sand Springs and Bixby.

There's no guarantee that any of the $57.4 million will be spent in Tulsa, much less on the west bank.

(5) 20,000 to 22,000 seats is an unlikely size for a minor league ballpark. The only AAA ballparks with that kind of capacity are Dunn Tire Park in Buffalo (opened in 1988, 20,050), Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha (opened in 1948, 22,000), and PGE Park in Portland (opened in 1956, 19,800). Buffalo built their stadium with expansion potential, in hopes of attracting a major league expansion club or relocation. Omaha's park is home to the College World Series. Portland's park was built in the '20s and served as a football stadium and greyhound track before being adapted for baseball in the '50s.

The newest AAA parks range in capacity from 10,000 to 15,000. At 10,995 seats, Tulsa's Drillers Stadium has more seating than 13 of the 30 AAA parks. All the talk of a new park for the Drillers has emphasized that a smaller capacity is desirable.

I suppose a 20,000 seat stadium could be used as an outdoor concert venue, but with that seating capacity, wouldn't it compete with the BOk Center for concerts?

(6) Getting a AAA team to Tulsa would be exceedingly difficult. Each major league club has exactly one AAA affiliate. In 1991, Tulsa was one of five finalist cities for a new AAA club to coincide with the expansion of the National League. The winners were Ottawa and Charlotte, and the Denver team, displaced by the Rockies, moved to New Orleans. In 1998, Memphis and Durham were selected for new AAA franchises.

It's not clear whether the intention is to have Drillers owner Chuck Lamson acquire a AAA franchise and move it here. If owners of another AAA franchise wanted to move to Tulsa, there are territorial issues that would have to be resolved.

(7) Has the City analyzed the possibility of a west bank TIF, and if so, where are the numbers? If they haven't, why not? This west bank concept has been on the table for almost a year. Shouldn't the TIF possibility have been fully explored before asking the voters to increase tax rates?

Say no to plutocracy

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An edited version of this column appeared in the October 3, 2007, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is no longer available online. My contemporaneous blog entry linking the column is here. Posted online October 6, 2017.

Say no to plutocracy

By Michael D. Bates

"Does that disturb you?"

My lunch companion asked the question after a lengthy lull in an otherwise lively conversation. I can only guess at what my countenance must have conveyed.

He had just been explaining to me how we wouldn't need to worry about elected officials acting imprudently with the new river tax money. The $100 million or so in private donations would give the donors leverage over the elected officials, and the donors intended to use it.

I thought back to a Step-Up Tulsa meeting I had attended last year. This group also talked about using the billions that Tulsa's large charitable foundations have accumulated, not simply to spend it directly for useful projects, but as a lever to shift government priorities, to reorient the spending of taxpayer dollars to fit the priorities of the private foundations.

Even if I assume that the foundations' goals are laudable, there's something deeply wrong with that approach.

I struggled to explain why the notion troubled me to the point of speechlessness. Finally I said, "Instead of using this money leverage to get elected officials to do what you think they should, why not help intelligent, creative, and discerning critical thinkers get elected to office?"

In the realm of politics, it's still possible for the will of the majority to trump the will of the wealthy. Sure, more money means their message gets more exposure, means they can hire focus groups to craft their image and message to resonate with the voters, means they can identify their supporters and badger them with phone calls on election day until they go vote.

But for all that money, they can still lose. If you don't believe me, ask President John Connally, California Sen. Michael Huffington, and Oklahoma Governor Gary Richardson.

You can knock on enough doors, marshal passionate supporters, give expression to the voters' deep-seated concerns, and, when the votes are counted, you can beat someone even if the other side has millions to spend and you have only thousands.

There ought to be at least one realm of society which is not subject to the rule of the marketplace. Politics and governance shouldn't be up for sale to the highest bidder.

(By the same token, not every realm of society should be subject to the tyranny of the majority, either.)

To millionaires and billionaires seeking to use their wealth as leverage to mould public policy to their will, the most valued qualities in a public official would not be intelligence, critical thinking skills, or curiosity, but pliability and credulity.

They'd be best served by the kind of elected official who will nod his head vigorously and salivate when presented with wildly optimistic economic impact numbers. An official who asks for the rationale and basis for the numbers would be seen as an obstacle, not a public asset.

