When will Big Splash be evicted?

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It's becoming more and more evident that favoritism is at work on the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, and that a tenant's status has more to do with skill at spreading around campaign money than the merits of the situation. The issue of the business plan, cited by County Commisisoner Randi Miller as the reason for evicting Bell's Amusement Park after half a century, always seemed like a pretext; now we can say with certainty that it was.

The Big Splash water park, a Fairgrounds tenant since 1984, had a slide collapse last summer. In December, inspectors from the State Labor Commissioner's office ordered rotting timbers on the slide structure to be replaced before the park opened for the 2008 season. A June inspection revealed that the repairs had not been made, yet the slides were opened anyway. The slides were shut down for repair and are now open again.

Bell's was evicted from the fairgrounds after the 2006 season, just as they finally had the go-ahead to install a new roller coaster. Because the decision was announced after the season, Tulsans never got a chance to say goodbye. The Bell family had to rush to dismantle and salvage as much as they could in hopes of reopening somewhere else; one more season could have made an orderly transition to a new location possible. When asked why Bell's couldn't have been allowed even one more season, Miller responded with claims that the business plan was inadequate, hinting about safety concerns, although there were no inspection reports indicating a problem.

Big Splash has had two documented problems in a single year, yet I don't hear Randi Miller or anyone else on the Fair Board calling for an end to Big Splash's lease.

Miller received maximum $5,000 campaign contributions from Loretta Murphy, owner of Big Splash, for Miller's mayoral and county commissioner races. As far as I know, the Bells never gave campaign contributions to county officials.

Murphy's husband Jerry owns Murphy Bros., which the Fair Board (of which Miller is a member) granted a 10-year contract to run the Tulsa State Fair midway. There was no competition for the contract.

Irritated Tulsan comments on the story, connecting the dots. I.T. also calls attention to comments posted by Loretta Murphy on the KOTV comment board:

I usually do not comment on such ridiculous statements but I cannot pass these by without stating some facts. First and foremost, I cannot believe people can assume such mean and hateful thoughts about other individuals they do not even know. Jerry Murphy, my husband is a kind and caring person who has always tried to help others and be a man of integrity. He was not handed money, he made his by working long hours, day in and day out and making many sacrifices to be a successful businessman. He started out at a young age and earned everything that he has, no one gave him anything. He has been stereo-typed because of the kind of work he chose. The ones who have wrote these mean accusations do not know my husband or neither do they know any thing about who we are. The reason our world is in such turmoil today is because people choose to hate without knowing why.
I am proud of the fact that I have had the opportunity to manage and help grow Big Splash over the past 10 years. My children have grown up here and my daughter Amber now manages the park for me. She and all of our children love and care about Big Splash. Our number one concern is the safety of our customers. We have done so much over the years to protect each and every patron that enters our park. Big Splash is a challenging business because of weather issues which shorten our already limited season. Schools resume session in the middle of August which also hurts our attendance. This makes it difficult to add new attractions, but we have tried to totally revamp a Tulsa favorite. We know that we are here for the families and we receive tremendous support from our season pass holders. It hurts me to feel that people would think that we would jeopardize anyones safety.
This is for everyone that I have not covered in the first two statements. Most of the negative things that have been posted in this forum have been for political gain or are people that support the Bell family. It was no ones fault that Bell's contract was not renewed except for Bell's themselves. Imagine how the county would be run if Sally Bell is elected County Commissioner.

Bubbaworld is on the story, too:

That the folks at Big Splash were, according to the state, content to put at risk the lives of their patrons could and should give those patrons cause for alarm.

Hopefully the state will be keeping an even closer eye on Big Splash and its operators.

And maybe it is time that Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller starts demanding to see the "financial plan" of the folks that own Big Splash Water Park which has a history of not paying its water bill on time and of endangering its patrons.

Oops, also forgot.

Commissioner Miller will never speak ill of or demand anything of anyone named Murphy.

It's only folks with the last name of Bell that get that get the "Miller treatment"...

And Bubbaworld comments on Loretta Murphy's excuses for not replacing the rotting timbers earlier:

Of the failure to replace rotten support beams discovered by state inspectors in December and discovered still rotten during a June 3rd follow up inspection which resulted in the state shutting down the attractions Murphy said:

"We had done many things in the park to provide what we felt like was additional safety to our patrons. And, it was a couple of items on the list that we missed. It was an overview on my part."

Murphy went on to say:

"I would say it was just an oversight on my part. It's my fault that I didn't take it as serious as the Department of Labor did and I apologize for that."

At least Murphy eventually managed to sort out the meaning and usage of "overview" and "oversight", however her downplaying the seriousness of the inspectors findings is alarming.

When are we going to hear from County Commissioner Miller about this? Will there be any penalties, any repercussions?

RELATED: During Miller's tenure, Expo Square has been in the process of being purged of attractions for locals in favor of shows and events that mainly draw visitors from out of town. While bringing in outside dollars is good for the local economy, an Expo Square exclusively devoted to that aim will be bad for the fairgrounds in the long term. Evicting Bell's eliminated local visits over the course of the summer and reduced the number of people who attended last fall's fair. The Drillers' departure would get rid of another quarter-million local visits to Expo Square. I'm not sure what the status of the Flea Market is, but if they are operating, I'm sure the moving around has cost them customers.

You could argue that it was Tulsa County voters' first-hand exposure to the state of the fairgrounds that led them to support funding for improvements in two 4 to Fix the County votes and in Vision 2025. They came to go to Bell's or for the Flea Market and saw that we needed new barns and to improvements to the midway and the IPE (QuikTrip) building. With fewer reasons for ordinary Tulsa County taxpayers to visit Expo Square, it may be much tougher to convince them to approve more tax dollars for future improvements.

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2 Comments

Thank you Michael. I always seek your opinion on local politics. You didn't disappoint.

Mark said:

You "have wrote" a very helpful "oversight" here Michael. Thank you.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 24, 2008 12:02 PM.

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