Bartlett dodges questions about Taylor endorsement, non-partisan elections

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On Tuesday, the Republican Women's Club of Tulsa County hosted a mayoral candidate forum. Six GOP candidates were in attendance: Dewey Bartlett, Jr., Chris Medlock, Kevin Boggs, Nathaniel Booth, Anna Falling, and Norris Streetman.

During the candidates' opening statements, Medlock referred to Bartlett as the poster boy for "Republicans for Kathy Taylor," referring to Bartlett's endorsement of the Democrat in 2006 and 2009. Bartlett's endorsement appeared prominently at the top of the Republicans for Kathy web page prior to Taylor's decision not to seek re-election.

The highlight of the event was the Q & A period.

As far as I am aware, Dewey Bartlett, Jr., has yet to participate in a public forum where he would face questions specific to him about his record. At the Tulsa Republican Club meeting last month, questions were taken on cards, and audience members were advised to ask only those questions that could be answered by all the candidates. The same sort of request was made of potential questioners at this forum. It's as if they think his record -- his involvement in Tulsans for Better Government, his endorsement of Kathy Taylor for Mayor in 2006 and 2009, his praise for Kathy Taylor's Great Plains lawsuit deal that made Tulsa taxpayers pay back money they didn't owe for the airline's default -- can't stand up to public scrutiny.

At this forum, the audience was allowed to ask questions directly of the panel of candidates, unscreened.

Tulsa County Republican Party Chairman Sally Bell asked the candidates to give their opinion on the proposed charter amendment to make city elections non-partisan. All of the candidates expressed opposition to the idea, with the exception of Bartlett who gave a rambling answer that had him straddling the fence.

"Well, it's an interesting question. There's two sides to it. When you see what has happened in Oklahoma City, they approach things in a non-partisan basis and they've done pretty well. I think the underlying question should be are we really electing good people. That really is our responsibility as citizens of Tulsa. We have to elect good people. We have to spend the time to evaluate their position, see what they're up to. I think that partisan politics is very, very good. It sort of kind of cuts down and makes a position very well known. Unfortunately we have a lawsuit, so it depends on forcing the lawsuits on which position is going to be the one that comes out. Is it unfettered non-partisanship or is it partisanship with just a few ideas or some qualification. That's the difficult part. So yes, non-partisan question, er, excuse me, non-partisan elections are a good idea, but at the end of the day partisanship is how we differentiate."

In fact, the lawsuit, filed by Councilor John Eagleton, will not affect the substance of the proposed charter amendment, contrary to what Bartlett seems to be saying. Its outcome will determine only whether the amendment will be on the ballot or not. Bartlett's last sentence is almost impossible to parse. Is Bartlett saying that non-partisan elections are a good idea because they would prevent voters from differentiating between candidates?

Chris Medlock praised Eagleton for filing his lawsuit. "I wish Councilor Eagleton was here today so we all could give him a round of applause for the lawsuit he filed...." Medlock described the non-partisan election concept: "It is not allowing Republicans to run as Republicans. I'm against that. I'm against not allowing Democrats to run as Democrats. Party, as I said, party matters."

Medlock went on to note that the organization backing non-partisan elections, Tulsans for Better Government, was formed to push the idea of reducing the number of council districts from 9 to 6 and adding three at-large seats on the council each to be elected by the city as a whole. "Those of you who have been concerned about the same group of people running this people for the last twenty years, thirty years, will realize what that was about." Medlock pointed out that Bartlett "was a charter member of that organization."

(There is a way to allow Democrats to run as Democrats and Republicans run as Republicans while solving the problem we currently have: Many voters in many districts have no effective voice, and in some cases, no voice whatsoever, in the choice of their city councilors. You can do this with what I've called multi-partisan elections and instant runoff voting.)

I went up to ask a question about Kathy Taylor's authoritarian leadership style, her habit of working deals behind the scenes and then dropping them on the City Council, insisting that they must act immediately. I cited the ballpark assessment district as an example. I asked the candidates whether they would emulate that style of leadership, and if not, why would you endorse Kathy Taylor for re-election as Dewey Bartlett, Jr., did. The MC, Dierdre Rees, asked "Does someone know what the question was?" so I went back up and repeated the last part of it. (After the meeting, Rees told me that she didn't mean to be rude with her comment. She said she had "spaced out" and missed hearing the question, and that it was clearer when I rephrased it.)