I don't often describe myself as horrified, appalled, nauseated, or outraged by some political development. Those words ought to be reserved for a truly visceral reaction - something that really makes one's hair stand on end, face go pale, stomach turn, or blood pressure rise, respectively.

The idea of the wealthy using their private charitable contributions as leverage to shift public priorities gives me the creeps.

As of September 24, the vote yes campaign has raised $1.1 million and spent nearly $700,000. That doesn't count money spent on charitable donations, campaign contributions, or threats of campaign contributions to a potential opponent in order to leverage key endorsements.

Even if they weren't persuaded by the problems with the specifics of the river sales tax proposal, I'd hope that Tulsa County residents would rebel against the sheer amount of money being expended to get this thing passed. Public priorities shouldn't be for sale to the highest bidder.


Here's a thought experiment regarding priorities:

You own a small café that has seen better days. The carpet is stained and torn, the booth seats are ripped, and the chairs wobble. The lights in the parking lot are broken, and customers occasionally get mugged. The food is good, but your sign (hidden by high weeds) advertises the least popular dish on the menu.

You have $2,000 available to try to rebuild your customer base. Should you:

(A) Use the $2,000 to fix the carpet, booths, chairs, and lights, pull the weeds, and improve your advertising?

(B) Use the $2,000 to build a beautiful koi pond in the lobby in hopes that it will attract enough new customers to bring in as much as $400 that you can then afford to fix the carpet, booths, chairs, and lights, pull the weeds, and improve your advertising?

Which answer do you think you'd get from the company that sells koi pond supplies?


So what should we do after next Tuesday, after we've voted down (I hope) the proposed county sales tax increase?

Use the Vision 2025 dollars that are already allocated for two new low water dams and the modifications for the existing Zink Lake dam at 31st Street to finish the engineering work for those projects. Develop and submit the application to the Corps of Engineers for a construction permit, a process likely to take at least two years.

In the meantime, county officials should lay out a clear month-by-month spending plan for Vision 2025 - what money is already committed for debt service and for remaining projects - and see if there's any room to move the funding of the promised construction of the dams higher up the priority list.

At the same time, county officials should keep an eye on sales tax receipts; if growth continues at its current pace, another $16 million could be available over and above the county's revenue estimates by the time the permits are granted.

Once the Corps has given its blessing, combine available Vision 2025 funds and Federal dollars. If there's still not enough to do the dam work, then and only then county officials should go to the voters for just enough extra tax dollars to finish those promised Vision 2025 projects. Any other river projects should go on a separate ballot item.

As for west bank land acquisition, Oklahoma's Local Development Act, specifically 68 O. S. 854, authorizes local governments to use revenues from a Tax Increment Finance district to acquire land. The City of The Village, an inner suburb of Oklahoma City, is using such an approach to redevelop its town center. Given that the TIF for Jenks' River District is projected to raise $220 million for that project, it's not hard to imagine that a City of Tulsa west bank development TIF could bring in enough money to acquire the concrete plant north of 23rd Street, which was valued last year at $37 million.

We can make our river happen without raising taxes.


The composition of the proposed Tulsa County sales tax package is a perfect example of the use of private leverage to override the plans and priorities of public officials.

Instead of allocating the full $282 million to implement projects in the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan, more than half of the project money ($135 million) and all of the private donations will be used to implement a plan for the river developed by Canadian architect Bing Thom under commission from the George Kaiser Family Foundation. You'll remember Bing Thom as the guy behind last fall's proposal called "The Channels."

The Kaiser/Thom plan is not The Channels, but like The Channels, the projects in the Kaiser/Thom plan are not part of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP). But a glance back through last fall's news coverage reveals that the two outside plans have been treated very differently.

Last fall when The Channels were proposed, officials set up a three-month-long process to study the proposal and consider whether it should be incorporated into the ARCMP. It was described as "an expeditious but rigid technical review."

There were several technical committees examining the impact of The Channels proposal on the ecosystem, including stormwater drainage and endangered species. In the course of the process, many new concerns came to light, issues that might have been lost in a rush to the ballot.

A fifty-member advisory committee would have decided whether to recommend The Channels for incorporation into the ARCMP. Then the matter would have been considered by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the Tulsa County Commission, and the Tulsa City Council, as an amendment to the ARCMP and the Comprehensive Plan.

