A response to Karen Keith

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The Karen Keith campaign submitted a lengthy rebuttal in UTW to my column endorsing Sally Bell for Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner. Here's my reply:

(1) Karen Keith doesn't seem to get the difference between one's philosophy of government and one's conduct as an elected official. I wrote:

"Although Randi Miller is gone, her philosophy of county government is still in the race. The Karen Keith platform is nothing more than the Randi Miller approach to county government with a more appealing fa├žade."

To those who think this is unfair, please give an example of a policy decision that Randi Miller made as a county commissioner that Karen Keith would have made differently. It's noteworthy that nowhere in her response does Keith note any policy differences with Miller.

Keith sets up a straw man with her subpoints, all of which have to do with conduct, not philosophy or policy.

(2) She says that she was "part of the team working for the passage of Vision 2025." Her part was to serve as a spokesperson during the campaign. She debated on behalf of the vote yes campaign at the TulsaNow debate at Harwelden and on KWHB 47. I know because I was there debating on the other side. She also made speeches to civic groups and neighborhoods on behalf of the tax. She debated against Jack Gordon and Jim Hewgley on Fox 23. She may have also been doing work behind the scenes, but her visible role was as someone who spoke on behalf of passing the tax.

Keith is on the record as supporting more local tax dollars for river development, which I consider an amenity, not a necessity. She supported the failed river tax increase last year. She has stated at least by implication that she'd support sending another river tax to the voters:

Keith also said she would not oppose using more public funds for infrastructure projects along the Arkansas River.

[snip]

"We've already made significant public investment in engineering for the river," Keith said, "but more may be needed to make it possible for the private sector to come in and create housing, entertainment and retail that is sensitive to the natural habitat."

After her speech, Keith clarified her remarks by saying residents would have the final say on any tax-increase proposal.

Keith protests at being called a "pro-tax" candidate, but I can't think of any local tax initiative that she's opposed. Someone let me know if I've overlooked one.

Furthermore, would Karen Keith unequivocally commit that she would not send a tax for amenities to the voters? Sally Bell has.

She has danced around this issue, by saying that the final decision belongs to the voters. But the voters can only give a thumbs up or thumbs down on whatever package the County Commissioners choose to send to them. Tax votes are expensive: Expensive for the county election board, expensive for the proponents, and expensive and time consuming for the opponents. Putting a tax on the ballot is not a neutral act. Surely Keith understands that.

At the All Souls debate Keith said that her most important platform plank is "economic development for this region," citing Vision 2025 and Four to Fix the County. Keith appears to believe that government-funded amenities are the key to economic growth.

At the Red Fork debate, Keith blamed the failure of the river tax in part on the delay in announcing that Celine Dion would be performing at the BOK Center.

She also blamed the state of Tulsa's streets on failed tax initiatives. Tulsa has passed every tax initiative for streets since 1980. The only taxes we've turned down have been for amenities. Karen Keith seems to believe money for amenities brings prosperity which brings revenues to pay for streets. In reality, you'd make much more progress on streets if you put the funds directly to that purpose, instead of investing it in amenities and hoping for a marginal improvement in revenues over time.

At the same debate, she said that if the river tax were put back on the ballot, it would be a different package, and it would pass. Who is going to put that tax back on the ballot, if not her?

Over and over again, Keith has cited the Vision 2025 tax package as the model for progress, as the source of our economic growth.

(3) Regarding the Bob Dick endorsement, Keith is either disingenuous or staggeringly unaware of Dick's legacy as a county commissioner. Again, I would challenge her to specify any major decision made by Bob Dick as Commissioner which she would have made differently.

If I were blindly partisan, I would not have been as critical as I have of Dick's record, nor would I have called for someone to step up to challenge Dick for his 2006 re-election bid.

(4) Here Keith contradicts the point she made in item (1)(d). Having the County take over municipal park maintenance is an example of "having the county government act as some sort of metropolitan government service provider."

(5) I stand by my statement. Keith did attack Bell's business record at the Kiwanis debate, and if you listen to what she said (I think you can still find it on the KRMG website), I think you'll agree it was awkward. She stumbled and stammered through it. It was a stark contrast to the smooth way she reads prepared text.

(6) I've written many times about the "Money Belt" phenomenon, for example, in my July 30 column on the Collective Strength survey of 1,000 Tulsans. I was writing about the regional differences on agreement with statements like "City leaders in Tulsa understand my community's needs" and "I do not feel included in the planning process. People like me are always left out."

The gap between Midtown and south Tulsa on the one hand and north, west and east Tulsa is not surprising. Maps of election results showing support for various tax increases, of where appointees to city boards and commissions live, and of those selected to the PLANiTULSA Advisers and Partners reveal a common pattern.

I've labeled it the "Money Belt"--a band of Tulsa's wealthiest neighborhoods running south-southeast from downtown through Maple Ridge, Utica Square, and Southern Hills then fanning out into the gated communities of south Tulsa.

Regarding Keith, I wrote:

Keith and her midtown money belt allies appear to think it was a foolproof recipe for passing funding packages, but as we saw last October, in the failed attempt to pass a countywide sales tax for river projects, its time has come and gone.

That statement doesn't preclude the possibility that she has non-Money Belt allies, but by reason of her geography, mindset, and major contributors, Keith clearly belongs to the Money Belt.

By the way, the Urban Tulsa staff requested copies of both candidates' ethics reports. The Bell campaign supplied her report. The Keith campaign did not even reply to the request.

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4 Comments

Brent Taylor Author Profile Page said:

The more I read and hear from Karen Keith, the more she sounds one and the same of those who have been in charge the last 30 years and have given us little or nothing to show for it - except for higher sales and property taxes.

And how quickly I forget, we've got a nicer fairground and a new arena for our troubles.

Life changing...about the same as attending a Celine Dion concert.

Paul Tay Author Profile Page said:

Karen K. Keith: Never met a tax she didn't like. Vote Bell, DAMMIT!

Pamela Author Profile Page said:

At 8:15 Friday morning I had the pleasure of voting for Sally Bell:)

Bob said:

I too immensively enjoyed voting for Sally Bell for Tulsa County Commissioner:

Striking a hard blow against the Good-old-Boys inbedded in the Tulsa County government.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 1, 2008 8:39 AM.

Survey subjects wanted for political study was the previous entry in this blog.

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