Martinson to Chamber: "an incredible level of arrogance"

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Over the transom late last week, I received a copy of a scathing letter, dated May 23, written by Tulsa City Councilor Bill Martinson to Stan Lybarger and Mike Neal, Chairman and CEO, respectively, of the Tulsa Metro Chamber. Martinson, who has headed up the Council's effort to develop a financial package for fixing our streets, was responding to a May 22 letter from Lybarger and Neal to the City Council, urging them not to set a streets funding election for July 29, the date of the Oklahoma primary election.

In the extended entry, you'll find the text of the Chamber's letter (the part I have at least -- from Martinson's reply, there seems to be at least one page missing from the copy of the Chamber's letter I received), followed by Martinson's reply.

A few highlights from Martinson's letter:

Setting aside the condescending tone of your letter for a moment, it conveyed a serious lack of understanding as to the development and status of the Council's proposal to fix Tulsa's streets....

Your contempt for Tulsa's City Council was apparent in your comments. To assume that the Council and City staff would advance an initiative of this magnitude to the voters and ignore fundamental due diligence and statutory requirements is arrogant and absurd. Several of your other bullet points revealed an appalling level of ignorance....

I must admit that I found your comment about ROI on campaigns rather amusing considering your recent track record. Your temerity to condescend to the Council on voter behavior, when by definition, each City Councilor has a better record with the voters than the Chamber, again demonstrates an incredible level of arrogance. We have scheduled public meetings and will have programs on TGOV and information available on our web site to share the results of our research and present our plan. The process has been, and will remain, transparent. I have great faith in the voters, if they are given the facts and have an opportunity to make an informed decision. You may consider it a novel approach, but I would rather tell the citizens the truth and let them decide rather than attempting to manipulate the outcome.

Congratulations on your success in Oklahoma City to secure $25 million in funding for low water dams on the river. I believe we all support river development and welcome the day when you feel the same passion to convince the Tulsa delegation to support our transportation system....

The Chamber appears fixated on glamour and glitz to enhance economic development....

I had hoped that this initiative to fix our streets would be an opportunity to heal the community. I believe the Council, administration, and citizens are prepared to face the issue and am disappointed that the Chamber feels threatened with that initiative....

It's my understanding that there has been some conciliation between Martinson and the Chamber. Hopefully, the Chamber understands that a well-designed package focused on infrastructure rather than a glitzy, expensive campaign, is what will win over the voters, regardless of when the package is on the ballot.

I admire Martinson for standing up to the Chamber's arrogant attitude. That's the kind of leadership that the Gang of Five demonstrated and that we still need from the City Council.

(UPDATE: I received the missing bits of the Chamber letter and have incorporated them below.)


Here's the May 22, 2008, letter from Chamber Chairman Stanley A. Lybarger and Chamber CEO Michael S. Neal:
May 22, 2008

Dear Councilor ______,

Transportation infrastructure is an essential element of the Tulsa Metro Chamber's economic development strategy to attract and retain businesses and retain the quality of life for the citizens of Tulsa. In January, the Chamber assigned a task force to prepare our support for the anticipated City streets proposal. We agree placing a strets proposal before the voters is critical in 2008; however it is essential that it is successful. In other words, we cannot afford to get this wrong.

The Chamber and our volunteer leadership are very concerned the City Council is rushing to develop a package for a July special election. We believe crucial steps are being overlooked that could possibly jeopardize the initiative.

Voters are eager for a streets package, but we cannot assume voters will blindly approve any package because of the 'fix our streets first' mentality. When confronted with the actual cost and the details; [sic] support can quickly evaporate.

Historically, the business community raises the funds necessary to educate the voters about community issues. Two significant and unsuccessful elections were well-funded and supported by community leaders. Many assume the reason these elections failed was due to voters' preference for street repairs.

The following steps outlined below are critical and must be addressed prior to placing the Streets proposal on a ballot. Furthermore, it is the Chamber's view these measures cannot be completed in time for a July ballot and therefore, an August special election should be considered.

  • Thoughtful discussions with the County Commission about the use of the 4 to Fix the County sales tax. A proposal which accommodates the needs of the City and the County is more attractive than one dividing Tulsa and the County especially at a tie when the City is negotiating on the jail and other cooperative issues. Putting the County in an adversarial position might have some unexpected consequences.
  • Development of the project list to ensure that critical projects are not overlooked - this is, after all, a ten year proposal and projects not included will wait a very long time for funding. (For example, the first project draft did not include replacement of the Boulder bridge downtown.)
  • Time to review the ballot language carefully and ensure it is clear and concise to prevent future legal challenges.
  • Time to complete research to determine how the public will react to various options. Research will help the communication effort be as strong as possible.
  • It is crucial to assess if South Tulsa voters support the package--particularly the assessment district proposal. Would these districts vote NO on the entire package if there is an aversion to the assessment district provision? Election statistics report that a large, supportive turn-out in mid and south Tulsa is required to pass any tax measure, regardless of how many voters say 'fix the streets'. The highest numbers of recurring voters live in these districts.

The business community wants to support a streets package. However, these campaigns are investments with an expected ROI. A rushed package will not be met with enthusiasm by the Chamber's Executive Committee and Board of Directors and it would be a mistake to assume the Chamber's support will be automatic.