All of these steps had to be completed before the County Commission would submit a tax package for The Channels for voter approval.

A year later, barely a month passed between the public announcement of the Kaiser/Thom proposal until the County Commission scheduled a vote. None of the process that was used for The Channels has been followed this year. The Kaiser/Thom proposal hasn't been brought forward as an amendment to the ARCMP and the Comprehensive Plan. Instead, the vote yes campaign is using sleight of hand to make voters believe that the proposed sales tax package is consistent with the ARCMP and the Comprehensive Plan.

A precedent was set with the process used to evaluate The Channels as an amendment to the ARCMP. That precedent wasn't followed with the Kaiser/Thom proposal currently before us. Why not?


As I file this story, there are rumblings that Sen. Jim Inhofe will announce his support for the tax increase. If tax backers expect this to sway conservative Republicans to vote yes, they're likely to be disappointed.

Tulsa County's grassroots conservatives aren't the sort to jump on bandwagons. Their loyalty to a politician is tied to his loyalty to the principles and issues that motivate their involvement in politics. When a Republican official deviates from those principles - for example, President Bush's support for amnesty for illegal immigrants - he alienates himself from his base of supporters and his approval ratings plummet.

The grassroots sentiment of the Tulsa County Republican Party was made plain in the platform that was adopted at February's county convention: "We oppose increasing taxes to fund river development projects. We support the use of TIF districts to facilitate river development. We urge Tulsa County Commissioners not to propose any increase in county sales tax."

Republican candidates and officials are free to deviate from the platform, but that deviation can come at a political cost.

If Inhofe backs the tax increase, will local conservatives still vote for his re-election to the Senate in 2008? Most likely. Will they volunteer, donate, and urge their friends to support him? That remains to be seen, but it will further damage the bond of trust with the grassroots that has carried Inhofe to one victory after another.


This is my last column before the October 9th election. Keep an eye on my blog, batesline.com, for in-depth analysis of last-minute developments.

Voyage to plutocracy

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This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is a collection of short pieces about next week's vote on the Tulsa County sales tax for river projects, but the overarching theme is government priorities and who should set them. I explain my qualms about private foundations using their massive wealth to shift priorities for public spending, offer a thought experiment involving a café and a koi pond, point out the contrast between the rigorous review process that The Channels underwent compared to the Kaiser/Bing Thom plan that we vote on next Tuesday, and wrap up with some thoughts on speculation about a last-minute Jim Inhofe tax hike endorsement.

I made a typo in the piece, incorrectly citing the section of the Oklahoma Local Development Act that authorizes the use of TIF proceeds for land acquisition. The correct citation is 62 O.S. 854. (For you non-lawyers, that's pronounced "Oklahoma Statutes, Title 62, Section 854.") The Local Development Act starts in section 850 of Title 62 and concludes with section 869.

Also in this issue, Brian Ervin has an election preview that ties together some of his earlier stories on the proposed county sales tax's claimed economic impact, environmental impact, and fiscal impact on municipalities.

The cover story this week, for the special restaurant issue, is about pizza, all kinds of pizza all over Tulsa.

And Jessica Naudziunas has a story on the Preserve Midtown effort and their upcoming October 16 public meeting on the issues of neighborhood conservation, teardowns, McMansions, and compatibility.

I got lazy back in September and neglected to link several of my Urban Tulsa Weekly columns. The column that came out on September 12, 2007, called "Show Your Work," dealt with the economic impact estimates that were developed for the Tulsa County river sales tax by the Tulsa Metro Chamber.

Click this link to view the economic impact spreadsheet developed by the Tulsa Metro Chamber's Bob Ball. It's PDF format. (Because of the way I scanned it, you'll need to either tell Adobe Reader to rotate it 90 degrees clockwise, or roll your head 90 degrees counter-clockwise. Or you could print it out and hold it right way up.

Please note that Ball did not provide UTW with an Excel spreadsheet file, which would have revealed a great deal about how the calculations were done. Instead, he provided a printout, which showed the resulting numbers without the formulae behind them.

Back at the end of August, UTW reporter Brian Ervin interviewed Ball about the assumptions in his economic numbers. A salient quote:

Since the $2.8 billion return is the top selling point for the river tax, UTW later contacted Ball for that "simple explanation" of how he arrived at that impressive number.

