Karen Keith trying to bully neighborhood leader off planning commission

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UPDATE 11:40 a.m. 2009/11/02: Liz Wright called earlier this morning to tell me that the County Commission voted to approve the November 23 public hearing. Karen Keith based her call for a hearing on the need for geographical balance and her desire to make her own appointment, neither of which is cause for removing a planning commissioner under state law.

I was disappointed to hear that Keith's two Republican colleagues, John Smaligo and Fred Perry, voted to approve Keith's request without comment. I certainly hope they aren't using county employees to conduct private discussions about commission business, as that would violate the spirit of Oklahoma's open meetings law. They should not have approved the public hearing without Keith supplying probable cause for removal.

Smaligo and Perry have enabled Keith to blindside Wright at the November 23 hearing. By giving Keith the hearing without requiring public statement of the real reason, Perry and Smaligo have prevented Wright and her supporters from having the time to prepare a defense. As a commenter suggested, this is the same underhanded approach we saw in the ouster of Bell's Amusement Park. Although the commissioners involved in the Bell's issue are gone, the rotten political culture seems to linger on.

(And what is it about Karen Keith that she manages to wrap male Republican elected officials around her little finger? She wouldn't have had the resume to run for commissioner if Bill LaFortune hadn't given her a job in his mayoral administration.)

Liz Wright also told me that she was never notified by the county that an issue concerning her would be on this morning's agenda.

At Monday's Tulsa County Commission meeting, District 2 Commissioner Karen Keith will seek a public hearing for the November 23, 2009, meeting to remove Elizabeth Wright as a member of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission 14 months before her term is due to end. Wright was nominated for the TMAPC by then-Commissioner Randi Miller and approved by the County Commission in April 2008. The Tulsa World's Kevin Canfield had a story on Keith's ouster attempt in the Sunday, November 1, 2009, edition.

Keith's stated reason for removing Wright, according to Canfield's story: "I would like the opportunity to make my own appointment, and I want someone who will be responsive to the needs of the western and southern parts of the county." But under state law, a planning commissioner can only be removed for cause.

So Keith has apparently ginned up some pretext for removal for cause, but she's only hinting at the reasons in menacing tones:

But Keith said Saturday that Wright knows why the county is considering her removal.

"It's unfortunate, but all of the details about her service on the Planning Commission will come out," Keith said. "She knows and she understands why this is happening."

And yet the e-mail traffic between Wright and county mouthpiece Terry Simonson, on Keith's behalf, has focused entirely on the geographical balance issue. Wright has provided me with the e-mail traffic between her and Simonson. After several generic messages attempting to set up a meeting between Keith and Wright, Simonson wrote the following on Tuesday, October 8, 2009:


Karen tells me she has already spoken with you and that the topic was that she wants to replace you as her appointment with a neighborhood representative from a part of her district that has no representation. Apparently most, if not all, of the TMAPC members come from a fairly compact same area of Tulsa, primarily what some would call the midtown area. No representation from West Tulsa, Sand Springs, or Jenks. Since the appointment is designated for the District 2 County Commissioner, she can make a replacement appointment. So, what I need is either a letter or email from you resigning from the board so she can move forward with her appointment. I'm sure you would agree that if it is truly a metropolitan area planning commission that geographic balance on the commission is a good thing.

(Please note that the cities of Jenks and Sand Springs each have their own city planning commissions and are not under the jurisdiction of the TMAPC.)

In her reply, Wright notes that the geographical imbalance is the result of city appointments. She also states that she is the only small business owner on the commission and represents women-owned businesses.

Simonson's October 12, 2009, reply:

Dear Liz

There is a reason why the county commissioners are allowed to make appointments to the TMAPC. Since it's a metropolitan planning commission, all parts of the county should be represented. The city councilors of course can and will only appoint people from within the city which they have historically done. Same with the Mayor. That leaves the commissioners to appoint people either outside of the city of Tulsa or from parts of the city not represented on the commission.

I think there is a difference between a property owner or business owner who resides or owns property in another part of the county and one who doesn't. I think there can be a different perspective from a visitor to the area versus someone who has roots and a history. Certainly Jenks and Sand Springs and Glenpool deserve some form of representation. I think your points of being a women business owner is important and this demographic could likewise be represented from a selection outside of the city of Tulsa.

