Dewey Bartlett Jr backtracks on Tulsans for Better Government

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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 Council districts to six and add three at-large council seats to be elected citywide. The divisive proposal failed to gain enough signatures to make the ballot.

According to Roemerman, Bartlett Jr now says "that he really had no knowledge of the at-large councilor idea, that he thought he was signing up for 'one of these kind of good government uhh, let's help somebody get elected' groups."

Roemerman did some digging, speaking to two attorneys who were involved in the group. He received apparently contradictory information, with Bartlett Jr apparently saying he agreed to join the group but denying he knew it had anything to do with at-large councilors and the attorneys apparently saying that he was never on the list of advisory board members, despite the October 2005Tulsa World story and TBG website to the contrary.

I've posted a couple of comments to a thread about Roemerman's story on TulsaNow's Tulsa Forum:

I find it interesting that, like Randi Miller and Kathy Taylor, Dewey Bartlett Jr made no objection to the use of his name by Tulsans for Better Government in the fall of 2005, when the group was actively collecting signatures for their petition for the at-large councilor charter amendment and these names lent some credibility to the effort. Each of the three only claimed to have been misinformed about or unaware of the purpose of the group when they became candidates for mayor. The petition drive stalled, Mayor LaFortune appointed a citizens' commission on city government as a way to give his pals on TBG a face-saving way to terminate their faltering effort. The at-large plan received support from only a few commissioners; the final report rejected the proposal.

A Tulsa World story on October 27, 2005, focused on Tulsans for Better Government's petition drive for at-large councilors and included a list of advisory board members. Dewey Bartlett Jr's name was on the list. You'd think someone would have mentioned to Bartlett Jr that his name was in the paper in connection with a controversial proposal. Or he might have noticed that this group he was asked to join had generated some opposition.

At a mayoral forum before the primary, sponsored by the Republican Women's Club, Chris Medlock pointed out that the same group pushing non-partisan elections -- Tulsans for Better Government -- started out pushing for at-large councilors. Medlock said that Bartlett Jr had been a charter member of that group. Bartlett Jr did not speak up to deny involvement, defend his involvement, or even to say, "I have no idea what you're talking about." It's as if he hadn't yet figured out that the at-large issue and the group that pushed it were political liabilities.

Greg Bledsoe, who headed the group Tulsans Defending Democracy, has also weighed in on Bartlett Jr's denial. I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion:

For Bartlett to say what he is now saying about TBG means he really was seriously uninformed and naive in 2005 or he is not telling the truth now. Either indicates to me a serious question about his qualification to be mayor. If naive--I guess that he will follow others leads rather than decide for himself--indicating to me that the folks who formed TBG in 2005 will most likely be telling him what to sign up for in 2009.

Bledsoe also tells an anecdote which neatly encapsulates the spirit of the Money Belt that motivated the at-large councilor proposal:

The attitude of the TBG folks is best expressed by one of their principals to me at a cocktail party--"I long to return to the day when you could drive a golf ball from your front lawn and hit the lawn of every other member of the city commission."

MORE: Here's my October 26, 2005, column on the Tulsans for Better Government proposal, which explains the political context behind the at-large councilor idea. I think this was the first column in which I used the term "Money Belt," which I defined as "that band of affluence stretching from Utica Square to Southern Hills." Toward the end of the column I elaborate:

Councilors Henderson, Mautino, Medlock, and Turner are each devoted to the needs of their own constituents, but they've also worked together to ensure that the citizens of the historically neglected east, west, and north sections of our city receive the city services they are owed.

And that seems to be what really bugs the bunch behind the at-large council proposal. It's the Money Belt denizens backing this plan that tend to take a parochial view, seeing Tulsa as a small, close-knit, fabulously wealthy town centered on Utica Square. Neighborhoods like West Highlands and Garden City, Rose Dew and Wagon Wheel, Sequoyah and Suburban Acres may as well be foreign countries to them.

The quote from a TBG member that Greg Bledsoe relates reflects that same parochial attitude. The Money Belt isn't a conspiracy, it's a subculture. Its boundaries aren't precise, and not everyone within those boundaries is a part of the subculture, but its existence is reflected in election results (mayoral elections and tax initiatives alike), in mayoral appointments, and in Collective Strength's survey results from last summer.

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S. Lee said:

I lived in Garden City for about three years. (Immediately south of the Sinclair refinery for those who don't know.) Not so much a foreign country, but an island.

Victoria Bartlett said:

Greg Bledsoe is one of the most liberal citizens in Tulsa. Far left of any ideology of your readers and is on Tom Adelson's campaign advisory team. For your blog to quote Bledsoe as a sources to support your misadvised opinion of Dewey Bartlett, indicates that your blog is not worthy of any consideration by serious conservatives in Tulsa.

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