The initial capital investment figure is foundational to everything else, so Ball was asked how he came up with the $450 million in private investment that he added to the public funding and private donations.

"Through conversations with some developers," he answered.

He said he couldn't divulge exactly which developers, but that none had committed any specific amount of money for any particular development projects along the river.

"They were somewhat casual conversations," Ball explained.

"But, why wouldn't they want to develop? We've already got Riverwalk Crossing," he added.

During the City Council presentation, Neal had emphasized that the $450 million is "an extremely, extremely, extremely conservative number."

Ball told UTW that he utilized the IMPLAN economic analysis model, created by the Stillwater, Minn.-based IMPLAN Group, to calculate the economic impact of that estimated $786 million investment.

This is a good place to mention that two of the three large proposed riverfront private developments that have been claimed by proponents as dependent on this plan are already committed to moving forward regardless of next Tuesday's outcome, having already obtained tax incentives from their respective municipalities. It isn't right to include them in comparing public investment in this tax vs. private investment on the river.

Remy Cos. $50 million South Village lifestyle center, planned for the south bank of the Arkansas River in Bixby is moving forward with a $5 million tax increment finance (TIF) based incentive from the City of Bixby. That will be generated by a one-cent sales tax rebate to the developer for the first 10 years of operation. None of the dams, bridges, or river modifications in the Tulsa County sales tax package on next week's ballot will affect his development.

The $1,000 million River District in Jenks is also moving forward regardless. Jenks has approved a TIF district that is expected to bring in $220 million for project and development costs. Like Bixby's TIF, this one will also capture one cent of sales tax, as well as the ad valorem (property) tax.

A City of Tulsa TIF could be used for development on Tulsa's west bank at 21st Street. This should bring in enough money for land acquisition and site preparation to make way for a developer. Since we already have water in the river at 21st Street, any private investment at that location should not be counted as dependent on passage of the Tulsa County sales tax.

Two ORU professors and an adjunct professor who were fired late this summer have filed a lawsuit in District Court against Oral Roberts University, ORU President Richard Roberts, and several other university officials.

You can read the plaintiffs' petition here on the Fox 23 website (PDF format).

The suit alleges that Roberts directed Professor Tim Brooker to mobilize students and university resources to support the 2006 mayoral campaign of County Commissioner Randi Miller. Brooker says that he advised against involvement as a violation of the university's tax exempt status and as contrary to his personal policy for political science students getting practical campaign experience: "We don't do local politics because it turns neighbors into enemies." Roberts overruled his objections. The suit alleges that Roberts' order violated the school's articles of incorporation and the faculty and administrative handbook and policy statement.

When the IRS came calling a couple of months later, Brooker was told he was to be the fall guy (the suit alleges), to accept responsibility for the school's involvement in the Randi Miller campaign and to shield President Roberts and the school from any repercussions. He also would have to suffer disciplinary procedures for his violations of school policy, even though those violations were ordered by the administration.

Brooker later came into possession of an internal document -- a "compendium itemiz[ing] numerous and substantial acts of misconduct and improrpieties by Defendants ORU and ROBERTS." The lawsuit goes on to provide

a summary of the information contained in the draft of the internal Oral Roberts Ministry report developed by ORM Community and Governmental Liaision [sic], Stephanie Cantese [sic], sister-in-law of Richard ROBERTS. The report appears to be a confidential assessment of potential vulnerability for legal, moral, political and ethical problems of the ROBERTS family, Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and Oral Roberts University.... Some of the more salacious entries -- of which the Defendant ORU, Defendant ROBERTS, and members of the Board of Regents are painfully aware -- have been omitted from this Petition to preserve, as much as possible, the remaining positive image of the University.

What follows is four pages of small print that paints a picture of people who are treating the funds and assets of ORU and ORM as their own personal property.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs are Gary Richardson, who ran as an independent for Governor in 2002, and Paul T. Boudreaux. There are a number of sloppy typos in the petition, which surprises me -- the spelling of Stephanie Cantees' name, time line issues (saying that Brooker was hired by ORU in 2007, obviously a typo). I assume these would be corrected in an amended petition.

