Keep Michael Slankard

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UPDATE 2:00 p.m.: Mayor's office has delayed Rodolf nomination to next week.

UPDATE 5/1/2009: Council declined to approve postponement, then turned down the Rodolf nomination, 3-6 -- Patrick, Troyer, Bynum voting yes; Henderson, Westcott, Gomez, Martinson, Eagleton, Christiansen voting no.

Tonight (April 30, 2009) at the Tulsa City Council's regular meeting, the Council will consider Mayor Kathy Taylor's nomination of a replacement for Michael Slankard on the City's Ethics Advisory Committee (EAC). The Council should vote against the replacement nominee, which will leave Slankard in place, continuing his honorable and independent service on that committee.

Despite the urging of the chairman of the EAC and the desire of a majority on the Council, Taylor refused to reappoint Slankard. As the Council's resistance to a replacement solidified, suddenly some anonymous person brought an ethics complaint against Slankard, claiming a conflict of interest because he suggested and then participated in the investigation (and dismissal) of ethical issues surrounding Taylor giving Councilor David Patrick a ride back from Colorado on her Lear 31A, just in time to vote on Taylor's financing plan for the downtown. Slankard voted with the rest of the committee, finding no ethical violation by either Patrick or Taylor.

The complaint against Slankard was passed through City Attorney Dierdre Dexter, who is an at-will employee of Taylor. The complaint was investigated and rejected by the other members of the EAC, despite their long-standing policy against hearing anonymous complaints at all.

You can read a more detailed account of the tug of war between Taylor and the Council over Michael Slankard's reappointment in my April 15, 2009, UTW column.

This apparent attempt to use the ethics process for leverage in a political battle between the executive and legislative branches ought to make Slankard's supporters on the City Council even more determined to keep him on the EAC.

Taylor's proposed replacement for Slankard, Sandra Rodolf, was back before the Council at the Tuesday, April 28, Urban and Economic Development committee meeting. According to a couple of independent reports, Jack Henderson, Rick Westcott, Bill Martinson, and John Eagleton all indicated that they support Slankard and would be voting against Rodolf's appointment; David Patrick, Dennis Troyer, and G. T. Bynum expressed support for Rodolf; Bill Christiansen and Eric Gomez didn't say either way, but have expressed support for keeping Slankard on the committee.

Here is the summary of the discussion from the April 28, 2009, Urban and Economic Development Committee meeting. The summary appears to have been truncated by the database software:

Sandra Rodolf present. Westcott felt her qualifications were stellar; however, he feels the Mayor is using her as an attempt to get back at Micahel Slankard, and for that, he apologizes. Councilor Westcott gave the background history of the case involving Michael Slankard. Councilor Troyer commented that all the Council does is approve or disapprove the Mayor's recommendations. Councilor Eagleton echoed Westcott's comments. Councilor Patrick commented that Mrs. Rodolf was not involved with Michael Slankard and should be approved based on her qualifications only. Councilor Bynum thanked Ms. Rodolf for going through this appointment process. The Charter states what the role of the Council is during the appointment process. We should vote on her qualifications only. Councilor Henderson expressed concerned of having 3 members from District 9 on one committee. Nancy Siegel - don't believe everything you think. She was recommended solely based her background and qualifications. Mr. Slankard is being replaced due to his tenure on the board. Ethics will be highly called upon due to PW issues. This is speculation only. Henderson does not understand why the appointees have to have a legal background. Also, the City's position has been to keep the experienced appointees on the board. Councilor Martinson

Henderson raised an important point about diversity on the committee. Taylor's change would be a step backwards in terms of geographic diversity. Replacing Slankard with Rodolf would swap a resident of north Tulsa's District 3, which has few members of city authorities, boards, and commissions (known as ABCs for short) with a resident of the Midtown Money Belt, which historically is where most mayoral appointees live -- this is a long-term trend, not specific to Taylor). As last summer's PLANiTULSA survey showed, midtowners and north Tulsans have very different views about how fair city government is. Loading the EAC up with Midtown Money Belt residents would send the wrong signal to the rest of the city. There needs to be a balance.

With due respect to Councilor Bynum, he's reading something into the City Charter that isn't there. Article III, Section 1.4, paragraph G says regarding mayoral appointments to ABCs:

Appoint, subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the entire membership of the Council, the members of all boards, commissions, authorities, and agencies created by this amended Charter, ordinance, agreement, or pursuant to law, and exercise general control and supervision thereof, provided, all appointees shall, as a condition of their appointment and continued service, be qualified electors and maintain their principal residence within the city limits of the City of Tulsa

Nothing in the charter specifies the criteria a councilor must apply when voting on a mayoral ABC appointee. The councilors can apply whatever standards they deem prudent. The confirmation power is an important check on mayoral power. ABCs have significant power -- some more than others -- and in some cases, the vote on the appointment is the only input the councilors have into the way a given ABC sets policy.

When Mayor Bill LaFortune reappointed Jim Cameron and Lou Reynolds to the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, a majority of the councilors objected, concerned about the TMUA's policies on water rates to the suburbs and whether the authority was putting the growth desires of the suburbs ahead of those of undeveloped parts of the City of Tulsa. I supported the "Gang of Five" in their effort to block the reappointment. (The effort failed when Sam Roop switched sides on the issue, shortly before LaFortune hired him to work in the Mayor's office.)

In August 2001, during the Susan Savage administration, the City Council voted against reappointing Kim Holland to the EMSA board. They were raked over the coals by the daily paper for doing so, but there was no question that they had the discretion and authority to say no to Savage's pick.

More recently, Taylor has quietly withdrawn the names of at least two of her appointees after it became clear that the Council would reject. There was speculation that the same thing would happen with the Rodolf nomination.

Once in a while the Council takes a vote that I regard as a key test of character, an indication of whether someone is willing to do the right thing in the face of pressure. These are the votes I remember and weigh when a city councilor seeks higher office. (If the persistent rumors that Taylor may be leaving for a position in the Obama administration are true, several of these councilors may be running for mayor sooner than they planned.)

The vote tonight on replacing Michael Slankard is such a test. The City Council should emphatically reject Kathy Taylor's efforts to kick an honorable, scrupulous man off of the Ethics Advisory Committee.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 30, 2009 12:16 AM.

Victims of Communism: Liu Xiaobo was the previous entry in this blog.

How the "Great Divide" damages Tulsa neighborhoods is the next entry in this blog.

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