The 2009 District 8 race

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District 8 is a tough race for me.

During his seven years on the City Council, Bill Christiansen has disappointed me over and over again.

Early on, he worked to undermine and oppose some positive initiatives from my reform friends on the Council -- for example, the future growth task force that Joe Williams and Chris Medlock proposed in 2003. At the same time, he was one of the first councilors to push the City Council's role in setting fiscal policy for city government and exercising oversight over the executive branch.

Too often he has staked out a good position on an issue, only to back down when it really mattered. The City Hall move is an excellent example. Right before the meeting he came up to me to say what a rotten deal it was, but he voted for it anyway. On the ballpark assessment district, he voted for it in 2008, but then voted against the assessment roll in 2009.

He has improved in recent years. He worked with former Street Commissioner Jim Hewgley III to try to develop a maintenance-heavy street repair package -- the Baby Bear plan. I had my doubts about whether he would remain opposed to the South Tulsa bridge, since some who backed his start in politics supported it (notably former Tulsa City Councilor, now Bixby resident, John Benjamin), Christiansen has been steadfast on the issue.

Christiansen's work on the bridge issue seems to have made him more sympathetic to concerns of homeowners regarding new development. He put together a Land Use Education and Communication task force. The task force recommendations are aimed at making the rules understandable and providing better web access to information on new development to help public awareness. There are some great ideas here, but as they would arm citizens with more timely information, I am sure that some old-guard development industry types are unhappy about it. I've heard speculation that this task force is one of the reasons that the establishment has abandoned Christiansen and is instead backing Phil Lakin.

You can tell he's been abandoned by the establishment just by looking at the photos of him used by the Tulsa World

Here's Christiansen's photo when he ran for re-election in 2004. The Whirled endorsed him that year.

Here's his photo in a story from last month. I'm surprised they didn't draw horns on his head and steam coming out of his ears.

And that abandonment by the establishment is the main reason why, if I lived in District 8, I would vote for Bill Christiansen. It takes some people longer than others to learn the lesson, but once you've been burned by the local oligarchy, it's a lesson you don't forget.

We don't need two city councilors from District 9. That's what the backers of at-large seats on the City Council were after. Even if Phil Lakin doesn't live in District 9, that's evidently where his friends are and where his treasure is (and where your treasure is there will your heart be also). (District 9 had two councilors geographically during Randy Sullivan's last term as the purported District 7 representative.)

Back in July, I had breakfast with Lakin and Jeff Stava, CEO and COO of Tulsa Community Foundation respectively and the runner up for the District 9 City Council in 2006. Lakin and Stava were anxious to talk to me about all the good work that TCF does for the Tulsa area -- to which I am glad to stipulate.

I asked about the idea of using foundation money as leverage on government spending. They were emphatic that it's never TCF driving public money to be spent in a direction that it would not have otherwise been spent; they simply provide assistance to help city officials complete desired projects. Regarding the ballpark, they said the timeline for the ballpark was driven by city officials, and that TCF simply provided a vehicle for donors to give to the ballpark. (But were the donors themselves -- the individuals and foundations giving money to TCF for the ballpark -- driving the policy decisions? That's a different matter, perhaps.)

The problem with the ballpark process is that the arrangements were made in secret and presented to the City Council as a done deal. The Council should have rejected the deal for that reason alone. What was particularly offensive was that the "ballpark" effort was expanded to include acquisition of property around the ballpark. That ultimately meant that a small developer like Will Wilkins -- someone willing to develop a piece of TDA-owned property that no one else seemed to want -- was shoved aside. A good stadium could have been built for the money given by the private donors plus the $5 million from the Drillers' lease payments. The assessment, forced on every property owner within the IDL, is effectively there to give the stadium trust (headed by the donors) the money to play Monopoly with the Brady District. (My column from August 6, 2008, gives a timeline of what I called the Control Freaks' Squeeze Play.)