Oral Roberts University is an important asset to our community. I daresay it has attracted more energetic and entrepreneurial people to Tulsa as students who then become long-term residents than a dam or a pedestrian bridge or an arena ever will. Whoever is responsible for the decision, getting the university involved in Randi Miller's campaign for Mayor was foolish politically, legally, and ethically. This is a sad day for Tulsa.

MORE: I wrote a couple of blog entries about ORU's apparent involvement in the Randi Miller mayoral campaign:

Oh, are you in for it now! (January 27, 2006)

ORU really in for it now! (February 2, 2006)

That second entry links to Steve Roemerman's entry which includes the January 16, 2006, e-mail purportedly from Tim Brooker recruiting student involvement in Randi Miller's campaign.

UPDATE 2007/10/03: A couple of interesting comments were posted to today's Tulsa World story on the lawsuit, and it stirred some recollections.

To untangle the references: Brandon Brooker is the son of Tim and Paulita Brooker, two of the parties to the lawsuit. Toby is Toby Huyssen, who was Randi Miller's campaign manager. The second commenter is referring to an encounter at The Fountains, following the Republican Men's Club luncheon, when I asked Brooker about the Miller campaign recruitment e-mail.

Toby Huyssen later took the blame for sending the Miller campaign recruitment e-mail under Brooker's name. I remember thinking, when the Tulsa World finally reported on the Brooker e-mail on February 27, 2006, that it was strange that Brooker seemed to defend the e-mail when I asked him about it on January 20. If he hadn't actually written it, why didn't he tell me that he hadn't written it and that they were trying to find out who had?

I also recall someone tipping me off to the departure of a couple of ORU students from LaFortune's campaign, something hinted at in the comments below. I seem to recall it was mentioned in the ORU student newspaper. If I remember more, I'll post it here.

1. 10/3/2007 2:16:50 AM, Anna , Dr.Roberts i have gotten 4 calls we are all signing papers to send to you. We saw Mrs. Broker write the e mail - she was mad after son left Lafortune's campaign brooker got Toby Brandon's job as campaign manager. Brandon is a skilled as a campaign manager amd thats why his blogs above Brandon I notice he is leaving off Brooker said he got a nice letter of reccommendation to take with him to Coburn when he left the campaign to get a full time job for Coburn. Toby had no experience running a campaign. We all knew Toby lived in an off campus apartment with your son Brandon.We went there to hear him play his guitar. The students are right you live in Silom Springs and drive every day, Toby's mom lives in Germany. Toby told 3 of us he agreed to take the hit about writting the email when it looked like Dr. Mrs. Brooker was going to get in trouble for sending it. Your husband came to him and reminded him about doctoring up his admission papers for him so he could live off campus with Brandon, Toby told us he felt obligated. We got scared that he might be kicked out of school, the computers are password protected and have all our grades and information and under firpa thats big- Brooker promised he could get Swales to go along with a slap on the wrist.

2. 10/3/2007 2:28:56 AM, current student, tulsa
Brooker being forced to do Miller's campaign absolute bogus. Brooker's roommate toby was fired by Mayor Lafortune's campaign and Brooker let everyone know how furious he was. Brooker and Dr. Mrs. Brooker his wife sent out a firey e mail "we have been challenged and we must defend our honor" and made a plea for us to join with her in Randi campaign as our honor has been challenged by Lafortune. Dr. Roberts was out of the country because my roommate went with him on medical missions. So how did Dr. Roberts force him? Before President Roberts ever came out for Randi Miller brooker was organizing the young republicans and getting the on board to seek revenge on LaFortune who he bleived treated his sons roommate bad. This is pure crap. Til now i went with the story Dr. Brooker but no more.

First you make Toby take the hit for your wife then you lie and say Toby sent it we had wittnesses who are you kidding. you talked bad about chris medlock because michale bates when we accompied you to the republican mens club forum michale challenged you all the way back you went after chris medlock and told us you are taking him on personally. This had nothing to do with President Roberts and I can give names of those who heard you say this. I worked for Kathy Taylor got credit and my roommate did MAyor Lafortune you said at the beginning of class we could work on any campaign for credit. Come on students if you were in his class that semester come out you know what he is saying. Dr. Brooker you resigned no one forced you out.. you did the same in 2006 when i was a first year student you told us you resigned. Many the got tired of it.