So, if one were to compose a profile of a well rounded planning commissioner and take into account a diverse set of criteria ( geography, demographic, business experience, neighborhood and planning knowledge, etc ) I believe a commissioner like that can be found outside of the city of Tulsa.


Nothing in the correspondence indicates that there is any cause for Wright's removal, but now Keith is trying to move forward with a hearing that only makes sense if some cause will be presented.

Behind the scenes, word is that developers are upset with Wright for raising questions that they would rather not have to answer, and that's the reason they are working through Karen Keith to push for Wright's removal.

It's true that there are too many planning commissioners and too many members of boards and commissions in general that come from what I've labeled the "Money Belt" -- the wealthiest neighborhoods of Tulsa which are clustered along a line from Maple Ridge to Southern Hills and then fans out into the gated communities of south Tulsa. The Money Belt, particularly the portion between Maple Ridge and Southern Hills, is like a small town where everyone seems to know everyone else. My theory is that mayors tend to pick people from this area for boards and commissions because that's where their networks of friends and friends of friends all live.

Florence Park, where Liz Wright lives and where she has served as neighborhood association president, lies outside the Money Belt, even though it is in midtown. And midtown Tulsa is the most populous portion of District 2 that is under the jurisdiction of the TMAPC, which only handles zoning cases for the City of Tulsa and unincorporated portions of Tulsa County. Every other Tulsa County municipality has its own planning commission. (Tulsa should too, with all commissioners appointed by city elected officials, but that's a topic for another day.)

More important than geographic balance on the TMAPC is professional balance. Too many of its members have ties to the real estate and development industry. People in that position would be understandably reluctant to recommend against zoning changes sought by firms that may be their partners or customers in future projects or to recommend against zoning changes that would set a useful precedent for their own projects. Balance will help to ensure that the land use regulation system serves all Tulsans and is administered fairly, even-handedly, and consistently.

Not only do we need neighborhood leaders on the TMAPC for balance, we need those leaders to be intelligent and confident in their own judgment. I've seen it happen in the past that neighborhood and community leaders are appointed to a board or commission, and rather than bringing a new perspective to the body, they are indoctrinated and assimilated into its culture.

Imagine the outcry and editorializing if a county commissioner were trying to force a real estate broker or a homebuilder off of the commission to replace him with a neighborhood association president.

Geographic balance is important, but I would hate to lose a planning commissioner like Liz Wright, who brings a neighborhood perspective to the table, understands zoning, and is able to stand up under pressure. If you believe we need that kind of perspective, particularly as we embark upon adoption and implementation of a new comprehensive plan for Tulsa, please contact your county commissioners and urge them to allow Liz Wright to serve out her full term on the TMAPC.

District 1: John Smaligo, jsmaligo@tulsacounty.org, (918) 596-5020
District 2: Karen Keith, kkeith@tulsacounty.org, (918) 596-5016
District 3: Fred Perry, fperry@tulsacounty.org, (918) 596-5010

Karen Keith received significant campaign contributions from the real estate and development lobby. Keith's campaign consultants included Jim Burdge, who ran the development lobby's ugly recall campaign against neighborhood-friendly city councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock, and Art Justis, who as a city councilor was a reliable vote for whatever a developer wanted to do and who was defeated by neighborhood leader Jim Mautino.

It's a shame that the development lobby is so insecure that they feel it necessary to eliminate someone with a neighborhood association background, just because she is intelligent, articulate, and independent. It's a shame that Karen Keith, who once upon a time was a supporter of neighborhood associations and an opponent of incompatible redevelopment, has apparently decided to carry the development lobby's water on this issue.

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Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith's bizarre and unprecedented campaign to remove Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission member Elizabeth Wright (for bogus reasons, a year before her term expires) reaches its climax on Monday, November 23, 2009... Read More


The A Team said:

I bet the timing of this has to do with the upcoming approval process for the PlaniTulsa update. It makes sense, since she would be able to replace Wright in a mere 14 months.

This will be Karen Keith's own Bell's fiasco before all is said and done and it will mark the beginning of the end of her political career. I knew Karen Keith would show her true colors.

loo loo said:

This fiasco will be TMAPC's undoing. This public hearing is a PERFECT opportunity to show the irrelevance of TMAPC in Tulsa's planning. The geographic representation is bogus, but I say grab it and run with it. Show the public that EVERY municipality except Tulsa does it's own planning and that this commission is a farce.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 2, 2009 12:07 AM.

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