Bartlett was the first to respond, and it seemed as if he was starting to answer my question about his endorsement of Kathy Taylor. "It's very simple. At the time, at the point in t...." But he caught himself, and instead addressed the question of leadership style, using it as a pretext for criticizing the idea, espoused by Chris Medlock, of hiring a city manager, claiming that a city manager would be less accountable and transparent than a strong mayor.

After Bartlett's answer there were audible comments from throughout the room that "he didn't answer the question."

To go back to Bartlett's objection to the idea of a city manager: Tulsa has had city managers in all but name under our current charter, with people like Bob Lemons, Charles Hardt, Sam Roop, Allen LaCroix, and others serving under titles like Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Operating Officer in the Savage and LaFortune administrations, in addition to serving as heads of departments under civil service protection. The only difference between that and a city manager is that the role is divided among two or more "chiefs." No mayor, under our current charter, has been directly engaged in the day-to-day management of the basic operations of city government. A city manager that served at the pleasure of the mayor and council would be more accountable to the public than the current arrangement, in which department heads are protected under civil service and are almost impossible to remove.

Two TV stations covered the event: KJRH and KOTV. Both stations' reports focused on Bartlett's endorsement of Taylor.

Here are the news stories. I've put the embedded video after the jump, as it plays havoc with some browsers. The video includes both stations' stories, plus video from Steven Roemerman of Bartlett's and Medlock's responses to Sally Bell's question about non-partisan elections and my question about Kathy Taylor's leadership style and Bartlett's endorsement of Taylor.

KJRH: Medlock targets Bartlett at mayoral forum

KOTV: GOP women host candidates for Tulsa Mayor (The KOTV story includes "web extra" videos of each candidate giving introductory remarks.)

KJRH story:


KOTV story:

Steven Roemerman video of the responses to Sally Bell's question about non-partisan elections:

Steven Roemerman video of Bartlett's response to my question about his Taylor endorsement:

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Steven Roemerman has a post up on Dewey Bartlett Jr's belated denials that he was a member of Tulsans for Better Government, the group that in 2005 unsuccessfully circulated a petition to change the Tulsa City Charter to reduce the number of City Counc... Read More

5 Comments

Mark said:

Michael, thanks for the report. I'm curious though -- how do YOU feel about non-partisan municipal elections?

Seems to me that non-partisan elections are a great first step on the path to multi-partisan elections with instant runoff voting. Incremental change is really the only way we can realistically hope to reach the ultimate goal. I believe that people will respond more favorably to multi-partisan elections once they have been freed from the expectation of bi-partisan elections.

Medlock's rhetoric on this issue is disturbing. Does the fact that Tulsans for Better Governmental had a really bad idea preclude them forever from promoting a good one? Can "nothing good come out of Nazareth?"

David S. Author Profile Page said:

I sent a "tweet" to Dewey earlier this week asking if there where going to be any public debates. Here is what he tweeted back:
DeweyBartlett: We have had 3 forums. Watch our Facebook page for future announcements. Thanks for your interest!
Guess not..

Mark, I respectfully disagree with you. I believe that non-partisan elections, once adopted, will be the end of the line. Once we've gone non-partisan, any attempt to add labels back on to the ballot will be decried as advocating factionalism in local government. (As if factions don't exist as long as we pretend they don't.) As an example of the likely establishment reaction, see the Tulsa World's ridicule of the multi-partisan idea in an editorial after it was broached by Councilor John Eagleton last year.

As for Tulsans for Better Government: Its advocacy for at-large councilors was not just a bad idea, but a bad idea rooted in bad motivations. The group was founded out of a belief that a populist, outside-the-Money-Belt majority on the City Council (which we briefly had from 2004 to 2005) was standing in the way of business as usual at City Hall -- in the way of inappropriate infill development, in the way of accelerating suburban development at the City of Tulsa's expense, in the way of cozy insider deals. It is reasonable to be suspicious of any fruit that emerges from such roots.

Mark said:

Thanks, Michael, for stating your position. That scenario is certainly defensible. I think it's probably impossible to predict the precise impact one reform will have on attempts at further reform. I'm optimistic that we'll eventually see IRV, and perhaps even multi-partisan elections, in Tulsa.

Truth be told though, as an independent voter, I'll be voting for non-partisan elections regardless, since I believe that the two-party monopoly is the root cause of much that ails the body politic.

Sam Roop said:

Michael, I agree that we should keep partisan elections. Most cities that have non-partisan elections have people who run that belong to a party and everyone finds out what party they belong to anyway. So why pretend that these people are not partisan, there is enough unreality in government as it is, so why pretend.
In todays political climat there are realists and unrealists, let's get real!

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 13, 2009 5:29 PM.

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