If that approach was truly driven by Mayor Taylor and her allies on the City Council, TCF officials should have refused to play ball. If I were donating large sums to the city, I would want to ensure that the process of deciding how the money is to be used was transparent and public.

When I asked Lakin about why he was running for City Council, he talked about infighting and bickering between council and mayor and between city and county. He seemed to blame the councilors for the mayor keeping them in the dark.

Lakin's critique of some current councilors reminds me of what I've heard from other councilors in the past about their predecessors. The gist of it: "If they'd just be nicer, people would pay more attention to the substance of what they're saying." Many of the councilors who have said that in the past have later learned the hard way that as soon as you challenge the power or the budget of some entrenched interest, everyone will think you aren't nice, no matter how nicely you make your case. The newspaper will run pictures that make you look angry. The mayor will accuse you of bickering. And then some council candidate will come along and tell you that if you'd just be nicer, people would pay more attention to the substance of what you're saying.

I'm pleased that Lakin has expressed appreciation for Bill Martinson's analysis of the budget situation and the attention Martinson has brought to the proportion of the general fund used by the public safety departments. I'm certainly disappointed in Christiansen's failure to back Martinson on that issue, but I'm wondering where Lakin was when the issue was being debated by the City Council back in June. I don't recall him speaking out, as a concerned citizen, to support Martinson's budget and oppose Mayor Taylor's plan.

Lakin's reason might be that as a head of a non-profit it wouldn't have been his place to get involved publicly in a political battle. If that's so, how can he be a city councilor and remain as head of TCF?

The third candidate in the District 8 race is Scott Grizzle. I've worked with Scott for three or four years on the TulsaNow board of directors. He's tech savvy and very interested in urban planning. He got into this race pretty late in the game, and with an incumbent and a challenger with the kind of money that usually only a District 9 incumbent can raise, it's been tough for him to get the attention of the media and the public. Pat Campbell left him out of a candidate debate between Christiansen and Lakin, although he was given some time on the air the following day. Scott is unlikely to prevail tomorrow, and as there is no runoff, voters need to conduct their own runoff and vote for one of the top two candidates if the other top candidate is unacceptable to them. I'm sure this has been a valuable and eye-opening experience for Scott, as my first run was for me back in 1998.

LINKS:

KWGS / Downtown Kiwanis District 8 debate
Bill Christiansen and Phil Lakin on the Pat Campbell Show
Scott Grizzle on the Pat Campbell Show

(Once again -- it's nice that these media outlets are interested in a council primary, but there's a mayoral primary, too. You'd think one of them could have arranged a head to head debate amongst the leading candidates.)

MORE: Tom Neal is "not taken with Lakin":

Concerning [the Tulsa World's] endorsement of Phil Lakin for the City Council, my former employer matched donations. So I gave to a local group through the Tulsa Community Foundation to capture that match and get another match specific to the foundation. Karen Davis, a senior program officer there, said prior that there would be no problem.

But for more than nine months I received notices that the locals had not received any donation. I made multiple calls to the charity and to the foundation to clear up this mess.

During this ordeal, I left a complaint on Davis' voicemail. You would think that a CEO would find out whether his organization was in error. Phil Lakin did not. I received a furious and abusive voice mail from Lakin, specifically threatening me with legal retaliation if I continued to complain about his group's screw-up.

Finally one remarkable staffer dug and found out that my gift did go to the local group but under others' names.

Maybe Lakin has great people skills if you're a billionaire. I have no doubt he'll represent well Tulsa's most influential.

But the mark of a man is not how he treats the most powerful but rather how he treats those with the least. Best choice for district 8? I don't think so.

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At the end of day one of filing for the 2011 Tulsa city elections, two districts had a single candidate with no announced opponent preparing to enter the race. Phil Lakin is the sole candidate so far in far south Tulsa's District 8. Lakin, CEO of Tulsa... Read More

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 7, 2009 10:52 PM.

Rocky Frisco on downtown development; Chamber to run downtown marketing? was the previous entry in this blog.

City Auditor: For Preston Doerflinger is the next entry in this blog.

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