Let me try to parse that last paragraph:

First, you [Tim Brooker] make Toby [Huyssen] take the hit for your wife, then you lie and say Toby sent [the Miller campaign recruitment e-mail]. We had witnesses [to the contrary]. Who are you kidding? You talked bad about Chris Medlock, because Michael Bates, when we accompanied you to the Republican Men's Club forum, Michael challenged you. All the way back [from the luncheon to ORU], you went after Chris Medlock and told us you are taking him on personally.

TRACKBACK: Tyson Wynn has an excellent post looking at this lawsuit through the lens of financial accountability for religious institutions.

In much the same way that bad corporate citizens cost us all eventually, bad ministries cost all ministries eventually. No pastor I know would dare use God's coffers as his own personal piggy bank.... And the misery of it all is that because this has happened (if the allegations are true) to the big boys, there will be a regulatory response, placing more burden and regulation on all non-profits, from national and statewide ministries to the local church....

I currently serve on the Board of Directors for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. I have never seen a better run, more financially accountable and transparent organization. At our recent meeting, we learned that the BGCO has received an "unqualified good" rating from our external auditors again for 2006. If memory serves, the BGCO has had "unqualified good" ratings since the 1920s. Not only that, but all of our affiliates do, too.

The heart of the problem: Regents who won't rule, who are there as administration yes men, not a body holding the administration accountable for their stewardship.

Having worked in higher education, I can state that though woefully excessive in Roberts' case, university administration (especially presidents) are afforded great discretion and great potential for corruption in all institutions, private or public. What is needed are strong, independent Regents that are more committed to educational excellence, public accountability, and financial transparency than to the man or woman at the helm. Regent literally means a "ruler" or "one who rules." The more you deal with higher education, the less you see Regents as rulers and more as lobbyists and rubber stamps.

The list of ORU's regents, found in their 2005 IRS Form 990 filing (starting on page 18 of the PDF; kudos to the World for posting it), is a who's who of Word-Faith televangelists: Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Jerry Savelle, Benny Hinn, John Hagee, Marilyn Hickey, Jesse Duplantis.

River tax forums

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I've been invited to speak to a few river tax forums which are open to the public.

Tonight (Tuesday) at 6 p.m. at Webster High School, 40th & Yukon (a couple of blocks west of Union and a block north of 41st Street, west of the river) I'll be speaking at a forum hosted by District 2 Councilor Rick Westcott.

Thursday night at 7 p.m., I'll be speaking at a River Vote Forum sponsored by TU Earth Matters. It will be held at the University of Tulsa, Keplinger Hall (6th & Gary), Room M8. They're advertising the event with the tagline, "Hear a panel of local advocates and opponents separate the facts from the propaganda before you vote.

Sunday morning at 10 a.m., I'll be speaking at All Souls Unitarian Church, 29th & Peoria. Other panel members will be Ken Neal, senior editor at the Tulsa World, Vic Vreeland, Mayor of Jenks, and Kevin Stubbs of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Former KOTV anchor Clayton Vaughn will be the moderator. Strictly speaking this is a church event, not a public meeting, but I suppose it would be as open to visitors as any church service would be.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the pro-river tax campaign just told a thousand-word lie.

Below is a thumbnail of a mailer that was sent to Broken Arrow voters. Click the image to see the full-size (700 KB).


Notice the drawing in the photo, labeled "Broken Arrow Riverfront." That's a conceptual sketch from the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP), the long-term wish list for riverfront development that was developed from 2003 to 2005.

NOT ONE CENT of the money in this plan will build what you see depicted in that drawing, but the image and text of the piece is designed to give Broken Arrow voters the impression that voting yes will give them that riverfront. It takes a voter familiar with the list of projects in the ballot resolution for next Tuesday's tax election to see how the ad parses words in a deliberate effort to mislead.

By the way, Don Mullican, the Broken Arrow citizen quoted in the piece, is the Chief Financial Officer of Kaiser-Francis Oil Company. George Kaiser, the President and CEO of Kaiser-Francis Oil Company, is Don's boss.

Although I have my political differences with George Kaiser, I believed him to be an honorable man, and I believed that he would use his influence over the vote yes campaign to insist that it be conducted honorably and honestly. It's hard for me to believe that he would want his name associated with this flyer or the overall effort to confuse the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan and Tuesday's tax package in the minds of the voters.

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