If this fails, a vote of this magnitude cannot be brought back to the public quickly.

It is too important to the future of Tulsa to risk defeat by failing to secure all details and complete thorough discussions with key interest groups. We urge you to consider adding one month to the timeline.

Sincerely,

Stanley A. Lybarger
Chairman
Tulsa Metro Chamber
President and CEO
Bank of Oklahoma, N.A.

Michael S. Neal, CCE, CCD
President and CEO
Tulsa Metro Chamber

City Councilor Bill Martinson's reply to the Chamber, which included two additional pages from documents showing the Boulder Avenue overpass downtown as part of the 2006 Sales Tax package.

May 23, 2008

Mr. Stanley A. Lybarger and Mr. Michael S. Neal
Tulsa Metro Chamber
Williams Center Tower II
2 West Second Street, Suite 150
Tulsa, OK 74103

Gentlemen,

Please consider this my response to your letter dated yesterday. I believe it will explain why I decided not to attend the Special Chamber Task Force on Streets meeting scheduled for 10:00 this morning.

Although I consider us acquaintances rather than friends, I would have expected both of you to have exhibited a degree of common courtesy by contacting me personally before sending such a letter. I found your letter offensive and disturbing for several reasons.

Setting aside the condescending tone of your letter for a moment, it conveyed a serious lack of understanding as to the development and status of the Council's proposal to fix Tulsa's streets. The process has spanned eight months. In addition to holding more than two dozen fact finding meetings, which included hearing from both external and in-house experts, we conducted town hall meetings for all districts. All of these meetings were public and posted in advance. You and your staff were welcome to attend, and had you done so, I believe you would have found the meetings most informative.

Your contempt for Tulsa's City Council was apparent in your comments. To assume that the Council and City staff would advance an initiative of this magnitude to the voters and ignore fundamental due diligence and statutory requirements is arrogant and absurd. Several of your other bullet points revealed an appalling level of ignorance. For example, the Boulder bridge was included in the 2006 Third penny package (documentation attached) that the Chamber supported, and your comments concerning expansion and assessment districts reveals your lack of consideration for the less affluent areas of Tulsa. While I realize that you and many members of your executive committee live in District 8 and contend with congestion, the streets in south Tulsa are in relatively better shape than those in other areas of town. However, if the condition crisis is not addressed immediately, you will soon be facing the same deplorable conditions as the rest of us.

Furthermore, you obviously fail to recognize, or admit, that we must modify our approach. The deplorable condition of our existing infrastructure and congestion issues in south Tulsa prove that we need a new model. We have devoted significant effort to addressing the condition crisis and must dedicate similar focus to expansion needs. Expansion involves more than streets (e.g., utilities, public safety, and parks), and we must ensure that all aspects are addressed if we expect to develop an effective long term plan. The proposal assumes existing programs will remaining in place, which means that expansion is being addressed through 2013.

I must admit that I found your comment about ROI on campaigns rather amusing considering your recent track record. Your temerity to condescend to the Council on voter behavior, when by definition, each City Councilor has a better record with the voters than the Chamber, again demonstrates an incredible level of arrogance. We have scheduled public meetings and will have programs on TGOV and information available on our web site to share the results of our research and present our plan. The process has been, and will remain, transparent. I have great faith in the voters, if they are given the facts and have an opportunity to make an informed decision. You may consider it a novel approach, but I would rather tell the citizens the truth and let them decide rather than attempting to manipulate the outcome.

Congratulations on your success in Oklahoma City to secure $25 million in funding for low water dams on the river. I believe we all support river development and welcome the day when you feel the same passion to convince the Tulsa delegation to support our transportation system. The conditions of our area highways, which are maintained by ODOT, rival those of our City streets. Also, returning tax dollars to Tulsa, and other area communities for that matter, would help us address our street needs.

The Chamber appears fixated on glamour and glitz to enhance economic development. You may understand these needs better than I, but I believe the condition of streets and right of ways say much about a community. If a city fails to consider basic infrastructure a priority, one must question the degree of civic pride.

I had hoped that this initiative to fix our streets would be an opportunity to heal the community. I believe the Council, administration, and citizens are prepared to face the issue and am disappointed that the Chamber feels threatened with that initiative. While you and your executive committee may take issue with the approach, I hope that individual members of the business community will join us as we attempt to solve a fundamental need.

I remain,

William E. Martinson, Jr.
City Councilor, District 5

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2 Comments

webworm Author Profile Page said:

We must remember that "fixing the streets" involves the repair of the streets in Tulsa, beginning with the worst. It does not mean widening streets! The far south parts of Tulsa have smooth, wide streets. The older, inner parts of the city need "fixing" the worst. We are now spending every cent available on downtown streets, and it is likely that these new, smooth, downtown streets will be never be fully used, because there is going to be no parking down there, and, consequently, no drivers and no vehicles. The "technicians" at City Hall don't care one way or another, as long as they have lots of our tax dollars to waste. I will vote against this package in its current form.

JW said:

I like the tone that Martinson took with the Chamber, but it doesn't make him right on his package. He has so far brushed aside the calls for widening in South Tulsa and that is wrong. Face it, South Tulsa is where economic growth is happening and it deserves a fair share of the road money to maintain that pace.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 1, 2008 9:42 PM.

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