It's Miller's time -- to go

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In this week's UTW, I review the record of Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner Randi Miller and endorse Sally Bell as her replacement.

Since writing that piece, fired Expo Square CEO Rick Bjorklund has been pointing the finger at Miller regarding the decision to hold the Big Splash rent check.

According to the daily paper yesterday:

Rick Bjorklund, who was fired as president and CEO of Expo Square, said Thursday that he was instructed by County Commissioner Randi Miller to keep Big Splash Water Park's financial troubles "off the radar."

The fair board last week voted 4-0 to terminate Bjorklund after it was discovered that a check for half of the water park's 2006 rent had gone uncashed for a year and that it had yet to pay its 2007 rent. In addition, Big Splash's outstanding 2007 balance was never listed specifically on the financial reports presented to the fair board.

Bjorklund said Miller, who was fair board chairwoman in 2007, spoke to him about the Big Splash situation in about June of that year.

"The conversation (with Miller) was, 'Ease up on them and get it off the radar,'?" he said.

Bjorklund said he told fair board members about Miller's instructions during the executive session held to determine his fate.

"I turned to Randi and I said: 'You had given me instructions, Randi, to get it off the radar screen, and we did that.'?''

Miller denies Bjorklund's claim, but what he says makes sense. If Big Splash's financial troubles became public, it would show her to be inconsistent, making her look foolish or even evil for using Bell's business plan as a pretext for evicting them from the Fairgrounds. She had a vested interest in keeping Big Splash's financial problems "off the radar."

MORE: Responding to questions and comments from readers here and on the UTW story:

I was asked about my reference to "irregularities in [Miller's] personal life." In my column, I chose not to go into the specifics that the Tulsa World reported in a February 26, 2006, story headlined "Mayoral Mudfight," but you can read them at that link.

William Franklin posted a lengthy comment at UTW claiming that Bell's Amusement Park was in a state of terrible disrepair when it was evicted. His memory doesn't match with mine, and I think the Bell family did a fine job of keeping the park going when so many family-owned amusement parks in this region have closed, and despite the constraints of their location. They made do while continuing to be Expo Square's biggest rent-payer, and never asked for a taxpayer subsidy. (They were granted an extension in paying rent in the late '90s, but they made the payment with interest above prime rate.)

I took my kids to Bell's at least a couple of times each summer, and we steered them to spend their Tulsa State Fair ride tickets there, instead of on the midway. While the park was not up to Disney standards, it was at least as well-kept as Frontier City (which took my 10-year-old to in 2006), and I had no problem letting the kids on the rides or riding them myself.

Bell's had been making annual improvements to the property. The park introduced a new drop ride in (I think) 2005 and in 2006 had finally reached agreement with the neighborhood on adding a new roller coaster.

The possibility of a new coaster and a themed park first came up in 1998, not in the 1980s as Franklin asserts. Robby Bell and then Expo Square CEO Pat Lloyd made presentations to the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations that year about the future plans for the park and Expo Square as a whole.

The plan had Bell's expand all the way west to Louisville Ave., with parking for Bell's to the north, and a new main entrance on the north side of the park. The westernmost area was to be quieter uses (concession areas, souvenir stands, kiddie rides). We were shown sketches that had been done for Bell's by an amusement park consultant with a boomtown theme.

In December 2000, the Fair Board granted a lease for Bell's to expand to the west and add a roller coaster. The coaster's construction was held up by a lawsuit from the neighborhood challenging the County Board of Adjustment's decision to grant a special exception for the coaster.

It's true that the miniature golf course was no longer maintained. It was to be the site for the new coaster, once a compromise had been reached with the neighbors. There had been two courses when I was a kid. A single course was created out of the western part of both courses sometime in the late '80s or early '90s to make way for picnic pavilions for corporate events and group parties. I loved playing the course as a kid, but at some point, as mini-golf lost popularity in general (I can only think of one surviving course in Tulsa), I'm sure it became uneconomical to keep it open.

I suspect the reason Bell's didn't first think of building a coaster in that part of the property was because they intended to double the park's footprint and were granted a lease to build the coaster on land to the west, so there would have been no need to reuse existing park land.

The Fair Board could have solved the problem much sooner had it allowed Bell's to expand to the interior of Expo Square, rather than forcing any expansion to be toward the neighborhoods. Neighboring homeowner Scott Trizza proposed at the time that a new coaster could be placed north of the IPE Building, screened off by the building from the neighborhoods.

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JW said:

the slime of local government in this town is becoming almost to much to bear. is it only 5000 signatures for a grand jury to start investigating all this mess?

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

I'm not sure how things got so twisted with Ms. Miller. But I agree its time for her to go.

Ardent Author Profile Page said:

I couldn't agree more. I think it may also be time for a Grand Jury to look in to the whole fairgrounds mess before another Murphy-owned enterprise sprouts in the space the Drillers will be vacating.

David V Author Profile Page said:

Great Article!

I spoke to a key department head at the Expo center, at church last weekend.
He said Bjorkland was following orders and had no personal motivation to hold back revenue.

The other question is whether or not Miller broke the law in acting secretly and beyond her authority.
Miller has become a hollow veneer of the public servant she used to be.

ugottamove said:

Your article was right on Michael. There has been a stench rising from the Tulsa County Fair Grounds for quite awhile. Ms. Miller is just another one of a long line of "dog leg" commissioners that have been on the Fair Board in the past decade. The Fair board has been bed partners with the Murphy's since the early 70's and it looks like that might be finally coming to an end. Bjorklund was nothing more than a scapegoat for the board and I hope he sue's their butt's off. I also hope Robbie Bell goes for the throat, if anyone got screwed over by this mess it was him!

Pamela said:

I need to contact her. She asked to have a sign put up on my yard. However I did not read the email until that evening. I am absolutely disgusted at her slimy behavior. I will do what I can to help Sally Bell to get the nomination. I hope and sincerely pray that this is the beginning of exposure and cleanup of all the slime in our local government.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 11, 2008 11:10 AM.

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